Tookie Bikini

I leaned against the guardrail, watching with gloomy fascination as sharks milled about in the brilliant blue bay below. There weren’t two or three of them, or even a dozen. There were at least thirty, zigzagging in agitated crosshatches through the innocent water.

Unsuspecting tourists swam there – right in the thick of it. And some time last year, after the summer holidays were over and I’d gone back to the city, Tookie Bikini had swum there too, defiant and fearless. I’d just learned it was her last swim.

Her real name – the last one – wasn’t ‘Bikini’. But the first time I saw her she wore a fire-engine red, two-piece swimsuit that hung on her bony body with supreme negligence, for Tookie was built like a surfboard, all hard, shiny surfaces the colour of milk chocolate. As she darted about the blindingly white sands she looked like a half-eaten jaffa on the move. The effect was startling.

Tookie was nine years old and leader of the pack. In her hair was a single pink flower from an Oleander bush. So what if Oleanders are poisonous? It was behind her ear, not in her mouth. Our first fight was over that flower.

My mother had me convinced that all you had to do was walk past an Oleander and it would jump right out, paint you all over with venomous sap and leave you right there on the footpath, gasping your last. When I saw it sticking out of the mobile jaffa’s crinkled, black hair, my hand instinctively whipped out and flicked it clean into the water behind her. We hadn’t yet said hullo.

‘Hey, watcha think you doing, white girl? You some kinda lunatic?’

If there was any racial slur, it passed me by. You can’t argue with fact, and the fact is, I am white, outstandingly so. I look like a snow-cone without the flavour. It’s baffling how adults make such a fuss about colour – the grass is green, the sky (on a good day) is blue, Tookie was chocolate-drop brown and I’m so white the blue of my veins shows through.

‘That flower’s poison – you’ll get sick and die,’ said my eight and a half year old self.

‘I ain’t gonna eat it. You just jealous ‘cos it looks pretty.’

‘Am not. You’ve got no sense. I just saved your life,’ I huffed.

She thought about that for a full minute before calling one of the big boys over, a pimply, awkward kid in low-slung board-shorts.

‘Yeah,’ he stumbled, blushing under his sunburn. ‘She’s right. If you stick your fingers in your mouth, it’ll make you pretty sick.’

‘Could I die though?’

‘S’possible,’ and off he shuffled in his rubber thongs, scratching imaginary insect bites as he headed towards his gawking mates.

From that moment forward, Tookie’s code of honour demanded she become my best friend, on account of my having saved her from certain death.

I might be a sun-deprived city kid but every summer holiday, when my family traveled to the island for six perfect weeks, Tookie loved me with a heart so big I could never figure how it fitted inside her scrawny chest. She introduced me to ‘Gramma’, her only close relative, and Gramma took me on just as her granddaughter had – no questions asked.

It was Gramma who gave me the news. I bounded up the two front steps onto the bleached boards of the verandah and knocked politely on the peeling door, always shy after a year apart. Usually, Tookie pelted down the hallway, her long, flat feet flying over the worn linoleum, and shrieked with excitement when she found me there. But this morning, the tread was slow and heavy. I felt something twist inside me, like eels corkscrewing through my innards.

Gramma opened the door slowly and without a sound, took me in her soft, plump arms. Fear washed over me like a rogue wave, making my heart thump wildly and my eyes fill with hot tears. I didn’t want to hear what was coming.

‘Tookie…she gone, girl.’

I nodded, not yet breathing  – understanding nothing.

I knew Tookie could be hard to find. We played tiggy on the beach at night, down by the pier where the only light came from the moon and its reflection on the water. She didn’t wear her red bikini then – instead she was fitted out in denims and navy shirt that rendered her, with her dark limbs and inky hair, completely invisible. Eventually, standing stock still by one of the pylons, she’d give herself away with her toothy grin, a white, shiny crescent that glowed with mischief. We fell about laughing then, and chased each other over dunes and soft coastal grasses. But always, always…I found her.

My throat ached. ‘Where is she, Gramma?’

‘Them sharks got her. Them white ones that come every summer. I told her to stay away from them…that they’d take her away somewhere she don’t wanna go. But she don’t listen, Bunty.’

I flew from her arms in an instant, skidding on the bottom step while someone screamed in the air around me. It was like the keening of the island people around a funeral pyre. I’d heard it once, as I watched the smoke spiral above the burning platform – and the acute sadness of that moment never left me. Now, the wailing came from my own lips but I’d ceased to inhabit my body, trying to escape myself; to be anywhere but inside this aching chest that cried out for its best friend.

It wasn’t far to the secluded bay where the sharks bred. Nowhere on the island is very far, except when it storms and you have to batter your way against the headwinds. Then it’s like walking backwards.

