• Louis Roux

Bay of Bulls


Spain Water Bulls A bull swims surrounded by revelers after it jumped into the sea during the 'Bous a la mar' or "Bulls to the sea" festival in the eastern town of Denia, Spain, Wednesday, July 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Fernando Bustamante)


Mark Hamish was a powerfully bovine man. His chest, arms, legs, and back were covered in a rough shag even though his head was peeking out from the last few remaining strands of chestnut hair. Today his fur was on full display, his gold cross pendant shimmering in the sun even though it was caught in a tuft on his chest. He inhaled the briny air, trying to clear his mind. The beaches had only recently reopened, and Mark was glad to spend time with his wife and two sons without being trapped in their box-like home.

Mark Jr. and Sam were frolicking in the foamy surf, braying and bleating with joy. They had inherited a love for the ocean from their mother, and in fact, they had moved to Vredenbaai three years ago for her to be closer to the waves. Mark loved his wife and carefully concealed his annoyance at the sand, the wind, and the continually creeping rust that was slowly taking his Hilux from him.

Even though he had never been an ocean person, he felt he had to at least feel wet sand between his toes. He knew he would be combing sand out of his body hair for the rest of the day anyway. He approached the tide-line, feeling shells crunch beneath his calloused feet. The water was cold, and its first kiss sent a shiver up his spine, rustling the hair on his back. Perhaps it was the months of isolation, of only hearing the ocean from their bedroom or catching glances of it on the long way to the shops, but he did not find it unpleasant. He waded in deeper than he had been since they had moved here, and his wife had gently goaded him into taking a swim to inaugurate their new life together. The water was lapping at his calves, then his thighs, then his belly.

He looked back to see his wife waving at him from the shore. She was no more than a speck. Was he really that far out? The water was ringing out around his neck and he had to kick up to prevent the gentle waves from splashing in his face. Soon, he no longer had sand under his feet. He had come unmoored, all of a sudden, without meaning to. His thoughts had become cloudy and his wife was waving her arms to hail him. He waved back, waving her off. He would spend another two minutes paddling here, away from the other straggling beach goers, away from his sons and his wife and his house and his dying Hilux and the whole sleepy Vredenbaai. Then they would head back, towels uselessly spread out on the back seat. His wife would get started on the chicken, and he would try futilely to get the beach out of the cab with a stiff brush and an aging Hoover hand-vac.

He dipped his head beneath the waves, his eyes closed tightly. Every time he would come up for breath, it felt like he was breathing for the first time, the cool air like pins in his throat and chest. The longer he stayed under, the more intense the sensation. The ocean was an amniotic soup, and he was the first and only living creature on the planet, barely able to distinguish himself from his surroundings. His muscles pumped in conjunction with the tide, its power supplementing his own, splitting the fragile membrane between him and the water.

A gull cried out. Mark looked up, lifting his tired arms to wipe the water from his eyes, while his legs kept him afloat. The shore was a thin blue strip on the horizon, and he was alone and adrift. It was a matter of perspective, he thought, and slipped beneath the waves.