The sun is fierce, the air breathlessly warm, the view is unblighted by haze. Clouds have become a memory.

Everything is clear: the horizon, the sky (as always, untarnished by vapour trails) and the sea beneath me. The sea especially; and, where I had expected a grey and foreboding opaque, I am met by a bottomless aquarium aquamarine and infinite pellucidity; and calm; unbelievable, dreamy, soporific, salty calm and, apart from our boat chugging delicately beneath the impregnable cliffs that skirt this island, a gentle breeze provides the only movement.

I have loved St. Helena: its people, its geography, its flora, its fauna delighting and surprising at every turn. My world has slowed, I revel in my current pace and the quality of relationships I have had time to build in this destination at the end of the world, where the familiar has, mile by mile, hour by hour, minute by minute, been relentlessly diluted by distance. St. Helena has refreshed me, rebooted me and perhaps restored me to a different state. I am anew, all my boxes ticked. Except for one.

One box nips at me. Until now, I have not been out on the water. Engaged elsewhere, I have not enjoyed the marine sightings experienced by my colleagues, the rays, the dolphins and, of course, the ‘baydat kabira’ of them all, the whale shark, an ever present wonder in these beautifully protected and magical waters.

Expecting nothing and with only a few short hours to fill, a few of us engage a local fishing boat to show the island from the sea. We seek a real, unstructured experience. We are getting what we paid for. We chug along, I collapse into the moment, seeing everything but oblivious to all around me.

I am awakened by a whisper: “Whale Shark. Big one. Male. On the right”. The engine is immediately and mercilessly killed. We silently scream our delight.

It is there, basking below the surface, enjoying, as we, the warmth of the sun. A delight, the gold we weren’t digging for, a treasure we’d lost hope of finding.

“Do you want to get in?” asks our Captain.

“May I?” I ask in disbelief.

“We do,” he replies.

“We always have,” chimes his mate.

“Your choice,” comes an amused grunt from the third hand.

I am without bathers. Without flippers or mask. I am without choice. I must take my chance. In my Englishness I begin to disrobe.

“Hurry,” I am told.

I give up on my preparation. I slowly lower myself into the water, embraced in its welcoming warmth, shivering with excitement.

He is close, serene, seemingly motionless and I wonder if he, like me, is enjoying the peculiar buoyancy of these magical waters. I laugh at the silliness of the notion. My excitement turns to joy, the contagion of his serenity and calm as intoxicating as the finest wine or the sweetest perfume. I am lost in space.

My eyesight is poor and I have no mask or goggles but, having kept my glasses on in my excitement, again, all is clear. I watch and I watch and I watch. He is unperturbed, I am honoured and humbled. He is beautiful. Magnificent. He spoils me with his presence. We share our time together. Seconds seem like hours. I am nothing to him. An oddity. He is branded in my memory.

It is time to return to the boat and I turn in the water. I am conscious of a shadow at my stern. A manta ray. A wonderful desert to a marvellous main course.

I am dragged ingloriously into the boat, my colleagues and pilots laughing gently at the reality of me. I am fully clothed. I still have one shoe on, a solitary desert boot, with laces neatly tied, my glasses sitting proud on my sunburnt nose. I join their laughter.

All good things come to those who wait. All good things are here.

We return to the harbour. No one needs to talk. We smile instead.

Thanks for reading

Author: Giles Cross