I wish I could remember his family name. He was Charlie to us and his brother, Will. and we swam often from Kenya's magnificent beaches, clutching our harpoons, seeking tasty fish for lunch. We'd barbecue them on the beach under the shade of a leaning palm tree and life was just perfect. In the evenings we'd dance under starlit skies to songs arriving from England and the USA, the volume turned up high on the plastic portable record player but still drowned out by the regular splash of waves.
That day they swum from the Old Port, through the dhows, to the harbour's northern shore. It was a swim I did most mornings before breakfast and work. I loved the warmth of the water, the early morning songs of the sailors, the hollow thump of waves upon the old wooden hulls. But I worried about the fins of tiger shark ploughing back and forth, dashing at the food being tossed overboard. I, I assumed, was too big to interest them, and because they never went for me, I felt I was right.
Poor Charlie. That day they swam over to the cement works peer, I had something else planned, maybe I was at work delivering quality wines and spirits to the luxury hotels lining Kenya's coast. My family had made good money and created an international business on this simple formula and they also fed the many ships which docked at Mombasa.
I heard the news that night. My first reaction was to rush to Will's side. I can't remember if I did or not. I think not, for he and his family were in shock. I never swam across the Old Port again, but I often went down to look across the water and wonder that Charlie was no more. And hope he'd not felt pain. Hoped he'd gone instantly, for his body was cleaved in two. Poor Charlie.
Lazing on the beach at St Trope, enjoying the company of my Swedish actress girl friend, chuckling over the party we’d been to the night before at Brigit Bardot’s house. What could be better. “Bliss,” I rolled over to kiss her, but leapt up yelping, “Aaah!”
The picture of refinement the first paragraph conveys instantly fled as I jumped up in my worn old swimming trunks, slapping my backside. Used to my peculiar nature, Anneli laughed, “What’re you up to now!”
“Something bit me.”
Lovely Anneli laughed, “There’s no adders on this swanky beach.”
Still striking my bottom as if I were a character in a cartoon movie, I swept my eyes around the clusters of bronzed young starlets wearing the latest fashion in swimwear. My eyes lingered for a second on the overly made-up characters promenading in designer clothes, at attractive young women walking pompom dogs. And they all looked over at me, raised posh eyebrows, pouted their fancy lips.
Anneli chuckled, “Look! A wasp fleeing your hands!”
It was days before I could sit comfortably.
I was singing to my beloved, inventing the song as I went, weaving in words relating to what was around us, to what we were doing. Unfortunately, my voice wasn't as good as the singer I have sometimes been mistaken for. Unfortunately, my beloved loved singing and sang in a choir. But that didn't stop me for I was in love and in full flow and I was having a ball and this was the way I express my love. No wonder few women have fallen for me.
This woman I was soon to marry was laughing. Mock laughter, not the laughter of joy. And I knew it but could not stop myself and she continued, unabated, in her sarcasm. No wonder she flung her hands in the air. And, despite our standing upon white sands, beneath a leaning palm, looking over a turquoise lagoon, her face conveyed her baffled amusement.
Yet I carried on. That's the problem with blind love. You are lost in your emotion. Her flying fingers accidentally struck me in the eye. Hard. The unintended action worked. My voice rose from a flat D to a shrill E.
And she laughed. Oh how she laughed! And as she laughed she hopped about in mirth, glad, I'm sure, that I'd stopped singing, although she now denies this vehemently. Gosh it hurt, And wow did she laugh. Her sarcasm hurt.
She was out of control, wheeling about the beach, tears of joy spilling down her face. And I hopped about in pain.
So drunk was she with humour that she had to sit upon a fallen coconut trunk and as she did so, I saw her leap up and yelp. Ho she yelped! And seeing her situation, I laughed. It was text-book stuff, a cartoon come alive. She grew angry. I stopped chortling, afraid our fragile young love might be affected. I dashed forwards, helped remove the large crab from her toe.
2 FATHER D.
It didn't feel right, the man who was to marry us hating me. Well, Father Dennis would only use the word 'hate' for his feelings towards the devil. But in his eyes, I being a sort of Buddhist agnostic, was the demon he never wanted to enter his sacred cathedral and there we were minutes before my wedding.