But today I reached the bay even before I knew where I was headed. From my position on the lookout, I imagined the cold, dead eyes of the sharks; their rotting, serrated teeth that do unspeakable things; that must have done unspeakable things to Tookie Bikini, leader of the pack, heart as big as a haystack.

And I found my feet burning, scraping against hot basalt rocks as I flung myself down the hazardous goat-track to the forbidden inlet.

Stupid Tookie! She thought she could defy anything. She taunted the big boys, snarled at the wild dogs, gave cheek to the elders and rock-hopped barefoot over oyster beds without a scratch…but didn’t she know she couldn’t, just couldn’t, defy a pack of sharks and win?

For fifteen heartbeats I hated her. Then my surroundings came into focus, the cliffs of the bay wrapping me in a perfect semi-circle. In front of me was impossibly white sand and a stretch of creamy bubbles that led to the treacherous water itself – a serene, blue expanse that promised peace but delivered death. Behind me though, was something I’d never seen before, something hidden from above by the overhang of the cliffs.

The cave was perhaps eight feet high and twice as wide. From just inside the entrance, puffs of smoke exited in fits and starts and low, nasty voices rumbled with ugly intent. Every now and then I heard a snicker. Normally, I’d turn and scramble back up the track without a word, but I was still existing somewhere outside myself; somewhere that made me careless and brash.

I took two steps inside the cave.

‘Get outa here, white girl.’

The shock of that voice stung me like a blue bottle.


A familiar half-moon of bright white flashed at me from the darkness – Tookie’s grin.

I fell to the cave floor – sick, relieved, frightened, and confused. I could smell the damped-down fire, the dried up Coca Cola, the stink of teenage sweat and cheap deodorant and yet, unmistakably, the familiar smell of the jaffa.

‘I said get outta here! You not safe.’

I believed her - the cave thrummed with danger. Instinctively, I turned and fled, the sound of rough laughter and cracking knuckles menacing my retreating steps.



‘Why did you say she was dead, Gramma?’

‘I say she ‘gone’, girl – but she dead to me anyhow. She got bad company. Them boys she hang out with? Them just white sharks – no good. They eat away that girl’s soul and she let ‘em. She don’t go to school no more and she don’t come home at night.  She don’t care about nobody but herself. I don’t want you to go same way as her. She gotta be dead to you too, Bunty.’

But Tookie Bikini wasn’t dead to me. She wasn’t dead at all. That’s what mattered. I’d saved her life once and that meant I could do it again. It might take a long time; years maybe; but if I hovered near, letting her know I was there for her and keeping us both safe, then Tookie would come good again. I knew it. After all, she was my best friend…and best friends stick together. My code of honour demanded it.











StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 12/21/2009 2:44:50 AM
Wonderfully done! The ladies say it all. I will never look at a peach tree again the same! Eloquent and imaginative!

penmage   penmage wrote
on 8/14/2009 7:23:07 AM
Very very good. I like this. The way you bring the characters to life is wonderful. I hope you've planned a second part as it some how seems unfinished. But perhaps that is just me. I don't want Tookie to go that way.

StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 8/4/2009 1:05:51 AM
Wonderful, Jack. I lived in Kansas and saw many a sunflower. Now I live next to Kansas (Missouri) and still see quite a few. Loved this!!!!

StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 8/4/2009 12:39:46 AM
Wonderful, Jack. I lived in Kansas and saw many a sunflower. Now I live next to Kansas (Missouri) and still see quite a few. Loved this!!!!

StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 8/4/2009 12:38:11 AM
Welcome back, Shak! And what a comeback story you graced us with. I see you have not lost a step for this was a great read and write. I like the fact that the differences we all have can be overcome, if we want them to. Keep up the great work!

Children's Stories
Ages 9-12
writing shakatoah
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Rating: 10.0/10

A story I submitted to a competition but didn't get placed so I'm sharing it here for your enjoyment. Some of the terms might seems particularly Australian so if they don't make sense to my overseas readers, please let me know. Basically, the story is about the unlikely friendship of two girls, one an islander and one from the city, who, despite their differences and the unsettling trials of adolescence, manage to stick together. There's a twist at the end for those of you who like a twist in the tail/tale.
A Word from the Writer
One of my overseas friends explained to me that she didn't know what a jaffa was! I realized jaffas must be an Aussie phenomenon; in fact they are an institution in this country. They are lollies (you might call them candy) and are perfectly spherical, made of scrumptious milk chocolate and coated in a crunchy bright orange-red candy. Hence, in the story, the narrator thinks Tookie looks like a mobile jaffa. She has smooth, milk-chocolate coloured skin and is generally decked out in a fire-engine-red bikini. I hope it all makes sense now. Jaffas, by the way, are flavoured orange (along with the chocolate) and are famous for being rolled down the aisle in movie theatres all across the country.