Life (but not as we know it) goes on. The weather has definitely improved. The sky is bluish. The waves have become jolly and tuneful, instead of angry and dark. More birds appear each day, and one morning, what I can only describe as sea monsters rise and blow. Everybody comes up on deck to see them. I’m sure they’re not whales. Something about them is lacking. I never saw a real whale, in the flesh, in my life, but even from the telly you can tell just by looking at them there’s some sort of intelligence at work – some sort of awareness in their eyes we relate to. Not with these... These eyes are merely for detecting light, for registering movement, for identifying prey. This experience does not have quite the uplifting effect whale watching has I’d imagine, but it’s certainly awe-inspiring – their disinterested way of cruising past, the sheer numbers of them, and the sheer size. One of them is considerably longer than we are, and looking down through the water I can see a whole mass migration of them, all heading to some distant feeding or breeding ground. It’s like one of those Escher prints with fish ever receding deeper into the darkness. Is it my imagination or is it possible to see further into the water here than it is back in the world? Maybe it’s a trick of perspective. I wonder, since we don’t strictly need to breathe here, if it would be possible to go free diving. Not here obviously. Not with these things about. That would be, well, not suicide obviously, but certainly not very bright. Then I wonder if they breed, or, like us they merely come here when they die and go on, wandering these unlimited oceans for all eternity. Maybe they don’t even feed. I consider chucking them the last of my croissant but would rather not draw attention to myself. Those jaws are easily as long as the boat is high.
Shamim is watching the leviathans go past. I don’t see her parents with her. I don’t know if I’m making some silly assumption about her culture but I feel it would be inappropriate to make any advances, although she is very attractive. On the other hand, the fact that I can’t imagine anything happening between us means I can go over and just start a conversation without anxiety. How maladapted is that? My genes are just doomed.
‘Hey there’ I say, cheerfully.
‘Hey’ she says back, smiling broadly. ‘I thought I’d see you up here. They’re really something aren’t they.’
We lean over and look down at them. A smallish one (but as long as a bus nevertheless) passes underneath. Its body just goes on and on.
‘I was just thinking about going diving’ I say. ‘Not now, obviously, but if we don’t need to breathe...’
‘Maybe when we get to shore’ she says. ‘The water is very clear. Maybe we could get some goggles. It would be wonderful not to have to bother with all that clutter, tanks and weights and so on – just swim as deep as you like – live underwater if you want to.’ She smiles at me again, that enigmatic smile she has.
I don’t want to monopolise her but, to be honest, she’s better company than the others now. After that last argument it’s been weird with Lou and Olly. Ned tries to get things going and we play games, or they do at any rate, and we chat. Keith sometimes joins us but more often he’s with some other people in the games room, playing pool. It’s like that last debate just got out of hand in a way that changed everything. In retrospect I suppose it’s not surprising. This happened at college. Early on I enjoyed taking part in our lively and often somewhat brutal debates, safe in the knowledge that we could hold it together, not take it personally, take the rhetorical derision and polemical contempt in our strides. I thought I was so mature. We thought we were so very well informed... Oh well. I’m more wary now, and, frankly, the opportunity to have my say doesn’t have the same appeal any more. It’s not that I don’t have a view. I just don’t think it’s that important to explain it. Does that make me older and wiser or what? Anyway, these days I avoid religion and politics – how very English is that?
So talking to Shamim now should be a lot easier. I freely admit to knowing nothing about where she comes from and am happy to ask polite questions and listen to her answers. I ask her about her home back in Iran, her family, friends, music, the shops (she loves to talk about shopping – the universal language of womanhood). It turns out she is a trained scuba diver – something I always wanted to try but she puts me off when she talks about all the equipment she had to buy and lug around. We agree that the sea should be enjoyed as close to naked as possible and I have to suppress any trace of non-platonic intent. The way she smiles at me makes this very difficult however. I’m sure she doesn’t know she’s doing it, or the effect it has on me.
Later on, after the leviathans have passed, her parents appear, arm in arm. They’ve been watching from the other side of the boat and Mrs Sadeghi is still breathless with excitement.
‘Did you see that?’ she says over and over. ‘Did you see that?’