Extract from THE PURSUIT OF COCONUTS

Here are the first few pages of the book...

Cover image for The Pursuit of Coconuts

1. Would you look at that?

There was soft sand beneath his cheek and fingertips. He was lying on his side, warm saliva pooling at the corner of his mouth, trailing down his cheek. The sun’s heat glowed pleasantly on the back of his hand. He was entirely and beautifully rested, as though he had drunk a cool bowlful of sleep. 

He opened his eyes, just a crack, and noticed there was a cotton hat over most of his face, so all he could see was a small patch of golden sand and an olive-green sleeve. His lazy attempt to roll over was hampered by a small but solidly packed rucksack strapped to his back. For a moment, it seemed like the bag was a mischievous fabric creature that had clambered onto his back while he slept, as an adorable little joke. He lay for a while laughing silently at this prank.

After some fumbling, he managed to steer his sleepy limbs into a sitting position, propped up against his rucksack and the gentle upward curve of the beach. He looked around.

In front of him stretched a sea of almost overpoweringly deep and shining green, its waves overlaid by silver glints. The white-gold sun stood tall in a sky of perfect blue, with a small fleet of clouds bunched on the far horizon. Off to either side of him ran creamy sand, as though freshly poured. He turned to look behind him, moving freely, with no trace of stiffness or discomfort. There he saw a collection of pleasingly squat and sturdy trees, trunks glowing red-brown and leaves shining green. A long way beyond and above the trees was a mountain, green on its lower reaches and turning lavender-grey nearer the summit.

There was no other person to be seen.

He stood. He was alone and had no idea where he was, or how he came to be there, and yet he felt calm and relaxed. A sense of perfect wellness glowed in every part of his body.

‘Better take a look around,’ he said. And then he laughed, because the sun and sand just smiled blankly back at him, clearly feeling his idea needed no reply.

He walked towards the trees. The sun was warm, but there was a slight breeze, so he was completely comfortable in his light boots, cotton trousers and jacket. As he reached the first tree, he patted its solid trunk, feeling the living wood beneath his fingers. On the ground between the trees were leafy shrubs, vines and occasional flowers, mixed pale and vivid. He stepped in, past the first tree, drawn by the cool darkness. After passing a few more red-brown trees, he reached a clearer area where the sunlight fell in. Here he spotted a palm tree, and at its base a coconut. He walked through the sunlight, picked up the smooth green ball and found that he was thirsty.

‘I’d give anything to be able to get into this thing and drink the milk,’ he told the tree. Then he remembered the rucksack on his back. He took it off, squatted down and carefully unzipped it.

There was a light grey-blue blanket, neatly folded and warm to the touch. There was a waterproof sheet, also neatly folded and in its own plastic case. There was a pouch containing a net, with ropes and shiny carabiners. There was a metal travel stove and a wind-up torch. There was more, but he stopped investigating when he discovered a fabric case of tools, which included a short metal tube with a wooden handle on one end.

Somehow, he knew exactly what to do. He held the coconut firmly between his thighs, pushed the metal tube against its top and turned the handle. After a couple of turns, a corkscrew inside gripped the coconut, forcing the metal tube into it. With a few more twists of the handle there was a hollow thunk sound, and resistance ceased. When he pulled out the tool, he saw that the coconut had a neat hole in it, easily big enough to insert the metal drinking straw that was also in the tool case. He sucked down the cool, slightly sweet liquid inside. When he had finished, he leaned back against the palm tree to take stock of his situation.

* * *

His eyes flicked open. He must have fallen asleep. There was a soft crashing sound behind him, the sort of noise a very clumsy person might make when creeping through a forest. He remained perfectly still.

Someone emerged into the clearing and stopped, facing away from him, towards the sea.

‘Oh my God, the ocean,’ said a woman’s voice. ‘Would you take a look at that.’

She was short and stick-thin, wearing light boots, blue trousers and an olive-green jacket, all just like his own. A shapeless beige sunhat was balanced on top of tightly curled reddish hair that exploded from both sides of her head, as though reaching out for the trees. On her back was a rucksack like his.

‘Quite a sight,’ he said.

She spun around, her wide-open eyes seeming to jangle around in her large glasses.

‘Oh my God!’ she said. ‘Who are you? I mean hello. But who are you?’

‘I …’ He stopped, surprised at realising something he should have noticed before. ‘I have no idea. Not a clue.’

‘You don’t know who you are?’

‘I woke up on the beach a few minutes ago. I guess I forgot.’

‘You forgot?’

‘I just said so, didn’t I?’

His voice sounded loud, a little angry, and the woman was wringing her hands, an apprehensive look in her eyes. 

There was a silence. And then a little more silence.

Finally, the woman said, ‘You think maybe you’re a Peter? You look like a Peter.’

