It was a lazy evening in 2005. Time was about 5.30pm on a mild sunny day. There was the smell of romance in the air. Those who love peace and tranquility dotted the vast beach. I could see a dad running with his son to my left. The man seemed in his thirties. He couldn’t run well. Each time he ran, the massive folds around his mid riff wobbled. He looked like a thoroughly pumped tire. His son seemed about five years old, slim and smart looking. He was a sharp contrast to his dad. The facial features were the same, except that he was quicker on his feet than his dad and did not pant like his dad was doing.
To my right were two young ladies dressed in revealing beach wears. One lay on her belly with a book in her hands while the other lay on her back sipping fresh coconut water. A gentleman who wore white swimming trunks with his chest bare was trying to chat up one or maybe both of them but he was completely ignored by them. He made a few attempts at amusing them. None of the girls found it funny. Right in front of me was an old man gracefully walking by. He seemed to be savouring every moment of his walk. He trod on the sand with joy bending down every now and then to pick something from the ground which he threw some distance away. The seagulls fluttered away as a man walked past. I stood in sheer ecstasy taking in these sights, wondering how diverse life could be.
The beach was one of the havens I discovered five years ago when I first arrived Abu Dhabi. I did not usually visit the beach on weekends because of the crowd, though it had its dividends as well. Going to the beach on weekends with the family was great fun if you don’t mind the crowd. Children loved to see other children and other people. This was the weekend high- the excitement, the crowd, the mingling, the bumping into people, the possibility of having other children take your children’s floats away and you trying to persuade those children to return them, and your children taking other children’s floats as well, watching some people swim by the barrier line and others being persuaded to step a bit further into the water. The drama never ceased. The feeling from these great mixtures was ecstatic!
Nevertheless, I had learnt that the best time to come to the beach was about 5pm in the evening on weekdays for a chance to enjoy personal time of tranquility. The crowd was thin and you could really commune with nature. The waters of Abu Dhabi were some of the calmest in the world. Sitting quietly at the beach, I loved seeing the sun reflect on the water as it tried to make its final escape for the day. I loved to watch the silvery water and then the orange sun and then the silvery water again. It awakened the artistic instincts in me. The shadows emanating from the few people strolling around or swimming about on such weekdays were always sublime. The silhouettes created by these shadows fascinated me.
My friend Iyan and I worked together in the same office, we were both young and single and so we decided to rent an apartment together. We didn’t have cars. We came to work by taxis and went back home by taxis. Abu Dhabi then, was not organized as it is now. Public transportation was still at its infancy. There used to be a massive rush for taxis in the mornings. Queuing was still alien in Abu Dhabi. The taxis were not very nice, some of them stank and you needed to squeeze yourself into most of them if you were a big fella like me. You can imagine staying in the humidity for about ten minutes on a warm muggy day waiting for a taxi, drenched in perspiration, then one taxi finally appears and there are about fifteen people waiting for this singular taxi! Often times, a lady in black veil and attire will just walk out from nowhere and enter the taxi and all the men will stand back as if someone had brought out a gun to order everybody to move back. I struggled with such scenarios.
One particular occasion, I was waiting in the bus stop for about eight minutes and then this cab finally pulled by and a veiled lady walked to the taxi and opened the back door and sat in. I opened the front door and sat at the front. The taxi driver was shocked. To make matters worse, the cab man did not understand English. They spoke in Arabic and I just refused to get down. I told the man where I was going and we all sat in the cab. The man dropped me off first. During the ten minutes ride, the lady and I struck a conversation that I would describe as strange. She tried to educate me on the culture of Abu Dhabi. How courteous it was for a man to stand by and allow a lady take a taxi as a sign of respect. Or if a lady with a baby or toddlers came for the cab, how others should allow mother and child/children have it. The one with mothers and babies cum toddlers made some sense to me because a scenario of me having a wife who could be travelling with two toddlers came to my mind. She would have a double buggy with two toddlers waiting to get a cab and it wouldn’t be nice at all for her to be shoved off by some male folk. But I thought balderdash to the other idea of the lady. I was about to ask her if this applied to all the women or only the veiled ones in black, but I couldn’t because then I was at my destination.
My work place was located in a very quiet area of Mushrif. It was mainly residential and taxis barely came there. After work, we would have to walk to the main road to grab a cab or bus back. Walking under the hot sun was never a fun experience. Having to cross the main road to the other side was even more dreadful. There was no underpass or overhead, or pedestrian crossing then. It was a major road and it was a very busy road. Crossing to the other side used to be such a challenging project. Sometimes we waited for about thirty minutes before there was a slight opportunity for us to run across, and the dart across had to be on nothing less than seventeen miles per hour to make it to the other side safely. We used to stand and watch the labourers make this crossing and we used to dread it. But as time went on, we knew we had to borrow a leaf from them. At one stage I contemplated buying a helmet for this crossing purpose just to increase my chances of survival in case I got knocked down or run over by any of the speeding manic drivers.
