I am different now.
There is no way to hold the most improbable of God’s creatures without feeling such a connection. A hummingbirds eyes hold no guile no anger, just acceptance. They seem to know they cannot fight you. Or, rather, they cannot win. They don’t bite like the bullfinch, tearing at the hands of fate. They don’t scream and wail like the great lizard cuckoo haranguing their tormentors. They don’t cling to every tangible foot hold like the Bahama Oriole. Hummingbirds give up. They give in. Your misplaced finger may bend their beaks making them unable to feed. If they move in the gummy grip of a sweaty hand, their feathers may be lost. They sit and wait. Not like the wood pecker, who takes the first opportunity to nail your hand so you remember your folly or the mockingbird who flies free at the first chance. Hummingbirds give over to you their future it seems. I held a hummingbird in Andros and i am different now.
There is no other sound at that time between twilight and true dawn. The owl has tucked herself in and the early bird is contemplating how early is early. The sea breeze is waiting to make the shift as temperatures balance out for a minute or two. It seems all the trees hold their breath. The birds are gathering their thoughts for the songs they will sing. But the snail is about its business. A snail eating is a raspy sound, sand paper on bone. It’s kind of creepy at that hour in the morning to be honest. It’s singularly difficult to locate, when you have no idea what you are hearing. But when you hear it you need to know. What could be so disrespectful at such a delicate hour? What could be so important that there is no quarter given to the holiness of the silence? A snail’s hunger gives no quarter, it has no respect, it is the most important element in a snail’s life. Somewhere in Eleuthera, I heard a snail eating. I am different now.
I did not ask for it, but I imagine I deserved it. Or perhaps the merits of my accomplishments did not matter. Perhaps, she being a shark and me being a lowly human with the barest modicum of grace in the water, this token of pity was what she deigned to give me. She in her grace as i floundered in the water snorkel out of my mouth. Me mouthing words to the photographer 20 feet away and miles from comprehension. She hearing every movement of my body. And she kissed me. Undeserved and unexpected, the feel of her scales on my lips. And that was it. No foreplay, no follow up. I was kissed by a shark in the Exuma cays and I am different now.
The eyes are the window to the soul. Shining, perhaps they light the dark corners or perhaps they let guilt climb in. Perhaps your soul can peer out across the world into the open window of another soul. Perhaps blinking shuts our soul off from the world. I gazed down the length of my arm and the harpoon. I pointed death into the eyes of the lionfish. But their pupils are shaped like tears. Constantly crying in the ocean. My spear, my sling, my arm, my heart, my sense of right and wrong, were pointed with the sureness of death at one of the most beautiful fish I have seen. Those eyes, those tears, told me the story of life. No guilt, no anger, acceptance. I killed a lionfish while our eyes met. I am different now.
Under water sounds surround us: the rhythmic hushing of our own breath in and out, the trickle of bubbles over our ears as they rush to the surface in a playful gallop like children to recess. We hear the clicks and grunts of the fish and shrimp all around. We hypnotize ourselves with the rhythm of movement. Our legs stretch long to the ends of our fins and our bubbles stretch long to the roof of the underwater world. And our ears reach out to hear a distant boat engine, the tang of a dive tank. And our focus is on our work. Our hands reach out to the lobster that will become bait for a grouper trap. The research to protect our natural world. The silence of the sea holds us floating but firm. The lobster flexes his powerful body and his antennae point at us, the stiff arm technique that would protect him from a grouper or other predator. His legs struggle for purchase against the gloves that protect our hands. Our left hand joins the right and we commit to the deed. We break the lobster in two. He screams. The sound of a frightened Guinea pig. The tail is silent but thrashing. The head screams, for what seems like minutes at a time, but when it stops the silence is deafening. The silence chokes us. The apprehension pushes us to bait the trap, to leave the evidence, to swim away. The silence is broken by another scream and the time between has the sickly sweet reprieve of a crying child gasping for breath. Underwater you can hear lobsters scream. I heard a lobster scream. I am different now.
Humane. I met Patchy in my first week as savior, the cleaner, feeder, protector of souls. I saw his wizened eyes. His longing for love. His confusion about the place he was in. His gentle acceptance of the distance from his family. His resignation to the fact that his right side would no longer hold his weight or obey his commands. His new home was eight feet long, the food was regular and the saviors would come to clean him daily when he soiled himself. I spoke to the veterinarian and started his rehabilitation. Daily I would walk him. I would carry his weight as much as he needed. He would lean on me as he tried to lift the leg that had abandoned him, to pee like he felt a grown dog should. I watched him fail. Time and again, but I watched him grow stronger. I watched Patchy heal. I watched him stagger and limp and eventually walk. I watched him become whole again and I called his family. I told them of his success, I told them he was ready. I told them he could go home. They told me the price was too high. They told me they could not pay. They would not pay. I walked patchy to the freezer room. I gave him the needle. I watched him go to sleep. I am different now.
Ancilleno Davis, M.Sc.
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