White sand, soft as ashes…
Littered by broken fragments of bone like coral, pushed ashore by clear crystal waters which rush in and slosh softly away again. Your feet greet the wet as it rolls in and out, warm washing, hushing and shushing thoughts away. Beyond the rolling rhythm maker, where the water meets the land, all the world is blue. Shallow electric becomes deep aquamarine, melts into the sapphire of the sky.
You’ve seen this view before, by day and night, those dreams, only you know, but we all share, take you there.
Dreams change, nightmares start then fade away again…into the blue.
I watched a man drown today, saw the pressure of water turn his insides outside, heard his girlfriend’s disbelieving scream trace the passage of his soul.
How much is a life worth, to make us mark it?
Looking back, piecing together the moments that made up his last, I can see the question asked and ended, for me at least, with the news of the plane crash, the invasion of Gaza, and most of all, with a little white cat…
Will you come with me?
There is something remarkably romantic about arriving somewhere via the Sea. One moment you are speeding, wave riding on a jet boat, skimming and smashing through waves, racing past reef breaks and then a slim strip of white smiles across the ocean, topped by a level of green trees. This grows into Gili T, one of three small tropical islands just off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia.
After months in India, the sound of Bob Marley and western dance music thumping out of restaurants and bars is a welcome home of sorts. Bare foot, sun-baked I wander the mud packed road which runs alongside the beach front, dive schools, tourist tat, food places with the same menus, the smell BBQ’s and huge fish caught and displayed for dinner on tables line the road.
My tatty clothes and scruffy hair at sharp odds to the trim tourist crowd, who shop in boutiques on weekend breaks – Backpacking has changed in South East Asia.
A horse and carts trundle past, their jingle bells a pleasant reminder that here there are no motor horns and that some things are slow to change.
Later, in a packed bar, I do the drunken shuffle to reggae beats. Spinning and dancing and drinking. Surrounded by bikini-clad Aussie girls and vest wearing macho blokes. Through the press something catches my eye. In a corner beyond the bar, a T.V screen muted in the racket of our enjoyment.
The broken remnants of an aircraft downed over Ukraine, images of masked men with guns and bulletproof jackets in Palestine, the images seem to flick to the beat of the music as a city suburb explodes in a cloud of dust and fire, the screen shakes a little, images of children crying, bodies, bloody and burned being carried into broken down hospitals… a girl flashes her boobs at her friend as they dance past…tanks roll past schools, holes appear in supermarket walls. I look back across the dance floor, see the flash of red disco lights cross faces screaming along to songs twenty years dead.
The following day I am lying on the beach, feeling that sadness, helplessness, outrage of unchanging ways in the world, watching the waves, feeling powerless as the water-drops evaporate from skin, leaving salt stains and me dried out.
A meow, a nudge against my leg. A white cat comes to comfort. She fuss’s me for sometime, insistent and demanding as only cats can be and get away with. She comes to my face, rubs her head against the corners of my right eye, walks around my head, rubs her head against my left eye. Was she preempting my tears? Cheered by this little spirit, I watch as she works her way up the beach, towel to towel, fussing about sunbathers for moments, then moving on to the next.
Sometime later, I stand, brush off the beach, and pack things into my bag. I walk along the beach, following the white cat… Will you walk with me?
A hundred yards pass, I see her little white body brushing up against a girl’s leg…
From the water, a cry. A man shouts for help. Someone is trapped below. After a moment of hesitation and disbelief I drop my bag, run to the water and dive in over the coming wave. This is not me. This is a movie?
