Diving Old Man

He sat there on the edge of the boat, his feet dangling in the water. His hands gripped the edge to balance the tank holstered to his back, this would be a dive to remember. The island rose gradually from the ocean, sea-bed to corals, rocks to sand, gradual till the beach and then rose fast to loom like a giant shadow of a fist. In the afternoon light the island and its hillock was a gentle fold of green in the ocean of blue but as the sun set, the island seemed to swallow the last of the fading light to turn from a shade of green to pitch black, just as quick as the eel that went back into it’s hiding hole when the torch shone on it.
The boat bobbed gently on the ocean surface, each passing wave lapping its sides and moving on. From afar it looked like the old man was on a see-saw in a park with the island on the other end, bobbing gently up and down. He liked the quite of the evening, he would have loved to have the boat to himself but for the boatman who sat snuggled at the other end of the boat. He would have loved to have an oar and paddle himself across the ocean, see the oar make ripples in the water as he rowed, they wouldn’t give him one, also he was too weak to row himself to the middle of nowhere. In another life, in another adventure he would have had an oar to himself, a telescope and a compass that showed true north; for today he had to do with the diesel fumes of the engine and the rickety boat, all things apart he liked the lapping of the warm water on his feet, warm water turning cold with the setting sun.
It was time. The sky ablaze in sunset colours, the orange disc making a splash of colours as it went down. He just had enough time until the ocean turned ink blue and black soon. He heaved, swinging his legs and feet back onboard, the tank hung precariously over the edge. He dug into his pockets and pulled out a zippo and from the other pulled out a joint. The boatman shook his head in disapproval, the old man lit the tip, inhaled hard and held his breath, his lips turned up in a smile and he exhaled. The white cloud hung to the low boat roof. He took another deep breath from the joint, it crackled and glowed orange in the dark, small embers flew about like fireflies in the white smoke. One more hard puff and the fireflies slowly fly down from the skies, flow over his feet and spread across the floor. Stars on the floor and stars in the greying sky. He stomped down hard on the wooden floor and the stars rose in a dust, some fell back, some flew out to the sea, some flew again, circling the old man’s head in a little shiny halo.
Then he sat there, the tank tugging him towards the ocean, he sat there bent over, waiting for the strength to leave him, when his feet would rise and he’d take a tumble into the ocean tank first. He tries to let go, trying to calm down and trying to hide the tears that swell up. It would pass he knew, the first jab of pain that always surged through him, then the colours would line up and light up. He slipped on his flippers and they were yellow, he sat and kept looking at the flippers on both his feet, they were a distinct yellow, two yellows, then slowly the pattern emerged, the webbing were blue, blue webbing and yellow flippers, he stared with an amused smile, he stared at his feet donning the flippers, and slowly the flippers appeared to merge, merge into a giant tail, the blue webbing turn into blue shiny scales, scales that climbed up his ankles and shins, climbing and thickening around his waist, him feeling like a giant fish. Then he flipped the ocean, tank first, head and then the shiny tail.

