South Seas Romeo and Juliet

IT is 8:30 p.m. and the ferryboat Raromatai is leaving Papeete, Tahiti. I watch the lights of Papeete fade into the night from the ship's top deck, where, among others, five young Australian surfers and a separate group of backpackers are unrolling their sleeping bags and hammocks. The deeply tanned surfers are clustered near the stairwell. The enthusiastic backpackers noisily spread out on the opposite side of the exposed deck. We are on an 18-hour, three-island voyage to Bora-Bora.

In the early morning I leave my cabin and climb to the top deck to witness the spectacular Polynesian sunrise. I notice that a tall American Girl backpacker now sits next to a frizzy-haired Australian Boy surfer and is sharing a breakfast of fruit and croissants.

The Boy and Girl, 19 or 20 years of age I would imagine, are sitting apart from their respective groups. The Girl is slim, graceful, devoid of makeup, wears a faded sweat suit, and possesses a dazzling smile, which is directed solely at the Boy. He is what every father wants to see when he greets his daughter's date: neat, lanky, tan, all shoulders, sharp-featured, soft-spoken, and with a shy grin that suggests an inner peace.

As the Boy intently watches the sunrise, the Girl photographs her new friend and says, ``I'll probably never see you again, but I'll have this picture.'' The Boy laughs and gently pats her shoulder. Then he offers her half his candy bar.

My thoughts slip back to the '60s when, fresh from college, I traveled through Europe for three months. In Spain I met a charming young schoolteacher from Ohio in a restaurant. We spent a memorable, fairy tale evening dining, dancing, and exploring Madrid's night life as we enjoyed our new friendship.

Dawn found us in a small caf'e near the Prado Museum, drinking thick cups of hot chocolate and promising to meet on the train to Lisbon in two days. Alas, we missed connections, both on the train and in Lisbon. Now I don't even remember her name, nor did I take a picture of her.

Huahine, our first island stop, appears as an incredibly green, tropical speck on the sea's horizon. As we approach, it becomes a landmass covered with huge, swaying palm trees jutting into the brilliant blue sky.

A few small boats rest on the blindingly white beach, empty of human beings. The island is beautiful, serene, perfect. A surfer's paradise. At 6 a.m. the ship docks and the surfers gather up their surfboards and bags and disembark. Some of the 60 or so passengers also clamber off to wander around the small, almost deserted wharfside village next to the pier.

The Australian youths amble off down the street, surfboards at their side.

The Boy and the Girl stand on the dock quietly talking. A surfer yells back at the Boy. He waves in response, gives the Girl a quick hug, and hurries to join his mates, his frizzy hair bouncing as he disappears from sight.

The engines of the Raromatai start and everyone drifts back to the ship, including the Girl and her friends. As I board the ferry, I turn to see a tall figure with a surfboard striding down the street toward the ship. The Boy is returning! Quickly I look up to the top deck to see if the Girl is watching.

I don't see her, so I hurry up to the top deck to find her just leaving the ship's canteen with a soft drink. She is unaware of the Boy's return. A Swedish backpacker yells at the Girl, ``Your boyfriend, he come back to see you!'' The Girl laughs at him and sits down to read a book.

I watch the stairwell for the appearance of the Boy. If this was a movie, music would certainly crescendo as they reunite. Sunlight would sweep across the deck. (It was beginning to drizzle.) A big embrace? Tears? Maybe the backpackers would applaud. Or laugh.

Then I see the Boy's frizzy hair bouncing up the stairwell. He removes his shoulder bag and looks around for the Girl. Just then she glances up from her book.

The backpackers are intent on arm wrestling and are oblivious to the two. The Girl is startled. The Boy walks slowly to the Girl and shyly sits next to her.

I'm not close enough to hear what they say - which is just as well, I guess - but she smiles at him and pats his arm. He grins back at her and I surreptitiously take a picture of my South Pacific Romeo and Juliet as I envision the Boy's surfing mates on Huahine when he told them he was returning to the ferry. ``What!?,'' they certainly exclaimed. ``Goin' back] Hey, we're talkin' surfin', mate. We're talkin' Huahine and you want to go back and see a girl]''

Later, with the Boy's shyness still evident, he dumps the contents of his bag on the deck to inventory all his possessions, discussing each one with the Girl. She reciprocates by doing the same with her bag. He also takes her picture.

We dock at Raiatea Island at 9 a.m. and I see them holding hands as they walk around the small village during the brief layover. The rest of the voyage the Boy begins to interact with the Girl's backpacker friends. When the ship finally docks at Bora-Bora at 1:30 p.m., the six backpackers have added one surfer to their group.

My final view of the Boy and Girl is the two sitting next to each other among the passengers on a crowded bus, their faces smiling and alive as the vehicle lumbers away from the sun-drenched pier. The bus turns onto a road and disappears from my sight. I wonder what the ending to this special meeting of the Boy and Girl will be. I'm optimistic.

Unlike Madrid, there are no trains to miss on Bora-Bora, and I assume that 20 years from now he'll remember her name. After all, if a Boy gives up a chance to surf on Huahine to be with a Girl, I'd say he was serious, wouldn't you?

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