“Best night dive I’ve ever done, mate!” said Chris, my instructor, when we surfaced in the wine-dark sea. And it was, though I’d stepped on a sea-urchin in the dark and spat out my regulator when I yelped. In the dry world, gravity is stronger, and I haven’t yet got used to moving up and down at will. As I searched for my instructor in the dark, I sang a sacreligious variant on childhood hymn through my bubbles:
Chris be beside me
Chris be before me
Chris be behind me
King of my heart
Chris be above me
Chris be below me
Chris all around me
Never to part
At fifteen meters, we finally spotted the old sea-turtle that had eluded the Crystal Dive instructors for three years. They pantomimed delight with hand signals, but I felt sad for the dignified grandfather who was forced to leave his rest spot to swim away from rows of torchbeams. We formed a wetsuited cavalcade and the remora fish on his back went along for the ride.
A barracuda hunted by our dive-lights. He sliced past and snatched a middle-sized fish. Now I saw how many smaller creatures I’d ingested by proxy when I ate grilled barracuda the night before.
On the ocean floor, a blue-spotted yellow ray slid along like an omlette in a non-stick pan. Our lights passed through a huge, eerie jellyfish floating in mid-water.
My favorite, though, was the cranky squid. Chris trained his powerful halogen beam into the hollow where it lay. Like a teenager prodded to get up and do chores, it grumpily shunted along and plopped down a few inches away. And changed color. Chris followed it.
“Jesus, Mom,” said the squid. “Can’t you see I’m resting?”
It shuffled along and changed color again, this time to dark purple.
“Wicked, innit, how they do that colour change, the squid?” Chris said later. I agreed. But then, two months ago I wore unrelieved black, read the New Yorker and drank five cups of coffee a day. Today I wear red down to my pink-painted toes, flip-flops, and a bandanna. I’m re-reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I drink mango shakes. How did I become such a poster child for that annoying species, the backpacker? Perhaps I should conduct training courses for developmentally-challenged squid.