Twenty yards out, where the water has gone from white to electric to sapphire deep we tread water, four of us take turns to duck down to where the man is stuck, held on the bottom by the jealous ocean, she won’t give him up, he’s too deep. We go down in pairs, head diving, nose grabbing, legs kicking…
…The watery world is silent and clear. Reef and coral, the bones of the new growing on the bones of the old, decorate the floor with patterns of geometric colours, sea fans, pink and purple stand erect by sponges, orange, large and flexing, eels and urchins, fish large and small, blue and yellow striped, green and white, angel, lemon and parrot fish circle and swim by a man, arms slack, face up towards the light, towards me, towards us…a single bubble drifts up towards my face slips past… he’s too deep. Lungs burning, we burst the surface, hands empty, hearts heavy.
Frantic screams for help, commotion on the beach. A man carries an air tank into the water. Ten minutes have passed. With the tank we reach him, pull his lifeless body to the surface, hold him up and swim for the shore… holding his face to one side, yellow insides pouring out… a stumbling run onto the beach, the press of hundreds crowd around to see, what? A woman appears and begins CPR. We form a circle, desperately asking for space, the crowd pushes closer, phones and iPad held high…
Please give him space…
Tempers flare, desperation makes warbles out of voices. The police arrive, push us away, wrap the body in a blanket, the zipped back shuts out the day.
A scream. Of recognition and disbelief. The mans girlfriend falls and collapses. The crowd denied its show moves away. The girl faints face down, the sand sticks to her face, sand as soft as ash, as white as sun-bleached bone. Someone steps over her.
The four of us who swam out stand for a moment in confusion and failure. One walks past me, I reach for his arm, he shoves my hand away. I watch as everyone goes back to their towels. Two people pick up their bat and ball game begins to play. The music is still pumping out of the bars and restaurants. I see a group laughing, see their teeth flash white—a memory of being told that baring your teeth is a way of showing your weapons, a reaction to danger and threat. I stumble past a bar. Three guys are ordering shots and down them with jeers and cheers from their mates. I have a conversation with some shocked faces. Someone is ordering pizza. Someone is ordering cocktails.
I go back to the beach, kneel in the sand. Look at the water that was so pleasurable before, has now become something sickening. I close my eyes as tears come.
See the hand waving in the water as fish from a tank swam past. I see the last breath bubble float past my face, wonder if as it broke the surface, lost its aquatic shield, merged into the air from which it came, did it make a sound?
Did it carry a cry for help? To the faces looking down from above, reaching for him with arms too short, with our hair swirling around our heads, with the reflection of the sun behind us, turning our heads into angel halo’s – did he take comfort knowing someone was there, to care, hard enough to try to reach him?
Was there a whisper in that last bubble? a loved one’s name spoken, that it might breach the surface, seek out the desired ear, and reach into that heart to simply say, I thought of you, when my last thought was all I had, I gave it your name.
I Lean my head back, hearing the cry of the girl, so loud and primal, so like a seagull from home. I hear it rising, feel it echoing around the corridors of my heart and my disbelief, grief. Feel it flow out and take wing, see it fly across the beach, above the heads of those who are keeping calm and carrying on. See it fly higher and higher until the land is simply green circles ringed by white, like bacteria on the skin of some glorious, monstrous blue fruit.
Up and on that gull-cry flies, across oceans and tropical places to lands of deserts, across mountains of conflict and chaos, lands of fear and hate, occupation and reckless, endless hopelessness and equally shared, inherited homelessness.
It whispers around barren streets, moving children’s toys left abandoned in its passage, blowing through holes in walls decorated with blood of innocence.
It circles and soars, whispering its message.
That I was here, that I was someone. I had hopes and dreams and wants and desires and needs. I loved someone once, and that was all that mattered.
And now they are gone. Just one human being. Just one life.
On the beach a man had died, I was sure of it. Didn’t I see it happen? Didn’t I hear his girlfriend scream, see her faint face first? Nothing had changed. The music still played and life carried on, regardless.
Can one life be so cheap that we look away without acknowledgment? Without trying to reach… out?
Something nudges my knee.
The little white cat is purring, rubbing itself against me in that insistent way that only cats can do and get away with.
I close my eyes, shutting out the blue, drowning in Paradise.