A Beach Baptismal | Life Writing

 

I’ve always hated sunbathing. All that prickling skin from sticky heat mixed with slimy sun cream, salt and sand while screaming children kick it all up around you… what’s enjoyable about that? And then swimming in the sea – taking the limping, hopping jaunt to the shoreline, attempting to keep the jiggling to a minimum whilst not burning the soles of your feet, only to stand on a sea urchin, or get stung by a jellyfish or, even better, swim through someone’s warm patch knowing full well what it is. Honestly, what’s fun about that?

No, it’s not for me. While my friends frolicked in the sand and tried to get me to join in, I would spend the entire time camped out on my sunbed, firmly in the shade and reading my book. Beaches – no, thank you.

Perhaps that was just the way I saw my life on that claustrophobic Mediterranean rock. The sun. The sand. The sea. All inevitable. All not to be enjoyed. I dreamed of colder climes, grey skies and space to roam.

On one of those beach trips, as I sat scowling under a rain cloud of my own making while my friends paddled and splashed a few metres away, I experienced my first tidal wave. One moment the air was filled with the sounds of splashing water, shrieks and giggles and the next a strange hush descended – as if someone were turning down the volume. It was the quietness that distracted me from the words on my page. I looked up to see people standing where they had been swimming and floating only moments before. It was like the sea had upped and left.

My friends walked back up the beach towards me, loudly discussing this oddity. ‘This is the Mediterranean, there isn’t a tide,’ I heard one of them exclaim. As they stood around me, drying themselves off and flicking bits of sand all over me, my usual snippy comments were silenced as I saw something odd on the horizon. What was that?

Perhaps if I wasn’t in my vain period of refusing to wear my glasses, I might have figured it out sooner. But what felt like several minutes of straining my eyes as my friends chattered around me blindly finally produced a looming awareness in my head. ‘Err, guys…’ I loosely waved a hand to get their attention. ‘Is that what I think it is?’

One by one their gazes followed my pointing finger. This was quickly followed by shouts of ‘Tidal Wave!’ and ‘Tsunami!’ up and down the beach. We didn’t have long; we knew our options were limited. Picking up all our stuff, we did the only thing we could… we jumped up on our sun loungers and prayed it wouldn’t be too deep.

As the metre-deep wave hit the shore and shot up the beach towards us, I felt a brief moment of exhilaration. For an instant, that wave rushing by me felt cleansing and fresh and it showed me that I could take control, if I wanted to. Just a few weeks later, I was on a plane and flying back to England, for good.

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