As I clench the accelerator on my moped I look down at the conspicuous sea. it’s almost been six months that I’ve been away in Australia and its beginning to feel like home. I pace around everywhere on my moped looking for different beaches and seas to paint. At this precise beach the water is transparent and I can almost see the sea bed. This long stretch of shingle is like an elongated piece of string that has no end. The string is beautiful and charismatic but for some reason I hesitate to paint it. I thought to myself, there is something mysterious about this place.
A friend of mine who I was travelling with at the time was a free diver and when I used to paint he would dive. He described how it felt to dive, he said that there is a sense of calmness and escape beneath the surface of the ocean. Solomon also described how every dive is unique, and every time he sees something different, whether it’s a new species of fish or an old species of seaweed. He illustrated it in a way that I could imagine and envision, he also stated that it’s a whole other world down there and when he announced to me that he wanted to be a fish I was envious. Envious that he could dive and envious that he wasn’t scared.
Me on the other hand, well I was petrified of the sea. Coming from north London where the closest mass of water was the Thames River and I could barely swim, let alone dive. I just enjoyed painting the sea, I never felt the need to indulge myself into it. One day I dreamt that I dived, I dived so deep that everything around me felt weightless, soundless and thoughtless there was no distinctive smell, sight or scenery. I wish I could go back to that dream.
In that dream, I saw things I never imagined I would see, and that I could only imagined that I would paint – blue corals to the bright orange clown fish. This moment was captured in my brain like a starfish to a rock. The sense of being weightless when you’re someone who carries round heaps of clutter, was quite contrasting to my usual presence. Being in a soundless area was also very bizarre for me because I come from a vibrant city that never sleeps. Lastly, being thoughtless was a distressing sensation when you’re a person who loves to overthink. Then I realised why people loved to dive. They dived to escape something. So, I thought to myself if I can dive then I can also escape into the freedom I have forever desired. I set myself a challenge, a challenge that had to be completed before I left Port Douglas…
When I told Solomon about my challenge he chuckled to himself and said, “good luck” in a sarcastic tone. Ever since I was young people only ever knew me as the boy who could paint and if I ever tried anything new or said I was interested in other subjects people would either laugh or just dismiss what I had to say, especially my cold-hearted father who thought boys should only be into rugby and girls and after I told him I was into painting and boys our relationship soon deteriorated.
I set out on my day to day routine, with my challenge sitting comfortably in the back of my mind. Every morning I would race down to the village market to pick up my lunch for the day and meet Solomon, we would usually go off for the whole day and explore new paradises and unfound places, as west coast Australia is renowned for its picturesque beaches and unexplored locations.
This particular location was extraordinary, it was a flat calm day and the waves were washing onto the beach as the sun sat at around 90 degrees, feeling like a million miles away, just like home did. I urged myself onto the beach taking every step into consideration as if my life counted on it, which of course it didn’t! Solomon had already stripped off and dived in. I knew this was going to be the day that I forced myself into the water.
As I took one step into the crystal-clear sea I could feel the sun resting on my back. Every step I took, my brain made a conscious decision to move a muscle deeper and deeper into the sea, making my heart go into an uncontrollable beat. I began to sweat all over as if mini pools of water were filling up around my collar bones and on my forehead. I finally got to around shoulder height and to my surprise I was fine. My heart rate had slowed down to a normal pace and I began to swim. I launched myself forward kicking and splashing like a kid again all my worries and thoughts had gone. No one could reach me here. I wasn’t on the run anymore. Wasn’t on the run from school and wasn’t on the run from my father. It was the freest I had felt in years. The feeling of being held up by water was almost like flying, every movement is slow and graceful. Before I got too ahead of myself I heard Solomon call out, “Learn to walk before you try to run,” with that I made my way back to the shore feeling very pleased with myself. I suddenly thought to myself, ”Dad would be so proud!” then I thought, ”don’t be ridiculous, he wouldn’t care.’
I made my way home that evening and decided to write my dad a letter. “Dad, it’s been a long time, maybe even too long. You won’t even read this! I hope mum is well and your looking after her, I don’t know if you know that she wrote to me last month saying she had her last series of chemo therapy and she thinks she’s on the mend. Whether she was saying that so I wouldn’t worry, I will never know. I went in the sea for the first time today and you would have loved it. Anyways, I’ve been thinking a lot recently and I think you and mum would enjoy it over here and should come and visit, even if it’s just a week or so… Never mind you’re probably really busy and won’t have the time. So, I have written to you in the hope that things are different between me and you when I am home.” And off it went nine thousand miles back to the UK to probably be screwed up and shoved in an office bin.
The sun glazed through the driftwood panels in my one bed rented apartment that over looked the sea. The treacherous sea that I was no longer startled by. I grabbed my bag and ran for my moped. The journey back to the beach wasn’t long so I got there in no time. Once again, I took my time walking down onto the beach, letting every grain of sand go in-between my toes. As I began to submerge myself into the water something felt different and a bit alarming. Although I tried to brush it off and act as though it was just my unconscious nervousness of the water surrounding my body. Abruptly the water began to circulate around me in fast motions sending me into an immense panic. As I looked up, the sky began to fade into a gun metal grey colour. The waves were becoming more powerful. I started to go under because by this time I was out of my reach. I couldn’t feel the bottom. A huge wave came over me and I went under. As soon as I went under, everything went quiet but I was still in mid panic. I couldn’t feel my muscles. It was like my brain had gone into shut down and my muscles were still in full gage as if I was body builder. The only thing I could hear was my heartbeat, in which sounded like a boat engine hitting a rock. All sorts of things were executing through my mind. The fact that this drowning sensation felt familiar was becoming more and more distressing. This reminded me of when my father had left me in the bath with the tap still running when I was young. The sensation of rising water above my head was recognizable, however instead of the loud noises of the tap it was the loud noise of the waves from crashing above my head. For a moment things began to go black. Unaware of my surroundings I felt something slimy slide up next to me in which pushed me to the surface of the water and then to the beach. I glanced down to see what it was. From first glance it looked like a dolphin but still to this day won’t know if that was just my hallucinated imagination.