Something in the Water

Linda Quest By Linda Quest, 23rd Nov 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Personal Experiences

When a romantic holiday in Mallorca turns horrific, the author must act beyond what she thought she was capable.

Something in the Water

Mallorca, Spain: famous tourist destination for all us pale pasty North Europeans with short summers and hectic lives. David and I were down on a romantic holiday, timed perfectly after the crowds had retreated North, while we could still catch the last Mediterranean September sunshine. We were snorkeling through warm crystal water that sparkled like an aquamarine gemstone. Pleasure yachts floated with anchors down just off shore, luxuriating in the afternoon sun. Colorful fish swam around us and came up to nibble at our skin or peer into our masks. It was so perfect, I reached out and held David’s hand as we paddled through this wondrous paradise. We were happy.
Suddenly, David stood up. “I’m cold, I’m getting out.” Cold? We swam in mountain lakes all the time! How could he get cold in this Mediterranean bathwater? Here he goes again exercising his right to be difficult. I continued swimming alone, just to show that I wasn’t going to let him ruin my day.
And then I felt it: a distinct chill. It wasn’t the temperature of the water, but a chill feeling that crept straight to my bones and up my spine. This is silly, I’m imagining things because I’m alone in the water. But all the hairs of my head and body were standing on end. They ignored my brain’s executive orders to calm down. Get out, get out, I have to get out now! I fought the urge to panic as I swam back to shore, but broke into a scramble as soon as my feet were on the sand. I ran toward the safety and warmth of our blanket.
There was David sunning himself in his cool-guy-on-the-beach pose. I wondered if I should share the weird feeling I’d just had or if he would make fun of me. Before I could say anything, a man’s scream pierced the lazy calm on our beach from far out over the water. “Sounds like somebody’s having a wild party,” said David. That sounded plausible and reassuring until I heard the scream again. It was frantic, not a party yell. I jumped up and David followed me out on the pier. “Someone’s in trouble.” I said, my voice quivering. “Somebody should do something.” We scanned the water out to the horizon and saw nothing. We glanced back at the beach. Our fellow pale tourists had noticed the screams that were by now coming regularly across the water. Heads were up like prairie dogs. Everyone looked at everyone else quizzically. Nobody knew what to do. So they shrugged and laid back down on their towels.
David and I waved our arms and shouted to attract the attention of the nearest yacht. The old couple on the boat turned away, pretending not to see us. “This is not working,” said David. “Maybe we should give up.”
One more piteous scream rang across the water; it travelled straight to my guts. A different Linda somewhere in there woke up and took over. I know what I have to do. Without saying a single word, I spun on my heels, took three purposeful strides and jumped off the pier. I swam straight out to the boat, not looking back at David. He is just going to have to forgive me for this one.
The old man and woman peered over the edge of the boat once I reached it. “Perdón, hay alguien que necesita ayuda por allá. (Someone needs help out there). Está gritando, lo oyeron? (He is screaming, did you hear it?)” Somehow my school Spanish organized itself into coherent sentences, but I was not fluent enough to inspire confidence. “Will you please go and help?” The old man said they’d heard no screams and would not be falling for any tricks. “Por favor,” I said treading water. “Somebody out there is really in trouble.” “If you are telling the truth,” said the old man “you will get on this boat and come with us.”
Getting on a stranger’s boat is a bad idea. I was conscious of my normal thoughts and normal safety rules, but this different Linda was in charge now and she was hauling us up the ladder to the very high deck. As the woman gunned the motor of the boat, I looked at David still standing on the pier watching us zoom away. I don’t know what I’m getting myself into but I can’t NOT do it.
The woman, a local who I later learned was named Carme, piloted the boat in the direction I pointed. Soon we saw a head sticking up out of the water. “Ahí está!” Carme slowed the boat. As we approached, an arm appeared, waving desperately for help. We recognized fear and relief on the dark bearded young face as we came closer. For just a moment, I felt happy that we could save this distressed scuba diver.
Oh, no. Oh, no. My blood turned to ice. There was a second head in the water. It was horizontal, inanimate. “Gracias a Diós,” sobbed the bearded man. “Please, please, help my friend!”
No, no, no…an echo of the chill I felt earlier. The second man’s handsome young mustached face, still framed by his diving cowl, was a deeper, darker shade of blue than I ever imagined a human being could be. White foam oozed from his blue lips. He is dead. This is real. Carme and her husband Bernat were shocked speechless. Nobody knows what to do or say. The words sounded cold and harsh coming from my mouth. “Your friend is dead. It’s too late for him. But you have to get on the boat so we can help you.” The survivor let out another scream, one of utter anguish and loss. He refused to leave his friend in the water.
