Saturday, May 21, 2011

What happened in the tide pool (Low Tide, Cont'd)

It was the magic moment.  The point just after the ocean receded, and just before it began to swell back again to fill the ancient bowl it had carved into the protruding reef.  Gaping and exposed, shelves of black rock jutted in jagged layers below me, with stubborn cowrie shells and clams stuck to their underbellies.  I took a deep breath.

And jumped.

Sunlight does funny things when its filtered through water.  Opening my eyes, immersed in the dregs of the last wave, I saw it slanting down in brilliant ribbons, throwing golden zebra stripes over the coral, my arms and legs, the brown bodies next to and above me.  Cowrie shells, dull above the surface, were now little, brownish spots of blood-red against smooth cream.  Spiky black sea urchins sprouted in grumpy tufts from the rock.  The water around me was filled with bubbles and frantic brown limbs.

Out of breath, I thrust my head above the surface.  The muted, high pitched clinking I had heard below the water instantly gave way to shouting, splashing, and the roar of an incoming wave.  Startled, I looked quickly to see what my comrades were doing.  Everyone now had their heads above the surface, and were swimming away from the protruding coral wall.  Towards the mouth of the bowl.  Towards open sea.  More kids ringed top, and waved at me frantically to follow them.

If I had learned one thing on Luaniua Island, it was when the villagers told me to do something, I should do it.  They knew their world way better than I did.  I'm sure it was harder on my parents to be treated like three year-olds who didn't know anything than it was for us kids, but all six of us had enough sense to obey.

So I turned, and swam with all my might towards the mouth of the tide pool.  As I did, the water started to rise around me.  The next wave was rolling in off the ancient ocean floor.  Now all the kids in the water were swimming back towards the coral wall.  They quickly caught up to where I was, and together we rode the wave in.

Kicking my legs as hard as I could, pumping my arms, I kept pace with my island compatriots.  The kids ringing the edge now stooped down with hands out, and started plucking us all from the surf .  I could feel the great gathering force of the wave beneath me.  As someone grabbed my uplifted hand, the ocean threw me out of its great belly.

Staggering, I planted my feet gratefully on the firm rock.  A wall of surf rose in defiance behind me, the sun glistened in triumph, and I sucked in the benevolent air.

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