The shirtless, strapping, Pacific Islander man standing roughly 20 feet in front of me was possibly drunk, definitely pissed off, and holding a two foot machete.
His unkempt hair, smoldering facial expression and posture alone would have been unnerving enough without the added knowledge that I’d just spent the day with his wife, visiting various deserted white sand beaches, a four-star hotel casino and several secluded sites of tourist interest.
I was on the tiny North Pacific island of Tinian, one of the most remote places I’ve ever visited, about five miles over water from the more substantial island of Saipan, which, I quickly determined, probably didn’t have a medical facility capable of re-attaching an arm.
A magazine assignment had brought me here and Tinian’s sole tourism representative, a 40-something Philippina, had spent the day with me showcasing the island’s sites, including the crumbling airfield and buildings where the atomic bombs Fat Man and Little Boy were assembled and loaded onto the bombers Enola Gay and Bockscar for their trips to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a collection of ancient and inconceivably massive stone monuments called lattes, and one of the most obscure, remote four star hotel casinos in the world, the Tinian Dynasty. There were also a couple encounters with spiders large enough to swallow a human eyeball whole.
After this surprisingly rewarding tour my guide invited me to her house since it was nearby (everything is nearby on Tinian) for some coconut juice while we waited for the teensy airplane to fetch me and take me back to Saipan. This is when I met the husband, standing in the front yard, armed and glowering, seemingly determined to sever something.
It wouldn’t have been difficult to dispose of my body. Dump me in the ocean and I’d be picked clean by scavenging fish. Nothing left but an immaculate skeleton on the ocean floor. Actually, there’s no need to get wet. Just toss my carcass into the jungle. Tinian’s unrelenting jungle tropical heat means accelerated decomposition of pretty much everything. Between that, the bugs, the rodents and those face-eating spiders, there’d be nothing left of me in a matter of hours. Or so I imagined.
As I desperately tried to remember which was faster, running scared or running angry, my guide calmly stepped forward, introduced me (the husband did not offer a hand or “hello”), and said something inaudible while taking the machete from him. The husband turned around and lumbered into the house without a word.
A teenaged kid large enough to be drafted on sight as a NFL linebacker came around the side of the house carrying coconuts, which he chopped open for us.
The husband never reappeared, but I enjoyed my coconut juice within leaping distance of the jeep all the same.