“John, stop, it’s... not... appropriate,” Marta said, smoothing her skirt and brushing her hair back, as she shot her tormenter a playful glance.
John took the hint. “So, you think my worm experience is funny?”
Marta caught her breath. Her stomach was sore from its workout during her peals of laughter. “Let’s just say you made the party,” she said between breaths.
“Would somebody please tell me what I’m missing?” Sandy asked.
“Just a story about how John ate almost all the roasted grubs, all the while thinking they were...What did you call them? Oh yeah, Macadamia nuts,” Marta replied.
“Sounds like John is the ‘exotic nut,’” said Sandy.
“Let’s not pick on John. He has learned so much about life here in Irian Jaya. Besides, we don’t want to scare him off, I.....we want him to keep coming back.” Marta relented.
“Thank you for the vote of confidence,” John pretended not to notice her mistake. “It’s been good to learn about this place. How could I not? There is a challenge behind every tree and over every mountain.”
“Not all who come survive as long as you have. In fact, I’ve seen men from different organizations come here to deal with consciences, serve humanity, God, or whatever motivated them and last a scant few weeks. This place can make a mad man out of the sanest,” said Marta.
“Enough fussing over me. I’m no toy soldier. I won’t break. What did you expect to see in me a...’reed shaken by the wind’,” John said, quoting the Bible. “Now, why don’t you two step back, and let us men get about our business.”
“Maybe we should sit in the shade sipping tea while these big strong men swelter in the sun,” Marta said.
“Yes, let’s. We wouldn’t want to break a nail,” Sandy added.
Once they neared the village they stopped pulling at the giant palm. Two older men brought water gourds, and Marta brought John purified water. It felt good going down, even though it tasted bad.
“Whew, that was tough,” John commented, wiping his brow with a bandanna. “I haven’t worked this hard in a while. Being a pilot has kept me soft compared to these guys who haven’t sweated a drop.”
“Wait until the real work starts,” Marta said. “You still have to strip the tree.”
“That’ll build an appetite,” said John.
“That’s what the larvae are for, feeds the old appetite,” Marta said rubbing her belly. “Other than fodder for beetle larvae, the soft, spongy inside will be ground to a pulp. We eat that too.” She stood resting her hands on her slender hips. Her legs below the hem of the denim skirt were scratched from the branches, vines, and undergrowth thriving in the drenched forest.
John thought she fit the stereotype of the outdoor, rugged, Jane-of¬-the-Tarzan-stories type of heroine.
“John, I hate for you to miss these festivities. But we have a lot of stops to make before nightfall,” Sandy interrupted.
“I’m glad you both came, and grateful for the difference you made with Digul,” said Marta
“Just keep an eye on him. Why don’t you pack a bag and stay over this weekend? John can bring you by tomorrow when he picks up Digul,” said Sandy.
“Good idea, why don’t you come tomorrow?” John added.
Marta thought for a minute. Did his eyes sparkle? “All right, I’ll be waiting.”
Tucker came up to say goodbye.
John mouthed, “Bring him if you can.”
“He would love it,” Marta whispered back.
Jeffrey W. Bennett, ISP is an author of non-fiction books, novels and periodicals.