The time I was chased by a swarm of flesh-hungry chub
I know for sure that in a past life I was a small, fast, curious and courageous fish.
When I first jumped into the transparent tropical waters of Bermuda five years ago to swim with a mask, I realised in that moment that this would change me for ever.
I found myself in a different and extraordinary reality. I knew this world existed, but to be embraced in its enveloping beauty and power opened a part of me that felt both ancient and breathtakingly new. I felt that I belonged to this world of water. I felt I was part of it.
Our house is located on a narrow peninsula at Cavello Bay. The Great Sound splashes the dock of our house. The stone steps leading to the water there are a magic portal to this other world. My husband Bill and I descend through this silvery curtain with our mask and fins in hand and snorkel through the coral gardens that line the point.
These shallow areas are a nursery for fish of many kinds. Schools of fry, tiny and translucent, dart in clouds just out of reach of my fingertips. Exquisite small tunas called rainbow runners race in from the deeper water and mill about us, then vanish like arrows shot from a bow, bands of warriors on the hunt.
I so fell in love with all these fish that two years ago I decided to feed them as if they were our pets. I began to collect the remaining bread and rice after supper and packed it into a plastic bag, which I stuffed into my one piece swimsuit.
During my underwater exploration, I took handfuls from the bag and scattered it in a floating cloud. Fish rushed in and frantically gobbled it up, so close I could almost touch them. After a couple of weeks of daily feeding, the fish began to recognise me — or so I sincerely believed.
Every time I plunged into the water, they immediately rushed to me expectantly. As I snorkelled along the shore, they trailed behind me like the Pied Piper and his flock. As they opened their mouths, I imagined that they were saying, “We are with you, we are your friends.”
Bill decided I was experienced enough to snorkel in the open ocean. We drove in our centre console to one of his favourite spots, the wreck of the Constellation. It is five miles off the West End of Bermuda in the maze of reefs and sand holes near the great drop off. I packed the bread, stuffed it inside my swimsuit and jumped into the calm blue water.
A dozen big, Bermuda chubs swam to me with curious eyes. Everything was going fine, so I snorkelled slowly away from Bill and our daughter, Ava. When I was about 30 yards from the boat, the behaviour of the fish changed from calm and friendly to aggressive. They quickly swam to me so close that I had to literally knock them away with my hands. I could feel their rough scales. I did not understand what was the matter. Why did they become so angry? What happened? What did they not like? Suddenly, I felt a quick pain. I looked down and saw a red mark on my arm. “They are biting me!” I thought with horror. At that moment, I was really scared. I was literally surrounded by a dense ring of large fish that swiftly circled around me. And the more I tried to shoo them away by swinging my arms, the closer they came to me.
“Bill, these fish are biting me!” I yelled. He was sitting on the edge of the boat, pulling on his fins, and in profile, I saw him smile. He replied calmly, “Sure they are. Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you.” Bill worked as a dive instructor for many years, and he had taken countless people to this dive site. “No, I mean it! They are very aggressive! Help me!”
He leisurely slid into the water. “Bill!” He kicked a moment, took the snorkel out of his mouth and said, “These chubs are very tame.” Around me, the water began to boil with fish.
“Help!” I cried. At that, Bill switched into instructor mode and was at my side in a moment. He paused near me at first, and then I could hear him, laughing through his snorkel as he plunged through the mêlée of chubs and started grabbing at me.
In an instant, he had pulled the plastic bag of bread out of my suit. I had forgotten to close the bag, and unbeknown to me, I was trailing a cloud of tiny breadcrumbs. He swam a short distance, hotly pursued by the happy chubs. He opened the bag and shook it out. Then he swam back to me and took my hand, pulling me to the boat. The chubs, totally uninterested in me, were concentrating on their free meal.
I was shaken and sat in the boat grim-faced. Ava was enthused by all the excitement and, being part fish herself, was looking for more bread to take overboard. Bill was trying to soothe me, but I noticed he was trying very hard not to burst out laughing.
As you go through life dear readers, remember to zip up the bag.
•Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her here: www.ninalondon.com</i>