Try Not To Smile- Excerpts





Chapter 1 Seychelles

The buoyant bounce of rubber wheels on grass lifted the soul, although I was not sure how much it really was so, or if it was just relief at having arrived safely. We had boarded the little aircraft bent double to better fit the headroom so could not fail to notice the old tubular frame seats and patched covers – a flashback to battered school buses of the 1950s. This aura of ‘make do and mend’ was not the ‘look’ to which modern travellers are accustomed: nor was the proximity of the pilot’s hand clasping the joystick just the other side of an open swinging door and a blank blue vista beyond. It all added to a definite awareness of being suspended in the blue
in a small metal tube above more, vast blue – rich with life and oceanic sharks.
The bouncing did not last long: the airstrip was short... in fact shortening by the season as the tides and trade winds redistribute the sand, grain by grain, from one end of this tiny island to the other. Beyond the pilot’s head the lower band of green was already giving way to blue sea again...
A smiling Seychellois lady led us through lush shrubs and green trees which had shed vivid orange Cordia blossoms across the dusty path. Matching Madagascar Fodies, fiery red and perky, hopped about in between more earthbound brown Barred Ground Doves and jaunty gawky Common Mynas, cavorting like clumsy clowns. Unperturbed by our proximity of only an arm’s length, Noddy Terns and Fairy Terns alighted on branches and dishevelled leaf heaps, greeting, bickering, flexing their wings and going about their daily affairs. We skirted round an outsized tortoise. High overhead a flock of Frigate Birds hung motionless like tethered kites in a clear bright sky. A pair of White-tailed Tropicbirds flew in tandem into the distance...

Chapter 2 Bahama Bank

As far as the eye can see there is nothing beyond the tiny boat. Nothing but sea and sky, in any direction. Out there, beneath us, the shadows move, flickering pieces of mosaic images. The sun reflects off wavy peaks of blue, masking fractured long shapes… gone… there… not there… maybe moving closer.
I fumble with fins, pull on the heels, grapple with my twisting mask strap. With a quivering hand I push back wind-blown hair, trying to breathe steady while my heart rate is racing. Walking backwards without tumbling over fins, there is a sudden rocking movement of the boat. I’m
scrambling, grabbing hold to balance, standing in line, pushing wet mask on tight… ‘Go!’
On command I step forwards to the edge. It’s a long way down to a big sea. I’m high above where I thought I was and way beneath is a rippling surface. Beneath that is lost in moving reflected light. There’s no time to pull out now. I push my mask close and point fins down then jump out and away from the reassuring solidity of metal deck. Anticipation gives way to terror.
Crashing through the barrier the impact sounded deafening. The splash rushed upwards – all known tones of blue, silver and white. Exploding droplets subsided into a rising curtain of bouncing bubbles, dancing as they disintegrated into the air of our world up there above the shimmering roof of water. Peering through a haze of turquoise there were shadow shapes, then in a moment of stillness, there was clarity. It was a serene blue world apart, a beautiful but alien place. Two dolphins, a mother with a calf, materialised out of diffuse light. They looked across at my sudden, clumsy arrival. For a finite time it seemed there was only them and me – the only beings in the universe,from two different worlds, aware but separated by species and limits of perception and communication.