‘I don’t know. I told you.’

‘Well I think you’d be a Peter.’

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I’m a Peter. Anything for a quiet life. So, what’s your name?’

‘I …’ She fell silent.

‘You don’t know either?’

She shook her head.

‘You can be Doris.’

‘Doris! What have I done that you call me Doris?’

‘Fine. Angela then.’

‘Angela! My God. What am I, a middle-aged lady with frizzy hair?’

‘I hate to be the one to break it to you, but yes, I’d say that’s exactly what you are.’

She looked at him through her large glasses, eyes wide. Then she touched her hair, said, ‘Well!’ and turned her back on him.

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Sulk at me. See if I care.’

She didn’t move. 

‘You know what,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you tell me what I look like? It’ll make you feel better.’

She slowly turned around and looked him up and down. He took off his hat and she appraised him.

‘You know what you look like?’ she said. ‘A shaved melon.’

‘Fine. I don’t think you see too many hairy melons, but fine.’

‘That had a hard life.’

‘I can take that.’

‘And you got too much hair around your ears and big bags under your eyes. And my God you look harsh. Real harsh.’

‘Yeah, well you look like your hair just got a look at your face and decided to get away as fast as possible.’

She took a sharp breath and turned her back again. He folded his arms and reclined forcefully against the palm tree, making its fronds shake. They remained that way for a few moments, and then something heavy hit Angela’s rucksack and fell to the ground beside her with a thud. She spun around.

‘What, now you’re throwing things at me?’

‘I didn’t throw anything.’

‘You did so. I felt it.’

‘It’s a coconut, Angela. It fell from the tree.’

She looked down at it, unwilling to believe him.

‘You thirsty?’ he asked. ‘It’s got milk inside.’

She hesitated.

‘What do I do with it?’ she asked, picking it up suspiciously.

‘Look in your backpack, Angela.’

She took off her rucksack and opened it.

‘What am I looking for?’

‘One of these.’ He held up his tool pouch. ‘It’s in the front compartment … No, the front compartment. That’s it, Angela.’

‘Am I ever sorry I gave you a nice name, Peter. I can’t believe you made me an Angela.’

‘You got one of these?’ he asked, holding up his coconut tool.

‘No!’

She threw the tool pouch at him. He picked it up and looked through it.

‘Hey,’ he said. ‘You got different tools.’

‘So what am I supposed to do about that?’

‘Pass me the coconut, Angela. I’ll use my doohickey on it.’

* * *

‘Are you hungry, Peter?’

He’d been asleep again. Now he was flailing back into wakefulness as Angela prodded his shoulder with an empty coconut. The great sense of calm wellbeing was almost gone. He felt raw and ragged, like an undercooked egg in a pan.

‘What?’ he said.

‘I said, are you hungry?’

‘To sleep is to dine, Angela. I was fine till you woke me.’

‘To sleep is to dine. Where’s that from?’

‘How would I know? I don’t even know my real name. Maybe I just made it up. Maybe my mom sang it to me in my cradle. Maybe I have it tattooed on my ass cheeks. I have no clue.’

They were silent for a while. Peter stood up. It was a little cooler, though still pleasantly warm, and the sun hung lower in the sky.

‘So. You hungry?’ Angela asked again.

‘Yes, I’m hungry.’

‘What do you wanna eat?’

‘What do I want to eat? You make it sound like we’re in a restaurant. I want a beef bourguignon! I want truffles and canapés and caviar! We’re on a desert island for Chrissakes. What have we got?’

‘Coconuts.’

‘Right. But how do we open them? We’ve drunk the milk. How do we eat the … the whatever it’s called? Meat? We’ve only got the corkscrew.’

‘I don’t know, Peter.’

‘I don’t know either, Angela.’

He sat down. 

‘Wait. You hear that?’ he said.

‘What?’

‘That noise, Angela. What else would you hear?’

‘What noise?’

‘Shh!’

There was a muffled crashing of undergrowth.

‘Hello!’ he called.

There was no reply, but the crashing grew louder and nearer. 

‘Hello!’ Angela called in a high, wavering voice.

Peter stood up and looked around. ‘I need a stick.’

‘What for?’

Whatever was coming through the undergrowth was just a few yards away by now, though they couldn’t see it. The sound was coming from the place where the trees were thickest and the forest most dark.

‘What for? In case that sound’s a goddamn … lion or something. I am not going to wind up being eaten on my first day in this place.’

He picked up a stick, but it was too long and thin to use as a weapon.

‘Have you got the coconut corkscrew, Angela?’

Crash. Crash. Crash.

‘You are not going to fight a lion with a coconut corkscrew, Peter!’

‘Well I’ve got to fight it with something, for Chrissakes! It’s almost on top of us.’

‘Oh my God!’

... and here ends the extract.