Vanity of the word experience. You cannot acquire experience by making experiments. You cannot create experience. You must undergo it. Patience rather than experience. We wait patiently—or rather, we are patients. It is all practice: when we emerge from experience we are not wise but skillful. But at what?
-Albert Camus, excerpt from Notebooks 1935-1951
The hot morning trade winds had come. They blew in offshore from the east, blanketing the island in volcanic fog. The humidity was 84% and the heat index read 93 for midday, and although only into the first part of seven o’clock, it was climbing by the quarter hour. The few early morning swimmers who had come to the beach for a dip were already packing their oversized pink hotel towels and bottles of water into their bright canvas beach bags and heading for their cars and the showers in the shade to rinse the salt off. Most of the tourists already had salmon sunburns on their calves and backs from previous days of vacationing. The local early morning risers—surfer boys, a few Filipino fishermen, and housewives walking their dogs—stayed longer.
On the far left side of W. Bay there was a pile-up of black lava rocks that had been pushed into place by the waves and tides. Flat gray and red-shelled crabs scattered across the rocks seeking out cracks of shade much like the tourists heading for their rented convertibles. Past the black rocks, around the corner there was another section of beach that could only be accessed by a small pathway hidden with lilikoi vines and part of a sacred Hawaiian heiau. This more secret and closed-off part of the beach was empty except at the far left end where two women in large sunglasses swam about in the water, happy.
Shirley and Jane swam in small circular patterns in a shallow part of the bay, a sandy-bottomed section carved out between the reef and mossy rocks below. Shirley had a neon yellow and black snorkeling mask on and was diving down to the reef and holding on to a purple piece of coral to look at a parrotfish’s vibrant scales that were rippling back and forth in the fractured sunlight seeping through the water. The fish was gnawing with its beak-lips at a swaying pile of algae that was attached to the reef by its stem. Shirley kept her eye out for the moray eel she’d seen a week ago around this spot. She was scared she might actually see it but even more so that she might not see it and have it be there the whole time.
Careful where she placed her feet, she looked through algae and sea cucumber patches for something long and snaky trying to blend in to the sand. Finding nothing and running out of air, she plunged back up to the surface where Jane was floating. Her legs spread wide, her head was back and eyes closed. Sun drenched the top half of Jane's skin and she looked like she was asleep atop the water. Shirley went up to her and put a sea cucumber on her stomach. Jane, trying to pretend like she didn’t care or even notice stayed flat until the cucumber slid off and then she got Shirley and splashed water at her.
Save for the heat it was a perfect day at the beach; the sky truly azure with white clouds puffy and cartoon-like.
The water was absolutely fluorescent. Electric-blue and deep school-uniform blue. The reef fish bobbed about to various sea currents. Pulling and swaying, in and out, back and forth, constantly all day long, the in and out of the reef fish and the algae and general mood of the place. Small schools swam quickly by the slender legs of the ladies and realizing no food was coming from these two, slid off into another pocket of the reef to continue hunting.
As Shirley looked around her she felt some kind of liquid transparency fall over her being as she eyed every living thing with quiet ecstasy. All became brighter and better, more beautiful and less believable as real and she knew it was the magic of the day because this sort of thing had happened to her once or twice before and she would say it was as if the day was living her and not the other way around.
The morning light was so bright that Shirley squinted as she dried off and Jane grabbed her dark green sunglasses. The air was heavy as a Persian rug, instantly fogging Jane’s glasses against her damp cheeks.
The two picked up their towels, shook off the chunky sand and headed for the path. As they walked the top of Shirley’s head burned from the sun and the bottoms of their feet burned from the heating sand and as they walked up the hill it felt slightly like drowning, the air heavy with water molecules.
The palms slowed and even the waves seemed to roll in at a deliriously sluggish pace. As they walked up the path Shirley felt odd—as if her breath had stopped because her adrenaline had suddenly exploded. It was an instantaneous feeling, one that made her think she could telepathically feel that right at this moment something was happening to someone close to her. Something big. Maybe something bad.
Shirley stopped right in the middle of the narrow dirt path and turned around, swinging her red surfboard with her, to look about. She could feel the connection from the invisible psychic strings attaching her to Jane and Jane to her and her to the water and the trees. Jane, who had been walking in front of Shirley and talking mindlessly, took a minute to notice that Shirley had stopped. She proceeded to stand there in the middle of the hidden dirt path with the overgrown bougainvillea, agitated, darting her eyes. Trying to feel it out. Jane motioned to the surrounding island cliff-side and shrugged her shoulders, trying to catch her breath, slightly irritated that Shirley had stopped their hiking flow up the steep path. Shirley, not sure of what it could be, if anything, continued walking.