The evening before, Father Dennis had instructed us where to place the attractively arranged vases of wild flowers that were to be on each table. My fiancee, my brother and our best friends had spent ages of valuable time decorating the social hall at the rear of the cathedral where we were to dine after the wedding, and the venerable father, keeper of the holy building, had watched this activity.
The old priest and I had instantly clashed upon meeting. I, overly bouncy, excited to be getting married, had shaken his demurely presented hand with too much enthusiasm a week before when my fiancee and I had began our much delayed moral classes with him. That was another reason he didn't warm to me, usually these instructions in Catholicism begin months before the hallowed day of union, but we'd been working for a charity abroad until a few days ago.
Anyway, there we were before the wedding cermemony, walking down the corridor linking the cathedral to the social hall, my brother and I, going to collected the vases of spring flowers friends had picked in the country the previous afternoon. It was then we discovered the depth of Father Dennis' hate. The twenty vases had been moved from the wide window ledges we'd carefully placed them on, to sit atop central heating radiators. Most of the flowers had wilted in the heat.
Father Dennis watched without helping, as my brother and I, with only half an hour before things kicked off in the cathedral, rushed back and forth, carrying as many vases as we could manage each journey. He watched as we quickly discarded the ruined flowers, rearranged the better ones into fewer vases, ensuring there was at least one for each table being laid-up by the Catholic caterers my fiancee's parents insisted on having.
Sweating, anxious because I was now late, I strode down the corridor towards the cathedral. Father Dennis held out his hand and spoke for the first time that morning. "I won't marry you wearing that in my cathedral!"
Worried time had already run short, I looked down my slim torso and smoothed the midnight-blue silk kurta. Then heard myself lying to save the day. "An Indian Maharaja presented me this to wear on this special day." And stepped onwards.
Following me, Father Dennis mumbled, "OH! Well that's alright then."
It wasn't the first time I discovered the keteeb didn't like me, but it was almost the last thing I ever knew. I had been employed to "Uplift the education" - which meant creating an education system where there was none. The kateeb thought the island's traditions were enough and this inevitably caused friction.
For schools to work I needed teachers, but nobody had even attended primary school. Furthermore, the culture had no books, apart from the one religious text, fortunately, because this was a social essential, everyone could read.
On top of these enormous difficulties, I was given only three weeks to research the culture before being expected to start producing something. These were gigantic problems, but within two months I had constructed a basic primary school curriculum.
I called it the 'Coconut Curriculum' because these trees dominated the remote islands we worked on. Maths was based around measuring, weighing and tossing coconuts. General science and the arts used coconuts and language revolved around coconuts. Doubting my work, my boss called in an international educationalist from London. The man loved my curriculum.
However, a few of the atoll kateebs saw it as a threat and the island in question, strangely chosen by my boss, had the worst reaction. On my first day, I was stoned as I walked from my room. I reacted by chasing the perpetrators. Another day my clothes were stolen. On a third, as I tried to start my first lesson, the kateeb and his elders began shouting at me.
I ignored all this and continued teaching the young adults selected to become teachers. After a week, my wife, who was training midwives on the island, joined me in an afternoon swim. As we walked to the nearest beach, the kateeb told us that due to the tides, it was better to swim from another side of the island, so we did as bid. Standing watching us, the kateeb and his elders, seemed pleased.
We swam out a safe distance and were enjoying the cooling waters after the typical 40 degree heat when I heard my wife yelp, she was being pulled out to sea. I rapidly swam after her, grabbed her and began to tug her back towards the shore. We were in a dangerous rip-current. It was frightening how quickly the figures on the shore shrank, how suddenly we were out at sea.
Understanding survival, our brain locks into the moment, finds a solution. I recalled the trick called 'Ferry gliding' and swam at an angle of 45 degrees rather than straight into the current. This pushes you sideways as you kick, edging you across to safer waters. I was exhausted from the effort, but adrenaline ensured we got out of the pull.
I safer sea, we relaxed, gained our breath and gradually swam back to the beach more than a kilometre distant. Hauling ourselves from the slopping waves, we lay upon the sands, hearts and chests pumping until our minds cleared. The Kateeb and his ilk stood watching us, mumbling angrily. When sufficient able, I said, "That was the safest spot to swim, thank you."
They moved away.