My late great-grandmother, Rose, once told me a memory she recalled from the time when World War II passed through her island home in New Hanover, New Ireland Province, in Papua New Guinea.
She went out fishing one day with her younger sister, Lynette, on their little canoe. Lynette wore a bright yellow dress and was shorter than Rose.
The two girls paddled their canoe out just past the reef and sat adrift on the barrier between the huge coral reef and the deep blue.
They wound fishing strings around old Coca Cola bottles and carried little pieces of leftover chicken meat from last night’s dinner.
The two teenagers had caught at least 5 little silver reef fish – “Malambur” in the local tongue – and were picking the chicken meat for more bait when a loud, low rumbling made them look up quickly into the sun.
Against the harsh glare of the scorching sun, the silhouette of a plane was approaching them from the left side of the island where their father used to go when he was leaving for the mainland. The two girls panicked and dropped their fishing bottles into the canoe before jumping into the deep, blue sea.
Rose opened her eyes in the sea and held the underneath of the canoe before pulling herself underneath it. She looked for Lynette and saw her sister’s dainty little feet staying limp in the water with the yellow dress billowing out around her.
Rose realized that her sister was stuck in her dress, and small as she was she couldn’t descend into the sea. The yellow dress had a double inner lining, and Lynette had worn a little petticoat that was hooked on the dress from the inside.
Rose helped Lynette unhook the ridiculous petticoat from the yellow dress and they both swam down under the boat, after Rose bundled up the dress and dragged it down with them. She thought the people in the plane might see the dress and open fire on them.
The two girls held their breath, their cheeks taut with air, as they heard the plane slowly rumble over them. They cautiously swam up to the surface and looked around, only to see the plane tilt where it was faraway in the sky and turn around. The plane was obviously coming back to check the little canoe.
The two sisters held their breath and sunk once more into the sea. Rose gripped the heavy, yellow dress in her left arm and pulled on her sister with her right arm. The dress unfolded and opened up like a huge, yellow sunflower on the surface of the sea. Rose looked up and saw the plane nearing them so she pulled Lynette and they went under the waves.
The two girls held onto each other beneath the canoe, their eyes shut as they waited for something terrible to happen. Nothing happened and the sisters opened their eyes just as a billowing yellow cloud sank beneath their feet in the sea.
The girls strained their eyes to look and realized it was Lynette’s dress. The yellow dress floated upside down like a huge flower. It caught on a rock hanging off the side of the reef barrier. Two beady eyes stared out at the girls from under the dress and the girls almost burst out laughing in the sea when they realized a turtle had pulled the dress down.
The sisters swam up and looked around carefully for the plane. It was nowhere in sight and the sea was peaceful once more. They looked at each other and burst out laughing when they remembered the turtle.
The two girls took in a deep breath and swam down in search of the turtle who may have saved their lives, but their little friend was gone. And so was the yellow dress.