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Here In Africa: Afternoon Tides

“There must be many amongst us who have recollections of seaside holidays and the plumes of spray we were told were ‘sea horses.,’’ writes Barbara Durlacher, going to to tell a remarkable tale.

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 shore.

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 curtain of vapour.

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

Far out in the turbulent water as the waves formed whitecaps at their summit, 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, with 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.

Urging the creature towards the barrier he dismounted, and limped slowly up the beach unnoticed by the drivers in the teeming early evening traffic. Slowly he slid off the horse, then turned to pat his neck and rub his fetlocks. Silently, the black car parked inconspicuously under a tree moved towards him and, while the swimmer’s attention was diverted in his care of the animal, the driver acted. There was the sound of a couple of muffled shots, followed by a grunt and a thud as the swimmer fell silently to the ground. What the shark had failed to accomplish the anonymous driver had taken no more than a moment to achieve.

Not long afterwards, sweet warm breath on his face and a pawing hoof brought the swimmer back from the edge of unconsciousness. Infinitely slowly, grunting and sweating with agony, he managed to pull himself onto the animal’s back and clinging to its mane, they moved slowly towards the cottage hospital.

“And they say sea-horses don’t exist,” he murmured, not sure if what had happened was real, or the product of some extraordinary fantasy.


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