I lie here contemplating a problem. It whirrs and clacks above my head. Thanks to my fan, this couch is the most comfortable, and certainly the coolest, place in the house. The coolest place on the island, according to many, and this is why my simple wooden fan has become the root cause of all my troubles.
I first saw it in a little shop in Fordingbridge five years ago, just the day before my ship was due to leave Southampton. I had been an electrician's apprentice when I got my calling, and had been reliably assured that electricity had recently reached the Ponapeans. I was sure I would be able to make a satisfactory installation of such a useful object. Little did I realise how much it would be needed and never could I have foreseen what problems it would cause.
The trouble began before I'd even set foot on the island, a fresh young missionary full of hope and so joyous to be in such a remote and pagan part of the Pacific. The entire population came to welcome our ship and all eyes were upon me as I stumbled down the gangplank carrying my large wooden fan on my back. The porters, you see, had refused to touch it on the grounds that it might bring a voodoo wrath of the spirits down upon them. There was, I discovered later, not a small amount of speculation amongst the people as to what this strange star-shaped object was. Of this, I had no idea, so excited and preoccupied was I with settling into my new home.
I had come to join two other missionaries who had been here for many years. They are quite a deal older than I and, as I almost immediately realised, had gone native. They were welcoming enough but seemed to spend a deal of their time pacing around in their floppy shoes, shuffling through the heat from one room to another. I was left largely to my own devices as I prepared myself for my work.
I was delighted at first to have so many of the islanders come to visit me. They sat quietly listening as I read passages from the Bible and talked about the miracles of Jesus. I thought I'd found my calling in a big way. It was only as the days drew into weeks into months that it became apparent that the heavenward flickers of the eyes as I read, which occurred frequently in all visitors, and which I initially put down to my fine rendering of the holy words, were not aimed at God but at my fan.
And so the years passed. I resigned myself to the fact that God moves in mysterious ways and comforted myself with the fact that at least it kept them coming back to sit beneath the cool. I might add that I have had a fine conversion rate, almost double my predecessor. I can look forward to my return to the Missionary Society in St James' with some pride.
As I look up at it now, I know it will be impossible to sleep this night until I make my final decision. For, you see, my tour of duty is over. The ship calls tomorrow to take me away from Ponapé for ever, and here lies my dilemma - I don't know what I shall do with my fan. The problem is, everybody wants it. No one has actually come to me and asked me directly if they can have it. That is not the Ponapéan way of doing things. The way of life here is so very different from anything we know in England. Different, that is, to anyone used to organising himself by the clock and calendar in the belief that time goes forwards in even portions of arithmetic. You see, nothing here is direct. Life, it soon becomes apparent, is approached rather from a sideways angle. This trait can best be illustrated by comparing it to the habits of the Ponapé fish, unique to these waters. This is a fish which hunts backwards. That is to say it overtakes its intended victim and then squirts poison at him from its rear orifice as it swims towards him. By the time its prey has reached it, he is dead and ready to eat.
I shall miss Ponapé. Though it has many peculiarities and is far too hot most of the time, its beauty takes the breath away. Life in Hampshire will feel rather flat at first, though I must say I am looking forward to some good old bad English weather and tea and toast by the fire.
I have learnt a great deal these past five years. There had been only a very limited amount of reference material available back at our headquarters in London, and nothing at all on the peculiarities of the Ponapéan ways. Their different perspectives; particularly their way of dealing with time and space, possessing, as they do, a great deal of the former and a severely limited amount of the latter. Though you couldn't call them scrupulously honest, there is no theft on the island and, highly coveted though it is, I have never had to worry about my fan being stolen. There is violence here, oh yes. Murder, suicide too, are commonplace. But theft, no. The simple reason being that on such a small, remote island, everybody knows everybody else's business. Not least knowing exactly what each person possesses and, more to the point, what they do not possess. There is little point in stealing something when everybody knows who owns it, and where there is nowhere within thousands of miles for anything to be passed on to. Small islands have no fences, you could say. And so it is with my fan. Nobody would steal it from me, but there are many who want it. Desperately. And everybody knows my ship is coming tomorrow.
I have been approached from a variety of obliquely unique Micronesian angles by a large proportion of the population, each of them assuming in his individual way that he is my fan's rightful inheritor. The Governor, the Rt. Honourable Maawal Beehap, has decided it will go up the hill and into the dining room of Government House. He sent a team of workmen down today to measure its dimensions along with an elaborately-decorated invitation for me to dine there at its inauguration feast. A pig will be slaughtered in its honour and consumed by vast numbers of the great and good of the island. Of course, he knows I shall be set fair by then for England, but this to him is a trifling matter. Equally certain the fan will be going in his direction is Mr Willy Wahndeema, the Leader of the Opposition, who has kindly donated it to the Ponapéan Community Centre Hall, the largest public meeting place on the island. That its breeze would be rendered virtually useless in such a large space is irrelevant. Then there is Morgan, one of the tribal chiefs of the island and the owner of the land my room sits on. He has the biggest smile I've ever known and the darkest heart. He assumes, naturally, that as my 'strange magic wind wheel', as he calls it, is installed on his territory it already belongs to him, owing to the undeniable fact that it is connected to his land by a lead which disappears into the ground. Just as any tree which grows from his land is unquestionably his property. I think you are probably beginning to understand the extent of my problem. I shall not go into detail about the hospital, the schoolmaster and the rest. The only people who don't seem at all interested are my two companions here, but then they are far too gone to be bothered by such mortal concerns.
After five years on the island, I know it would be of no use suggesting the islanders get their own shipped in. Apart from the fact that only two ships call a year, this is not the point. It is my fan they want. And now the time is almost upon me to leave, the decision will have to be made. As I lie here looking at it chopping at the air like a primitive bacon slicer, I realise yet again the biggest problem of all. I, too, have become very attached to my fan and I don't think it will be possible for me to leave the island without it.
CODA Extract from the London Missionary Society Annual Report dated l4th September 1932: It is with the deepest regret we hereby record the loss of one of our finest and most successful young missionaries in the field, Rupert Bartholomew Jones. Due to the remoteness of his posting, it has taken some time to ascertain why he did not return with the ship last year. News has now reached us that before he could board his ship he was lynched by a large group of natives and thence beaten to death by a heavy wooden fan which he was transporting from his residence to the dockside. Furthermore, we regret to report that no burial took place as his body was thence transported to the Governor's House where, we understand, it was served up later that even as a banquet delicacy which the cannibalistic society refer to as 'Long Pig.' He was 23 years of age. May his soul rest in peace.
c. Stephanie Zia 2013