WRIT LARGE: Ch 16, Part 2
The Cure for Anything
“First stop Malang Rock,” says Jeff when we are all settled. “It’s a popular place for diving and snorkelling because of the shallow waters. We’re thinking it’s a potential site for ‘Immunity Challenges’.”
For a while we’re quiet, each of us transfixed by the sun’s diamonds glinting on the water’s surface, and the fish that appear to be following our progress.
Eventually, Jeff says, “Who’s up for catching dinner?”
Olivia and I instinctively glance at the ice box. “Did we not bring dinner?” Olivia asks.
“This will be your first Survivor meal,” says Jeff. “Won’t be complete unless you’ve had to work for it.”
“Don’t worry.” Sandra has one arm resting casually on the side of the boat, both feet on the seat as though keeping her options open – stay with us or dive straight in. “It takes some practice and even then, it isn’t easy. But boy is it an achievement the first time you master it.”
“Like this is even open for discussion,” says Tony. “I’ll be catching dinner.”
“I don’t recall you having the monopoly on it.”
Sandra is grinning but there’s a glint in her eyes, which I take as an open challenge. A glance at Jeff and I know I’m right – he’s watching the two champions, measuring their interactions, and I guess that he knew exactly what he was doing when he posed the situation as a question rather than a suggestion.
“Hey, c’mon,” says Tony, “who’s the king of spear-fishing?” His arms are open wide, inviting the praise.
“We have guests,” says Sandra. “How about we show them how it’s done before claiming the glory?”
“I’m okay,” says Olivia. “I don’t think I could do it even if I knew how.”
I tell them that, as a teenager, I once caught a barracuda, with my father’s help of course, and that I gained no satisfaction from the act whatsoever. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it that evening, even though my uncle said it was barbecued to perfection. I can still see those vacant eyes accusing me now.
Olivia closes her eyes as if she’s trying to picture the scene.
“I get it, man, it’s tough,” says Tony. “But when you’re starving, and you don’t know where your next meal’s coming from, you’ll pretty much eat anything.”
“And setting yourself up as the provider has nothing at all to do with winning votes.” Sandra raises her eyebrows at him.
“Just giving them the benefit of my experience.”
“You should be careful.” Jeff winks in my direction. “You might find yourself appearing as a character in this guy’s next novel.”
“Ex-cop turned self-proclaimed king of survival,” says Sandra.
We all laugh.
“Hey, I’ll take it,” says Tony.
When we stop at Malang Rock, we all work as a team to unload the equipment from the boat. We get our snorkelling gear on, Sandra and Tony making sure we’re wearing it correctly, and splash our way into the water like penguins in our flippers. It’s like wading into a vast bathtub. The water is shallow, and so clear that I can see the fish zipping around my legs.
You read about, and see images of, this whole other world beneath the sea, but I never fully appreciated its surreal beauty until now. Forests of coral, iridescent fish, manta rays, eels, and even a turtle that must’ve been a metre long, all trustingly sharing their home with us.
Sandra and Tony make spearfishing look easy and graceful. Working together, they each catch a mackerel, the tip of their spear gliding expertly into their prey, and no clamouring for a title – they are simply catching food for camp. I wonder if the onboard banter is part of the ‘Survivor persona’ they’ve adopted since accepting their royal titles, and a way of getting to know Olivia and I without revealing too much of themselves. Maybe it’s difficult to detach from the game when it has become such a huge part of their lives.
During the onward journey from Malang Rock to Coral Island, Olivia is looking relaxed and sun-kissed with her sea-stringy hair and pink nose. I ask what she thought of the snorkelling experience.
“It was magical,” she says, wide-eyed. “A fish actually let me touch it. I felt like a mermaid.”
I suggest that we tend to associate magic with the unknown. Humans may study sea creatures and the oceans, but because we breathe on land and will never be able to control the seas, we will never fully understand it, therefore it becomes magical. Witches were once persecuted because people didn’t, and still don’t, understand witchcraft.
I think we could all do with a legend or two in our lives.
Olivia nods, thoughtful. “Do you believe in mermaids?”
Her eyes are bright, and I can almost visualise Olivia as a little girl watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid, mesmerised and desperately believing the story to be real.
I believe that legends are as real as you want them to be, I say. When Hans Christian Andersen wrote the fairy tale, he had a vision of a beautiful creature, half-woman, half-fish, living underwater, and something must have triggered that vision, a glint of sunlight maybe, a playful dolphin possibly. When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, he was influenced by Transylvanian legends and historical facts. I tell her that my nephew has carried out extensive research into Vlad the Impaler, who many believe to be the inspiration for Count Dracula, because he believes there must be some truth behind the concept of vampirism and the undead.
“Well,” says Jeff, “we have a couple of legends right here on this boat.”
Sandra grins, and Tony gives us a flamboyant bow.
“Do you guys feel like legends?” Olivia asks.
“Every day,” says Tony. “I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is remind myself that I’m an absolute legend.”
Sandra shakes her head. “We’re just ordinary people who got lucky. If people want to think of us as legends, then I hope it spurs them on to extraordinary things. I think we could all do with a legend or two in our lives.”
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Sandra seems like such a humble character. She doesn't think about herself as a legend, yet wishes to inspire others...what a great goal to have in life: to inspire others.
Legends inspire life and life inspires legends: one of the reasons I love Folklore Thursday on Twitter, and folklore in general (see https://groweatgift.com/?s=folklore+thursday for some of my folklore posts, largely nature lore). The more we know of myth, the more we know of reality.
I love your placemaking - it's like travelling the world without the expense or pain my body now inflicts if I try to move it far; from glamorous parties to playful days out enjoying thrilling rides; glittering casinos to escapist beaches (and sea-stingy hair is wonderfully evocative and placed me in the heart of the scene immediately). It reminds me of the 80s bonkbusters (a huge compliment as I love them and think they're much under-rated) mixed with a dash of modern business titles, a pinch of mystery/suspense (but positive rather than fearful suspense) and a sprinkling of self-help - Judith Krantz and Olivia Goldsmith meets Michael Crichton but in publishing rather than science world and with a spoonful of Chicken Soup for the Soul ;-)