This post is a little departure from my usual style…if you read on I promise I’ll explain all at the end!
“In Zanzibar, pole pole. Take it easy.”
I try to cling on to those words, reaching for their meaning as my chest tightens with every breath. I look round as I surface, the salty sting of sea water filling my lungs. Everyone else seems to be doing fine, enjoying it even, maybe. It’s hard to tell when your features are smushed up behind a mask. I try not to gag as I stuff the hard plastic tube back into my mouth, trying to slow my breathing as I dip my head back under the water. My mask mists up again as I squint to catch glimpses of coral and black and yellow fish darting below. This is supposed to be fun?
Two years earlier, the other side of the Indian Ocean. In a lagoon inside a coral atoll. It’s only my second time snorkelling, but the instructor is eager to show me a shipwreck and suddenly he’s pulling me down, down, against all my natural instincts. I last about 30 seconds before I have to resurface, gasping for air. “It’s ok”, he says, “It’s safe.”
You may not like it, some quiet voice inside my head whispers, but how often will you get this chance. Part of me is still unsure, but I let him take my hand and pull me back under the surface, the grainy outline of a coral-encrusted hull slowly coming into focus. And suddenly a whole aquarium full of tropical fish is swimming in and out of view. Blue sturgeon, black and white striped angelfish, little yellow minnows and shoals of tiny iridescent ones all play hide and seek among the bony witches fingers of coral reaching up towards the light.
“Hey, Claire, you okay?” asks my instructor. My cheeks blush crimson under the mask, another reminder of how hopeless I am at this. Why do I bother trying? “Here, try my mask. It might be a better fit.” I accept, grudgingly. I don’t see how it’ll make any difference.
But still I pull the mask down over my eyes, pulling the strap tight above my ears. Here goes nothing. Something is different this time. There’s no water leaking through the edge of the plastic encasing my nose. The mouthpiece fits better and as I realise I can breath I feel my shoulder slacken and my eyes refocus. We’re right near the drop off now and huge shoals of silvery fish are right below, along with blue starfish and prickly sea urchins I’m still keen to avoid.
“Pole pole” he says again. “Hakuna matata”. No worries.
“Diving next time?” he asks when I finally come up for air. I laugh despite myself. “Yeah, I don’t think so.” One step at a time.
This post is a weekly writing challenge as part of a storytelling course I’m following from Mike at Fevered Mutterings. Hope you enjoyed it :)