I met a beautiful Dutch girl, Anne, at Emily’s beach house in Ghana and asked her to come swimming with me. We’d been on the beach all day and I’d given her a shoulder massage and put sun cream on her back. She said she was scared of the ocean but I’d been swimming there the night before and although frightened it had been fine once we got through the waves. I told her not to worry and follow me. Just out of our depths I realised the current was pulling us out, very fast. “Let’s go back in”, I said, grabbed her hand, turned and started to swim towards the beach.
The problem was we were right where the waves were breaking. And the waves were big. And Anne didn’t seem able to duck under them. Each one caught her, dunked her under, spun her round and pulled her further away from the beach. Holding her hand didn’t seem to be helping. A big wave pummeled us and I lost her hand. When I resurfaced she was drifting away from me.
“Come on Anne, it’s fine, just keep on swimming towards the shore, go under the waves”.
She couldn’t hear me. I looked at the empty beach. The white sand and palm trees that 4 minutes earlier were a romantic paradise suddenly looked cruel and desolate. The strongest strokes I could muster weren’t doing much: “keep calm, it’s not far, breathe, keep going”, I thought.
But I wasn’t getting any closer. Every wave that came smashing down on my head pushed me under and pulled me further away. It was tiring and the water was powerful and angry. There was hardly time to breathe between waves. As the current pulled me my limbs would inadvertently up the tempo of my granny breaststroke. My deep breathing couldn’t control my fearful muscles.
I looked round for Anne. She was now beyond the waves which I was still in the middle of. Her arms were flailing. I couldn’t hear her screaming or understand how she had got so much further out so quickly.
Our eyes met and it occurred to me that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get in from where I was. I really didn’t know whether I could get in from all the way out where she was but she didn't look like getting in on her own”.
I pictured Emily and our friends on the terrace having drinks and joking about Zander and Anne’s romantic sunset swim. I imagined myself walking up to the house on my own. “Where’s Anne?” they’d ask. “She didn’t make it”, I’d reply and by the time we’d get back to the beach she’d be dead.
I couldn’t leave her. Walking back to the house on my own was impossible.
If that was impossible I had to get her in somehow. I really didn't want to swim out to sea. In the distance I saw a guy lying under a palm tree. “Help!! Help!!”, I shouted and waved my arms wildly. 6 minutes earlier as we’d splashed our way in to the water I’d thought this possible drunk, or maybe a fisherman who’d been out all night, was the only blot on a perfectly untouched landscape. Now I was screaming at him to save us.
He didn’t move. I looked round again. Anne had drifted even further out. My cries for help and arm flapping had exposed the hollowness of my protestations to her that all was cool. Trying not to think about how we’d get back in I started swimming towards her. After fighting the waves it was a relief to make progress even if it was the wrong way. I put my arms round her.
“We’re fine, we just have to keep going, slowly and duck the waves”.
We started to swim next to eachother. She looked scared. I put my arm around her waist when we got to where the waves were breaking.
I don’t know what happened: maybe the waves died down, or the current changed or we were swimming for a long time. I have no idea how long the whole thing lasted. Probably only a few minutes. Eventually my foot reached down and touched sand. This was where the current was strongest. Even with both feet on the ground and trying to pull Anne in we got swept up by the waves a couple of times.
We collapsed on the beach like ship-wrecks. The drunk/fisherman was nowhere to be seen. The palm trees swayed. The sun set into the beautiful ocean turning the sky bright orange. Anne’s hair was full of sand and her bikini was twisted out of place. We sat there for a while and walked home carrying the beer and sarong we hadn’t used.
Walking up through Emily’s garden she appeared at the back door and smiled, “nice swim?”
Anne and I went out a few times when we got back to Brussels. Then I tore ligaments in my knee and didn’t see her for a while. She came to my leaving party (leg still in a brace at this point), gave me some Dutch beers and a card thanking me for saving her life. We arranged to have dinner the following week. On the day of our date she texted to say she was ill and wouldn’t be able to make it. I decided to meet some friends for drinks in Place Luxembourg.
Our eyes met at the bar. I haven’t seen her since.