The water gets warmer as he sinks further into the ink, falling slowly through a green walled tunnel, the sky on the other end seems far, the orange, tinged green and disturbed with ripples, he sinks further away from the light, deeper into the darkness. He expected fear to grip him, anxiety overpowering him and forcing him to swim back to the surface but the water feels warm and friendly, cuddling almost. His tail looks strong, silver blue scales, and gently guiding him onward, he knows it’s his flippers, but the tail looks convincing to his cotton mind, he flips his tail like a rudder and rolls to face the ocean floor. It’s murky at start, and he can’t see far, his eyes adjust to the dark, his retinas at work and then he sees the floor lighting one fish at a time, one jelly fish at a time. His mind suddenly takes to him another sunset, he is in the open, on a windy evening, in another part of the world and the sun still setting in the horizon behind a cloud bank. A clear mind, the wind making a mess of his hair, he brushes them in place and digs deep into his trench coat to keep his hands warm, and he looks far away into the horizon, standing atop the empire state building, the city of New York looks miniaturized but abuzz a few hundred stories below. The sky is ablaze and the way it is with sunsets, one can see a thousand sun sets but will always appreciate another, it does grow on you but never does it out grow, outgrow so that you walk away without giving a second look and his eyes glow orange in the sun’s glare. The sun seems to set forever, seeing it from this high was a new experience, it felt he was almost level with the glow ball for an instance and it went down turning the sky purple and beckoning in the dark; The miniature city below lit up one bulb at a time, a street lamp, a car headlight, neon signs, office floors, apartment blocks, just fire flies from above, blurry light from above and he is back, the ocean floor catching fire, a fire spreading further from where he can see, the edge racing away to the island.
 He starts swimming towards to the light and the shapes of the luminescent creatures start to emerge, the jelly fish spring away to avoid him and the fish too. He stops flapping his tail and stops throwing his arms, he adjusts his weight to stall and stay still. The lights seem to like that, they grow brighter and bolder, they come closer, inching close to his goggles, round bright lights with a pink center and his mind slips again. He is under the lights laying sprawled on an operating bed, the doctor in bent over his stomach but he can’t feel anything, like the time he lay on a woman but the touch never reached him, black hair whipping past his face, the soft brush and the perfume, suddenly he is back in the ocean, the coral around him glistening in his head lamp, an ugly eel slithering away and then the hair brushing past his face again.  He needs another drag, his mind was supposed to stir away from his everyday life and leave his disconnected at the bottom of the ocean but the thoughts always seemed to crawl back, from under the thick shroud of vodka or rum, or beam in like a streak of bolting through his clouded mind. He felt aghast and a little sad, he started to see more of the jelly fish than it’s light, or the light from his headlamp, his scales dropped one by one and his yellow flippers appeared, it was time to swim back to the light. He adjusts the weights and slowly rises through the water and after what seemed like an eternity of slipping in and slipping out. Endless panoramic oceans. A water cooler far away, far way at the end of a long corridor lined with cubicles. A doctor’s masked face with a twinkling eye. A bar stool on his head and a paper-cutter in his gut. His head bobs out of the water. The boat’s yellow lamp bright as the sun. The grey sky soothe him and he makes a mess of climbing up the ladder. A gangway would have been nice.
He shrugs his tank off with the boatman’s help and peels the dry suit off his chest and likes the cold breeze across his torso. The boatman appears anxious and his eyes steal glances at the old man’s face and his stomach and back to the face again and he is suddenly aware that the old man knows that he is staring. He looks away, picks up the tank and shows the dial on the tank to the old man. Less than 5 mins of air left. The old man was gone for a whole hour and all he could remember was only half of it. He gestures to the boatman that he is done and points out in the direction they came in, in the direction of land. He remembers the sky before taking the drag, it was a splash of orange, purple and red, now it’s just grey with fleeting red clouds, rags of red pulling a shroud over pin points of light in the sky, a thousand galaxies. A few nautical miles on the horizon, pinpoints of village lights and a tiny spinning light house beacon. He strips his suit and kicks off his flipper, dries his hand and reaches for his zippo and cigarettes. He looks at the cigarettes and then the small plastic pouch with the joint, he pulls out a cigarette stick, walks gingerly to the boatman and hands him the stick and lights it for him. He hands over the pack as well and mouths a Thank You to the boatman. He picks his joint and lights it and inhales a big hard one. The boatman is smiling this time, not disapproving. Another deep drag, and he stumbles across to the head of the boat to feel the wind in his face and chest, to feel like captain, he takes another strong pull on the ending joint, the point glows fiery red, like a little sun, he points ashore and tries to scream, he chokes up again, the lump strong in his throat, tears swelling up but his mouth turned up in a grin. His hand is still in the air, finger-pointing to the shore, he whispers this time, only for him to hear “Home”
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4 thoughts on “Diving Old Man

  1. Amazing story sisya. The imagination is vivid and the thoughts flow beautifully. The story forced me to create vivid images in my mind. Superb stuff. Keep it going.

    Liked by 1 person

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