Less than forty eight hours after arriving on the island, I was leaving. My first two days at Soneva Fushi had been so full of heady wonder and instruction, that when someone told me we’d be having sunset drinks on a sandbank in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I didn’t ask any questions. I just got on the boat.
The sandbank is a spit of solid land surrounded by the bluest waters. Sometimes we can get there and sometimes we can’t, depending on the tide. When we can, the occasion calls for everyone to gather. As we sat at the front of the speedboat on our wild dash across, I saw it emerge out of nowhere, an ethereal crescent moon of a mini-island set against a lilac sky. ‘It’s changed shape,’ someone said. ‘It’s a different shape every time. Sometimes it’s bigger, sometimes it’s smaller.’ They pointed out to a hammock rocking in the wind, only inches above the coming waves, its base already submerged. ‘I was able to walk out to that the last time.’ Someone handed me a drink. I tried to take it all in, to commit as much of the scene to my memory as possible, but the evening got away from me. It felt like sand sieving through my fingers. It felt too much like a dream. Lately a lot has.
In late summer 2018, the Guardian ran a story on Ultimate Library’s Maldivian pop-up bookshop, and their search for a Barefoot Bookseller. I applied, and then promptly forgot all about it. It was a pipe-dream to paradise that I never actually entertained as a possibility, so when I found out I got the job, I was stunned. I spent the weekend in a dazed stupor, checking and re-checking the email to make sure I hadn’t imagined it. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I readied myself slowly, as if I didn’t believe it was happening, as if I didn’t want to jinx it if it was. On my way to the airport, I got my friend to check my ticket. ‘Yes,’ she laughed, ‘it’s real.’
The bookshop itself, much like our little sandbank, is something of an apparition. Curved and clean, the shop is built on stilts above the sand, circled by heavy green and growing bush. It’s a moment’s walk from the beach. Its shelves are made from wood found on the island, its lights hang on sanded branches, and its ceiling is dotted with glowing stars. To see it is to doubt yourself. It’s the book lover’s haven, nestled away in everyone else’s. The Barefoot Bookshop. Imagined by Ultimate Library, built by Soneva Fushi and now, it would appear, run by me.
Before leaving Ireland I had to cancel plans with a friend, due to the fact I would now be living 6,000 thousands miles away. ‘No problem,’ she said. ‘These things happen . . . In dreams.’