Counting the Minutes
Nothing symbolises Western society – particularly, its notion of time as a commodity for sale – better than the taxi driver’s meter. As a child, I watched them with a morbid fascination. Seeing the price rise before my eyes with each passing moment was anxiety-inducing, painful almost, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from the flickering numbers upon the screen.
Samoa was the first place I ever visited where there were no taxi meters. When Freddy dropped Shelly and I off at the To-Sua Ocean Trench, we tried to settle up, but he insisted on waiting for us, to take us back at no extra charge. Before I knew it, he’d become a third member of our sister vacation, taking us to Pupu Pu’e National Park on Tuesday, Papaseea Sliding Rocks Wednesday and the Falease’ela River Walk Thursday.
Yet, I hadn’t wanted his services. “A week of lying on the beach reading,” were the words Shelly had enticed me to Samoa with. It was only upon arrival that my sister rolled out an itinerary, which involved Freddy taking us away from the beach on our doorstep, to the far-flung corners of Samoa to hike, climb and swim. Everywhere we went, my sister, full of energy, bounded ahead of me while I sluggishly followed behind. I was feeling exhausted after having completed my university exams. Three months of stress with every minute that wasn’t spent studying. The toll had been mental, but it had a physical effect too.
On Friday, at least, we were going to do a short, easy walk to the Ma Tree and back, my sister assured me. That’s what we told Freddy too when he dropped us off at the entrance to the rainforest.
The walk was supposed to take 15 minutes, but in less than 10 we found ourselves before the imposing Ma Tree. It was like nothing we’d ever seen, with its roots as high as walls, fanning out from its trunk like partitions in an office.
As we walked around it, we came to the sign indicating a further hike to a waterfall.
“Want to go on?” Shelly asked me. “The sign at the entrance said this part of the walk was only for experts… we can start it, then when it gets too hard, turn back.”
The ground was thick with knotted tree roots, but our sneakers cushioned us against the impact. By the time we arrived at the waterfall, the stress I had felt over memorising correct punctuation in quotes only a couple of weeks ago seemed trivial in the face of nature’s majesty. We jumped into the beautiful transparent turquoise: the kind of cold that stings when your skin first makes contact, but upon immersion, you are grateful for. The cascading falls washed over our bodies, taking with them all the sweat and dirt, even the accumulation of years too, returning us to the two little girls who used to play mermaids.
We got out of the water and asked a stranger for the time.
It’d been two hours, and we’d told Freddy we’d only be gone a half hour. We needed to get back to the top of the rainforest, so hitched a ride with a farmer to the spot Freddy had dropped us off. The taxi was still parked, but Freddy was nowhere in sight.
After 30 minutes of uncertainty, a car pulled up – dropping Freddy off. He had done the entire walk, wearing a lava-lava* and flip-flops, in search of us.
There is no meter that can calculate how much a taxi driver is owed for trekking into a rainforest in search of his young passengers. I began to wonder, did any of our meters in Western society really work? The one I had set up in my head – measuring my success according to exam marks – certainly didn’t. In the future, I would probably attempt to set up other standards of measuring professional success. Did any of it matter? Perhaps not. But the roots of the trees, the same roots my sister and I, and Freddy, had all passed underfoot, they were real. As was the kindness a taxi driver showed two strangers.
Photos by the author