Leave Your Eggs in the Sand
It was a great day to be chasing sea turtles.
My wetsuit was tight around the shoulders, zipper stuck mid-back. Father was already sitting at the edge of the boat with his oxygen tank strapped on. My brother had gone into the water, floating with our friends. Giving up, I peeled off the top half and let the sleeves dangle around my waist.
The sun was strong out today.
In contrast, the water was cool and goosebumps lined down my arms and spine. The local diving instructor gathered our group in a loose circle and we descended into a blue weightlessness. With every release of air from my buoyancy vest, my heart great inversely lighter at the sight of the corals beneath our feet. This offshore Malaysian island offered carpets of blue and purple that we wouldn’t be able to find in Hong Kong.
The dive began as it always did—an easy drift, idle kicks and lazy cruising. The current tugged at the respirator in my mouth. I dug my teeth in stubbornly.
Glancing back revealed Father lagging behind, dropping lower with every kick.
Okay? I signed.
Okay, he replied.
But a few minutes later I was waiting for him to catch up, our group moving far in front of us. I could catch up, probably. Except Father was an incongruous mass of black, splayed out limbs, head protruding from beneath the heavy tank on his back. He fumbled at the air pump, flippers dragging in the sandy banks. I hooked my finger in the neck of his BCD and yanked.
Up. I inflated my own vest for more buoyancy, hoping to catch a current that could push us forward. We had hit a spot where waters were frustratingly still and my father wouldn’t stop moving. For a second, I was caught in the drag of his struggling, flippers landing solidly in sand. One foot was uncomfortably close to scraping at a nearby cluster of sea plants. My muscles strained without traction until finally, we ascended a meter or two from rock bottom.
Having worked myself up, I sucked in a deep breath.
A sea turtle lumbered by gracefully, unencumbered by its shell.
I grabbed my father’s wrist. Look, look.
The sun broke through 15 metres of blue to illuminate the turtle’s patchwork shell, the weathered lines of its flippers. It had no hurry to go anywhere. I wondered if it belonged in these waters or if it was waiting for night to come, to crawl onto the beach and lay its clutch of eggs.
Turtle mums are strange. They painstakingly meander through sand, dig fervently a nest, lay their eggs then leave them. Do they think about the newborns, wonder if any survived?
A strong pressure around my upper arm drew my attention away. Father raised his thumb and gestured up. The rest of our group had come back for us and were in fact ascending. We had been down for over 20 minutes.
I want to say that I rose gracefully, but it didn’t quite go like that. I glanced down as we broke surface. The sun spot caught the tail end of the turtle’s feet, and then it was gone. The rush of air startled me and I nearly inhaled salt water as gravity reasserted itself.
“Come on.” I heaved Father onto the beach.
His face was red and he was breathing heavily. The bald circle on his head winked dully.
I dropped down onto my knees and shrugged off my BCD.
“Breathe, dad, breathe.”
Freed from my own baggage, I moved to unbuckle his vest so he could lie down properly.
Father’s hands came up, scrabbling at the release catch.
“Hey! Hey, let me do it.”
Eventually, he gave up on the effort and leaned to one side. The furrow of his brows brought out his wrinkles. Around his eyes, mouth, forehead. The pads of his fingers were pruned. He looked tired.
There was a beach umbrella lying around. No one seemed to be using or looking for it, so I borrowed it and propped it up next to where my father was lying down.
“I’m going to go get a drink, do you want anything?”
He shook his head.
“Maybe later then.”
“Your father?” the bartender asked later, as I was chugging down a bottle of water at the beach-side dive.
My father’s feet stuck out from the shade of the big umbrella I left him under. The soles were tough and brown, outer skin cracked like worn leather. The arch looked surprisingly tender. The hairs on his toes glistened wetly. Patches of sand plotted his feet.
I looked away.
By the time I went to check up on him, Father had fallen asleep.
Not enthused about going for another round of diving, I pushed off into the shallow corals with only my snorkel. Striking out a few meters with the sun warm on the back of my head, I stopped when the corals started thinning out, slanting down towards the drop we explored earlier. The fish were sparser here, preferring the crannies of fuller rocks and sea plants.
I could barely make out a dark shape further out, the slow gait of a sea turtle.
Another one, I thought wryly, turning back towards land. Through the half-emerged lens of my goggles, my eyes caught on a wavering figure.
The body was sinking into the sand, worn down feet sucked in first. The torso shrank into a pinprick. Only the head, skin stretched tight around the skull, gleamed like a round mirrored egg.