Carme had pulled herself together and started calling the port police but they were not answering. It was lunchtime. Meanwhile Bernat had lowered ropes and we tried to haul the body up the sides of the boat. We pulled with all our might but it was too heavy. We wanted to be respectful to the body but it flapped and banged horribly against the boat as we heaved. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m trying to be gentle. We gave up hoisting, and tried again to coax the survivor into the boat but he still refused. After half an hour, Carme got a police officer on the phone. Rescue was on the way – they said it would take a further half hour to get out to us.
It was awkward sitting there waiting, with the body floating lifelessly in the water with eyes half open, waves washing over his face, and the survivor treading water and crying and cursing the sea. Why doesn’t he do whatever it is trained divers are supposed to do in these situations? Why can’t he do anything to help the situation? Why are these two out here with no boat? How did they even let themselves get into this situation? We waited and waited, wet and shivering in the wind. I chatted with the couple and we got to know each other a bit. They owned the hotel I was staying in. I checked periodically with the survivor, who said he was fine, not cold, not tired, and still not willing to get on the boat. We kept looking back at the port, the white buildings of the town that looked like tiny squares from this distance. When is our rescue coming?
A whole hour passed, there was still no boat. Carme called the police again. “There is no boat,” the police officer now declared flatly. “You must bring the body to port and we will be waiting for you there.” Apparently the guy with the keys to the rescue boat wasn’t coming back from siesta anytime soon.
Just as I was complaining that we couldn’t possibly get the body out of the water, Carme got a brainwave and we all felt stupid we hadn’t thought of it before. On her instruction, the survivor removed the tanks and weights from himself and his friend. Aha! Then he boarded the boat to help us hoist up his friend. The lightened weight and significantly increased muscle power worked. The body landed with a sickening thud on the deck. Poor young man, you do not deserve this indignity. Poor survivor, you shouldn’t have to see your friend like this. I wish you both had real rescuers instead of two old folks and a tourist.
Nobody wanted to touch the body, which was laying on the deck with arms and legs twisted unnaturally. So sad. You deserve some dignity. I overcame my aversion and closed his eyes, covered his face with a towel, and arranged his arms and legs. The bigger problem was the survivor, who was shaking violently and out of his mind with shock. He kept screaming and cursing - not at us, but we were all afraid of what a panicky and enraged young man might do. Nobody wanted to approach him. We must calm him for our safety as much as for his. I pulled him down to a seat and sat next to him with an arm firmly around him. I patted him and asked simple questions to get him talking. His name was Tomeu and his dead friend’s name was Josep. He continued crying and shaking, but at least he had stopped screaming. He would not tell me what happened.
The police arrived at port - a full fifteen minutes after we did. They “took over” looking very self-important. David arrived with my clothes and shoes and comfort and understanding. We said goodbye to Carme and Bernat, while the police interrogated poor shivering Tomeu. As soon as we left them, whatever it was that had been holding me together and driving me to act until then, gave out. I collapsed into a shaking pile of jelly and could not eat or function very well for the rest of the day. I could not shake the chill and the image of Josep’s blue face.
The next morning David and I bought the local newspaper. It turned out Tomeu and Josep had been best friends since birth. They had lived next door to each other in a nearby village. Tomeu had taken only a few diving lessons and loved it. He wanted to share the experience with his best friend Josep, and they had gone off just the two of them without any instructor or experienced diver to supervise. Tomeu had left Josep alone in the water for a few minutes and come back to find him lifeless. Their boat had drifted away. I understood why they had both been so naive when I read that these two divers were only 17 years old..exactly the same age as my own son.
For a couple of years after that, my reaction to seeing an expanse of water was to scan it for bodies or people in trouble. But I never saw any victims after that. Water was friendly again, as if nothing had happened. As if it had never sent me the chill that day.


Accident, Drama, Mediterranean, Ocean, Personal Experience

Meet the author

author avatar Linda Quest
Born in the US, I lived in Europe for 28 years before returning home. Currently in Norfolk, Virginia. I teach, research and write about management, but use these pages for play!

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author avatar RondaKay
23rd Nov 2015 (#)

Wow! What an experience!! I am so sad right now. I coudn't imagine what I would do in your shoes. So tragic for Tomeu. He must carry so much guilt. Poor guy.

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