Since we normally finish work at peak time, we would often look for ways to relax before hitting the road to make that dash. This was primarily what prompted me to bring in the Frisbees to keep us busy while waiting for the traffic to die down. So regardless of the heat and humidity, we would bask at this opportunity of de-stressing and keeping fit. By the time we got home it would be about evening and we would go straight to the beach since we lived near it anyways to dip in the salty water and relax. This used to calm us down and serve as a motivating factor to live for the next day.
My mate and I had been talking about the beach from work on this particular day, it was on a Tuesday. We wanted to have a good swim after throwing Frisbees. Throwing Frisbees was a favourite past time of ours. After work, we would normally get out into the hot sun and throw the ‘F’s as we called it. We would be perspiring and drenched in perspiration. Folks thought that we were nuts to do such an insane stuff in the name of recreation. The temperature was usually about forty two degrees Celsius. The humidity level was way out of the ordinary. I would never understand what it was that really made us do this beautiful thing in such an odd timing. However, it was one sure way of recreation and relaxation for us.
Iyan and I had just arrived at the beach. We dived in and swam for a little bit. We came out with that feeling of ‘yeah this feels good’ to throw some more Frisbees. Iyan had this habit of walking down the beach just close to the water as the tide came closer. The tide always brought further some shells and pebbles that when you walked would give you slight pinches and blisters. It almost made you to walk on tip toe. Sometimes Iyan and I would go in opposite directions.
After the Frisbees, I decided to do some more swimming. Iyan said he was going to sleep for a couple of minutes at our favourite spot under the palm tree. I had swam all the way to the barrier and I was about to turn around when I noticed from a distance a mass floating on the water. I stopped a while and looked more. It was a person. I couldn’t be wrong. I dipped into the water and came out again and looked some more. Since I was short sighted and astigmatic, my acuity wasn’t very great here but I was sure that it was a person. There was no movement from the floating mass. The gentle bobbing of the water seemed to be the only factor propelling the body. I was so scared that I panicked. I swam back to the shore. I looked for the life guard and called the emergency service.
“Hello!” I shouted into the mouth piece of my mobile phone.
“Yes 999, how can I help?”
“I am calling from Abu Dhabi corniche, the beach, the waters.”
“How can I help?”
“There is a body floating on the beach.”
“I am sorry I don’t understand you.”
“I said there is a body floating on the beach.”
“You mean a dead person?”
“I don’t know, it seems so.”
“Which part of the beach is this?”
“Near gate 21, coming in from the single’s entrance.”
Fifteen minutes later, a chopper was hovering above, a four wheel truck with divers had arrived the beach, marine police and emergency squad had all arrived. There was a mild pandemonium, but they did a real professional job at pulling him out. A diver swam very close to the floating man and threw a padded rope round his midriff. He was chopper lifted out of the water, and gently dropped on a stretcher already rolled out by the paramedics. I was curious to know who the victim was; I went close to the stretcher to see for myself. It was Jean!
Jean was a regular to the Corniche beach. He enjoyed swimming each day after work. He knew the Corniche beach almost like the back of his palm. He had been swimming in this beach for about ten years. He had witnessed all the changes of the beach, so I wondered what could have happened to him. How could he have drowned in the same water that had given him so much joy and pleasure?
I shook my head in pity, tears rolled down my eyes. I was about to turn and walk away when I heard Jean cough and sit up on the stretcher. He seemed perfectly normal. Everyone was amazed.
“This dude is alright” said one of the paramedics.
“Of course I am perfectly alright” Jean retorted.
“Excuse me, please let me through” I said, making my way close to the stretcher.
“And who may you be?” Asked a Policeman who was standing by.
“My name is Etuk, I was the one who made the call for his rescue.”
“May I have a word with him Inspector?”
The Policeman nodded his head and brought out a paper and pen to write a report.
“What happened to you dude? I thought you were dead seeing you floating on the water like that.”
“Really?” Jean replied. “Well, I swam from the Corniche road end to the break water point and I was swimming back. I decided to lie on my back and do the back drift. I was enjoying the evening cool. I was watching the sun set and then I must have fallen asleep. I must have slept for about thirty minutes. I had arrived at the break water about 5pm and by the time I looked at my watch again it read 6.05pm.”
“You mean to tell me that you were sleeping all this while and you didn’t hear the noisy sound of the chopper or the speed boat?”
“No, I didn’t hear anything.”
“And what of when you were being airlifted?”
“I swear, I didn’t feel or notice anything, my sleep was too deep for me to notice.”
“Amazingly unbelievable!” I exclaimed, wondering if I actually ever knew this guy.
By this time, almost everyone had dispersed: the crowd, the police, the chopper, the speed boat. The paramedics helped him to get down from the stretcher, they put their stretcher inside the ambulance and drove away, leaving me standing there, feeling like a fool for raising such hubbub for nothing.