The ice tinkled against the glass as I raised it to my lips, enjoying the warmth of the late evening sun on my face. The view from the hotel veranda was sublime, out across the Pacific vastness to meet the vivid blue sky at the horizon. It was plain to see why many considered these islands a paradise, and why they were such a popular destination among holidaymakers.
There was a secluded beach below where, during the day, sea turtles could be seen in the shallows. Movement caught my eye—an elderly, barefoot man made his way to the water’s edge until the waves lapped at his toes. His clothes hung from his small body, thinned by the years, but there was a dignity about him that drew my attention and respect.
For a few minutes, he stared across the ocean, stolid, as the gentle breeze whispered through his long grey hair. Then, just as the bottom of the sun began to disappear below the horizon, he started his dance, slow and elegant, each movement deliberate, his limbs flowing like the water and wind around him.
To watch his graceful manoeuvres was relaxing, as though witnessing something profound and spiritual. Indeed, it was so entrancing that the rattle of my dinner plates startled me. The waitress’s red lips curled to a smile as she followed my gaze to the man on the beach.
“That’s Inoke,” she explained. “Each evening he performs that traditional dance as the sun sets. It is said to protect the island from the evil spirits that creep in under the cover of night.”
She topped up my water from the jug on the table, letting a slice of lemon plop into my glass, then walked away. The man continued his dance, casting ever longer shadows across the beach as the hue of the sky above deepened.
Sometimes his motions afforded a glimpse of the tattoo on his forearm, a small bird of some sort. Only when half a dozen emerged, flying back and forth across the beach in rhythm with the man and the waves, was it clear it was a sparrow. When the sun disappeared, Inoke kneeled in the sand with his head bowed in meditation, and the birds landed around him. A tear trailed down my face, in awe of the magic I had observed.
Years later, I returned to the island on vacation and sat on the same veranda, watching the beach as the sun began to set, waiting for the elderly dancer to appear.
“Where’s Inoke?” I asked the waiter, but he had never seen the old man or heard of his dance. The still air carried a sadness with it, and I watched and remembered while the sun faded from view.
Just as the last light sank beneath the skyline, a sparrow swooped across and landed on the table, staring out across the ocean with me. I smiled at him as a tear filled my eye.