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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Dreamscapes

The Teacher
Ilana Levi

Martha was troubled by the idea of leaving the comfort of her home and following her husband, David, to Belize. To her, it was tiny, "almost a country" with high unemployment and ethnic tensions.

A few days after their arrival, they were invited to see the famed coral reefs, as well as other sights.
Downtown Belize City looked like a run-down neighborhood. The vividly painted buildings, reminiscent of better times, were peeling and dirty. At the port, unemployed youths eyed the tourists, estimating their chances of getting a piece of the action. Tension strained the air.

After more than an hour on board a small boat with two guides, the sound of the old motor was getting on Martha’s nerves. It took away the fun of sinking into the dazzling tones of blue. She closed her eyes and thought of her hammock in the back yard right in front of a blooming hibiscus. Fortunately, a sudden silence interrupted her feelings. The boat's engine was turned off. They had reached the designated spot for snorkeling.

Everyone but Martha put on their diving masks and snorkels. She had dreaded this moment. Embarrassed to admit it, she still needed to block her nostrils each time she went under water.
"So, we are having fun in the sun, Martha?" her husband said loudly to ease her burden. "Yes" Martha answered, relieved.

One guide stayed with her on the boat, the others disappeared into the water, leaving no trace. All was quiet again, except for an occasional distant cry of joy.

The guide sat at one end of the boat looking at Martha intently. It was hot. The water was inviting. She tucked up her trousers to let her legs touch the water. It was very pleasant indeed.

The silence was broken only by the sound of wavelets lapping against the side of the boat. Drops of sweat made their way down from her neck to the center of her breasts. Her long-sleeved shirt, glued to her body, begged to be hung somewhere to dry. As the sun rose higher, her discomfort grew slowly, unrelentingly. She decided to take off the long-sleeved shirt David's colleagues had advised her to wear, letting the upper part of her bathing suit enjoy the breeze. As she sat there, she could not avoid thinking about the person who was sharing that moment with her.
He was big in every way; tall, wide brown shoulders, shiny muscles. His face revealed somewhat delicate features under a Rastafarian hairdo. She preferred to speculate about his braids; how did he get them this way? How often did he wash them, if at all? Why was he so mellow, unlike the other guide? She took a quick look at him. He was sizing her up. It was then she became aware of the fact that they were all alone. She was not sure what to expect. A sense of unease mounted in her stomach. He is probably stoned she thought, almost giving in to her fears.
He smiled at her reassuringly. She tried to smile back. He moved about, checking that things were as they should, when suddenly she noticed him approaching.
"Are you sure you don’t want to try?"
"No" she nodded
"I will be with you all the way; you don’t have to do much."
"That’s OK".
"Look, it is very easy."
"No, thank you."
He moved back to his side of the boat, so as not to disturb her any further.

The merciless sun was pounding on Martha’s head and shoulders. It is unavoidable, she thought, and took off her pants and jumped into the water. Invigorated by a sudden freshness, she felt restored. The reflection of the sun on the water sent sparkles all around, giving her a feeling of festivity. He remained on the boat watching.

When she tried to get back into the boat, she realized she could not do it alone. The guide offered a hand. She accepted but chose to stay at one corner of the boat dripping wet. He was still watching her every move as if she was a rare animal. She reached for her shirt.
"Are you on vacation?" he asked from the other side of the boat.
"Only for two days." Trying to sound natural, she added, "Do you have lots of work this time of year?"
"This is not my job. I am only helping a friend."
"What do you do for a living?" she asked
"I am a teacher"
"Me too!" she said trying to hide her surprise.
"So what are you doing here?"
"I love watching the fish." He pointed towards a little floating ball and said, "You see that red ball? You can snorkel there and have the same experience as in deep-sea-diving. It is incredible."

The guide moved towards the driver’s seat and took out snorkeling equipment for two. Still keeping a respectful distance, he suggested that she give it a try.
"It's not necessary to use the fins here. The mask will cover your eyes and the snorkel will make it easy for you to breathe freely under water."
"But I don’t know how to…"
"It requires no special training. Watch me!" He took the mask and put it on demonstrating how easy it was to use. Martha thought for a long moment, and then tried to put the mask on her head.
"I am only going to make sure if it fits you," he reassured Martha as he moved towards her. Then he showed her some of the signs he would be using to communicate with her under water.

Once under, she followed his signs and even used them herself. A sense of complicity and accomplishment came over her. When the first school of fish came their way, Martha was stunned. Completely captivated by such a breathtaking sight, she could not hide her delight. She turned to him and tried to convey "unbelievable". He knew what she meant. His eyes smiled.

She stayed there for a good half hour watching a small school of green fish turn light green in a split second. Then, when they dived deeper under a coral, the fish turned dark green. A solitary yellow fish, sporting a purple hue around its eyes, disappeared behind an odd-looking coral formation which appeared like a cluster of tall towers growing from the sea floor. Up, behind her left shoulder, an orange fish turned golden as it swam into a ray of light. Down in front, a huge school of tiny fish changed direction when their leader changed its mind. She saw a star fish, sea horses and plants with the most intriguing forms, moving about like dozens of hands begging for attention. Lost in this array of color display, Martha felt the guide’s hand on her shoulder; she turned her face towards him and saw he was pointing at his watch. It was time to go back, she guessed, and reluctantly lifted her head out of the water.

Back on the boat, her husband and his friends were already dressed, waiting for them. As they were helped onto the boat, the old motor slowly gathered speed. She sat on one side of the boat away from the rest, embracing the droplets of water that hit her face every time the boat made a slight change of direction. They soothed her and something which had been simmering inside her for a long time. Turning to the other side of the boat, she saw the teacher carefully putting away the equipment they had used. She visualized him at school surrounded by kids of all ages, stimulating their curiosity, inspiring their dreams. He sat on the edge of the boat. His smile said I am happy you saw the fish. She nodded. The sun warmed her back; the wind blew away her worries. The ride back seemed shorter, the water, an old friend.

On shore he shook her hand firmly and said goodbye. She followed his silhouette as he hurried away towards a little old woman who waited for him on the shore. He took a heavy basket she was carrying, bent his babk to fit her hug, and kissed her head tenderly.

© Ilana Levy March 2009
e-mail: ilanalevi52 at

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