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Jo'Burg Days: Afternoon Tides

"A fin moved in, directly towards the swimmer...'' Barbara Durlacher tells a brief, dramatic story, with a surprise in the last paragraph.

A stiffening breeze was pushing the deep, bottle green sea towards the beach. Short, choppy waves curled crisply at their crests, then sank abruptly, to rise again and break in a shower of spray on reaching the beach.

Clustered into a group roughly demarcated by the widely spaced red flags, the hardy swimmers jumped to breast the waves, then turning, body surfed to the beach, to stand laughing and wiping water from their eyes as they rose gasping in the shallows. As the wind increased, the spray spiralled upwards, forming a mist of droplets which rising, blew towards the beach in a dense curtain of vapour.

Gradually the sea emptied; family groups packed up beach paraphernalia and trailed away. Then the lifeguards lifted the flags, stored their gear, locked the hut and went home. The roar of evening traffic imposed a memory of the distant world onto the peaceful scene.

Far out in the turbulent water, one lone swimmer still battled the waves. Behind him, against the deepening twilight, a triangular fin traced lazy circles. Then, the pace quickening, the fin moved in, directly towards the swimmer waiting for that ‘one last wave’.

Suddenly, the water boiled around the swimmer’s legs, the fin disappeared and a strangled cry was heard. One arm rose frantically towards the sky.

A large wave curled white-capped towards the beach, the backwash clawing the damp sand into runnels. High-stepping out of the water, the beautiful creature emerged, water streaming from its flanks. Clinging to the horse’s mane, and a long red gash gushing blood from knee to ankle, the swimmer on his back gasped, coughed, and wrapped his arms tighter around the horse’s neck.

“And they say sea-horses don’t exist,” he murmured, urging the creature towards the barrier. Then, dismounting, he limped slowly up the beach towards the teeming traffic.

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