Three moments in the sea last week

It is late afternoon in Greece. Through the morning, thunderclouds have cracked and boomed over the mountains of Kefalonia, and red-tinged lightning has sliced through the view from our villa’s terrace, across the fields to the Mediterranean Sea. By four O’clock the sky is cerulean once more, and we drive down to a small local harbour for a dip in the sea before dinner. My brother and mum head into the waves, but my sister A and I decide not to go in. The storm has whipped the water into a mass of seaweed and sand, and the shadow of a cliff has taken the edge off the heat, so the Med has lost its irrestible, bejewelled draw temporarily. We sit on a jetty and watch the others. My sister voices what we are both thinking:

“This is what we were doing, this is all we were doing.”

I know, I say. When our little sister was taken by a rip tide four years ago, she was just wading in thigh-deep water, taking an impromptu dip before dinner whilst enjoying her holiday. She hadn’t even folded her clothes in the hotel room when she changed into her bikini. She was going to be back in a minute. But all three of my siblings went into the water, and only two of them came out alive. It seems that H just slipped quietly  through a moment in time.

“This is all we were doing”, my sister A repeats. “And then our girl wasn’t there any more”.


I am lolling in the shallows by a large rock, on white pebbles, wondering whether other people would be shocked that we’re back in the sea, even after what happened to H. I wonder whether we seem different from any other family, whether people watch us in the water and sense that our sibling triangle should really be a square. Whether the rest of my family share my underlying anxiety whenever we are in the sea. My brother J does not seem to fear the waves.

I hear J shout “Where’s Bokker?”, Suddenly, three heads pop up like aquatic meercats from the water. My brother, sister and mum are all standing up, looking for me. I rise from my lolling position, emerge from behind the rock. “I’m here!”, I yell back. And the others carrying on paddling about. I know the flood of relief they felt when they saw me rising up with a splash and a scattering of sea.

Of course we all feel anxious. We are all each other’s lifeguards, scanning the sparkle of the water’s surface for the distinctive bobbing dark heads of our family members. There is always a moment of panic until our eyes find the others in the water. When one of us is swimming, only two of the other three lie on their sunloungers and read. The other always sits up and keeps their eyes on the person in the water, and the person in water waves periodically (but not in such a way that would raise alarm that they were in trouble).My brother won’t let Mum swim out to the buoys in the deep water on her own. He won’t let me or A swim out there at all.

We feel anxious, even my big strong hairy brother. But we are doing really well.


I am on my lounger, my book on my lap, my beady eyes on my family in the sea. A man is jumping up against the waves, catching each one as it crests, flopping back onto the water. He is laughing, even though he is on his own. I feel a surge of jealousy. He seems so innocent; I wish we could be like that, I think. Then I look at my family, and they are doing the same- laughing in the waves. And I was doing it earlier, too. Nobody would know, from the outside.

A young woman walks into the ocean. She is tall, deer-like, her legs and torso long and tanned. She has long dark brown hair, almost black, and the same hesitant walk that our sister had. Though H’s hair was cut above her shoulders, I always imagine that now she’d have long hair down her back. I watch the young woman as she takes little leaps over the smaller waves at the water’s edge. I imagine she is H- torturing myself, really, but it’s bittersweet. I imagine that she is H, but instead of slipping through that moment in time, she’ll come back out of the sea.

My family emerge from the water, life-sized and slippery and loud and alive. H is not of this solid, shouting, swimming realm any longer. But we still are, and we have to go back in the water.


5 Responses to “Three moments in the sea last week”

  1. 1 tdmphotography September 17, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    B I hope, in time, it gets easier for you, though I doubt you will ever be able to forget nor would you want to. Hope the rest of your time was pleasant!

    All the best


  2. 2 bokker September 17, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Oh yes, it was ridiculously brilliant most of the time.
    Thanks for your lovely comment.

  3. 3 Thursday September 17, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    That was so, so beautifully written. I cannot imagine losing one of the square of me and my siblings – three sisters and one brother – and in clearly such a tragic, quick, nature-is-bigger-than-us way.

  4. 4 Min September 30, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    There were only two of us siblings, but I always thought of my family as a square. Now we are a triangle – I never thought of us that shape before. Feels all jaggedy.
    So beautifully written. And your holiday looks fabulous – so jealous..

  5. 5 bokker September 30, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Oh Min, it does feel jaggedy doesn’t it. That’s exactly how it feels.

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