A very bad morning

Grave of the woman who committed suicide in Levuka. Photos by David Lansing.

Grave of the woman who committed suicide in Levuka. Photos by David Lansing.

Sleeping has been a problem this week. Yesterday I sat in a folding chair on the wooden deck of my room, the Kei cottage, a beach towel wrapped around my shoulders, watching the sun sneak up on the meaty dark clouds out over the ocean. Around six, I pulled on some shorts and headed for the Royal Hotel dining room for breakfast. And there was Meli, sitting on the steps, wearing nothing but a pair of dirty khaki shorts and sandals. His hair was matted to one side and his eyes were sunken pools of red.

“Meli, what are you doing here so early?”

“I in a bad way, sir,” he said, slurring his words. He was obviously very drunk.

“Meli, you need to go home and clean up. You don’t want anyone seeing you like this so early in the morning.”

“Oh, I know,” he said, nodding and swaying. “I been drinkin’ all night. All night.”

“Yes, which is why you should go home now.”

“My mother, she die last night,” he said. “She make us dinner like she do and go to lie down and two hours later, she dead. That all there is to it. She dead.”

So is it the island or is it me? I’m starting to feel like I’m the worse kind of luck here.

I told Meli that I would talk to the manager of the hotel and tell him about his mother, but he should go home.

“I been drinkin’ all night,” he said again.

I helped him up. He was in no shape to find his way home. I took his arm and started walking up Beach Street, having no idea what direction his home might be, but fortunately one of his sons saw us and came to my rescue.

“I got him, sir, I got him. Sorry to trouble you.”

They disappeared up one of the side streets behind the Marist school. And I went back to the hotel and had my breakfast: toast and two fried eggs.

Afterwards, I went for a walk. Out past the fish factory and the beautiful large bure, known as the “Prince Charles House,” which was built specifically for a visit by Prince Charles in 1970 to commemorate Fiji’s independence from Great Britain. It’s the most beautiful structure in Levuka, indeed on the whole island, but it doesn’t seem to get much use. There’s nothing much past here except a few odd houses in the bush where the fishermen live. But it was a beautiful day and I had nothing I had to do so I just kept walking out along the coast road.

Which is when the funeral procession passed me by. Seven, maybe eight cars, all following a pickup truck with a coffin in the back. I stood off to the side of the road as the procession slowly passed. Which is when I noticed the family from the Ovalau Holiday Resort. The man who had given me a ride into town—the dead woman’s husband—was driving the same car I’d been in. He was by himself and looked just as crazy as when I’d been with him. Behind him was a silver mini-van. I could see the mom sitting in front and the heads of many people packed in the seats behind her. They were going to bury the woman who’d committed suicide in my room.

I turned around and started walking back into town. A fisherman passing by in a ratty old pickup truck stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I thanked him but told him I’d rather walk. It was farther than I thought. I kept going around one bend after another, expecting to see the Pafco factory, but I didn’t. After awhile, I stopped and sat on a rock by the ocean watching two fishermen bring in their small boat and pull it up on the beach. They had a small bucket of fish. I couldn’t really tell what kind of fish it was, but I could see they weren’t very large. They finished up what they were doing, put the fish on a stringer, and started walking up a path that came by me. They stopped and showed me their catch—maybe six or seven smallish barracuda. God, I hate barracuda.

“You eat those?” I asked them.

“Oh, yes, sir. Fry ‘em up, they’re very delicious.”

They continued up the path towards a small cottage half hidden in the vines and bushes of the jungle.

I just stayed by the ocean, looking out at the water. About a hundred yards out or so, just down the coast, I could see anchored an old threadbare sloop flying a tattered British flag. It had obviously been there for awhile. I’d asked Meli about it once and he said you could see a light come on in the sloop’s cabin in the evening but no one had ever seen anyone on deck. He said he thought it was haunted.

“Fishermen stay away from that boat,” he told me.

After some time, the funeral procession came by again, this time headed back into Levuka. It seemed like the mom saw me sitting there, but I couldn’t be sure.

After they’d passed, I started walking back out into the country. Without thinking about it, I decided I wanted to walk to the cemetery, though I had no idea how far away it was. But it wasn’t far. Less than a quarter mile beyond where I’d turned back the first time.

It was an odd cemetery, built on a hill so that you had to scramble through thick brush and over boulders to get to where the graves were scattered over the hill. I had no trouble finding the grave site of the woman who had hung herself. It was the only one with fresh flowers on it. They had lined the grave with sticks and hung banners of gold ribbons on strings stretched around the sticks. The gold ribbons waved in the breeze like seaweed in the ocean. On top of the grave, made of local rock, were little pots of petunias and pansies. Very colorful. Maybe they were her favorite flowers.

Well, here she was. And here she’d be stuck for god knows how many years, wandering around the graveyard and Levuka in a sort of soulless form until she’d passed what should have been her natural age at death. And then she’d have to start all over again. From scratch. Try to get things right this time.

I felt very sorry for her and told her so. And then I walked back into town.

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  1. Sonia’s avatar


    It isnt you, you dont have that much power. Just how it all fell in place.

    Honestly I think what you did by going to her grave was very sweet, and maybe comforting to her. Suicide is tough, and full of speculation. But no one will know for sure why she did what she did. Maybe she thought it was the only way to save herself and child….or many other reasons. But feeling sorry for her is a truly wonderful thing you did for her. Maybe all she wanted was to have someone feel a little compassion for her. Sadly though she felt that she had no way out- or maybe someone to help her out of having to go that way.

    Meli’s mother must of died in peace, and happy. To be able to go to sleep and not feel a thing, she was content. My dad battled cancer, and when it was getting better his esophagus blew out and he bled out in my home while he lived with me. I and my 15 yr at the time got to him first as he was choking and trying to breathe..just blood everywhere like a horror movie. Yes he was a smoker, yes he drank. But you just never know when, or why it happens. If we all knew when we were…do you think it would be easier or worse. I think worse. I think Meli’s mom went happy. My Dad was happy, and maybe because some unforeseen force knew his biggest fear was death took him out that way to get it over with. No one knows..
    I know this is grim and sad, but she in her mind isnt going to suffer anymore. And Meli’s mom was glad she went peacefully.

    Death is rough, but we all have to go through it to make us stronger.

    No regrets maybe you were meant to stay there so someone felt her pain. You did, and now she can lay in peace..because who knows what is on the other side for anyone.

    Hugs to you David for feeling compassion for others and not judgement.

  2. david’s avatar

    Thanks Sonia. Really very thoughtful comments on your part. And you’re right…for some reason I feel like I was supposed to be here playing a part in this little island drama. Who knows why?

  3. Sonia’s avatar

    You are very welcome

  4. pheebee’s avatar

    i think that what his saying is true.i mean u cant blame levuka………..it has its goods and bads……….

  5. Angeline’s avatar

    So here I am reading this four years later. I wonder if she’s served her time yet, and has started over. Strong, sad post, David. Travel is such a crap shoot; sometimes fun, sometimes not so much.

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