Ivan jumps in the luscious green water of Vaitahu Bay for a dip:
After a short swim, he begins to lift himself up onto the concrete wall of the wharf to get out, but something stops him short. He drops backwards into the water and begins swimming off in an awkward stroke that is a cross between a dog paddle and a drowning man.
“Where are you going?” I yell out to him.
He doesn’t respond. Something is wrong. He keeps paddling in the direction of the rocky shoreline, with his head only just above the water’s surface.
I take off running to the rocks where he’s headed.
He scrambles out of the water, looking pale and noticeably shaken. He buckles to the ground, trembling and grasping at his feet.
“What happened?” I ask, confused.
He rocks back and forth with his arms wrapped around his knees.
“What hurt you?”
“Don’t know,” he replies through clenched teeth. “But it’s hurting everywhere.” He holds out his feet, revealing a bunch of purple welts. His swollen toes look like cooked sausages. “Here too,” he says, lifting his foot to show splinters deeply embedded in the underside. “And here.” He points to his elbows, then both knees. He’s covered in angry welts.
A small crowd gathers, including two local men who take one look at his condition and recognize the cause. “Sea urchins,” one of them says.
This makes Ivan rock back and forth even more vigorously.
I remember seeing them when I stepped out of the dinghy. There was a massive colony of them clinging to the wall: ink-black bouquets of spiny needles. My skin aches with sympathetic pain.
“What should we do?” I ask the local men.
One of the men steps forward to inspect. “Ah, you need … you need to… ah …” he hesitates to find the words in English. “You need to make pee-pee on stings.”
I blush and let out an uncomfortable giggle. I’m staring at the men – part nervous, part waiting for one of them to say, “Just kidding!”
The three men look directly at me. Me? Oh my god, of course me!
“Oui, yes,” the second man agrees. “Make pee-pee and voilà, the stings vanish.”
The crowd of spectators all look to me — the significant other — waiting for something to happen. I contemplate the situation: do I squat and pee on Ivan in front of a group of people? Would I even have enough to cover his knees, feet, elbows and hands? I only just went! But I have to try — I can’t just let him lay there suffering.
I move in …
Ivan snaps out of his stupor of pain, springs up off the ground and begins to walk off. “Forget it. I’m totally fine,” he says.
Everyone looks confused. He was lying on the ground, pasty and traumatized, now he’s walking away with a skip in his step?
“Ah, you sure you’re alright there, buddy?” someone in the crowd asks.
“Yep. Totally good,” Ivan says, in a pinched voice. He limps off down the dirt road towards town, forcing me to run to catch up.
“What happened?” I ask. “You’re better now? Why did you – ”
“I wasn’t gonna whip out my schlong and pee all over myself with a group of people watching!” He picks up his pace and hobbles away.