“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, there is a copter, hovering above, four wheel trucks with divers have arrived the beach, marine police and emergency squad have all arrived. Mild pandemonium!
It’s a lazy evening in 2005. Time is about 5.15pm on a mild sunny day. There is the smell of romance in the air. Those who love peace and tranquility are dotting the vast beach. I can see a daddy running with his son to my left. The man seems in his thirties. He cannot run. Each time he runs the massive folds around his mid riff wobble. He looks like a thoroughly pumped tire. His son seems about five years old. A very sharp contrast to his daddy. The facial features are the same. Except that he runs quicker than his daddy and does not pant like his daddy.
To my right are two ladies. They are dressed in revealing beach wears. One is laying on the belly with a book in front of her while the other laid on her back with a book in front of her as well. A gentleman wearing white swimming trunks with a bare chest is trying to chat with one of them or maybe both of them. He is being ignored. He makes a few attempts at amusing and musing. No one found it funny.
Right in front of me, I see an old man walking by with grace. He seems to savour every moment of his walk. He treads on the sand with delicacy. He bends down every now and then to pick something from the ground. He throws it some distance away. The seagulls flutter away and a man runs past.
I stand in sheer ecstasy and I take in these sights wondering at how diverse life could be.
Five years ago, when I arrived Abu Dhabi, one of the havens I discovered was the beach. I do not usually visit the beach on weekends because of the crowd. I mean, it has its dividends as well. Going to the beach on weekends with the family is great fun. Children love to see other children and other people. This is the excitement, the crowd, the mingling, the bumping into people, other children taking your children’s floats away and you trying to persuade them to return it, your children taking other children’s floats as well. The feeling of this great mixture, watching people swim by the barrier line and others being persuaded to step a bit further into the water. The drama never ceases.
For a personal time of tranquility, I had learnt that the best time to come to the beach was about 5pm in the evening on a weekday. The crowd is thin and you can really commune with nature. The waters of Abu Dhabi is one of the calmest in the world. I love seeing the sun reflect on the water as it tries to make it final escape for the day. I love watching the silvery water and then the orange sun and then the silvery water again. This always awakens the artistic instincts in me.
The shadows that emanates from the few people strolling around or swimming are always sublime. The silhouettes created by these shadows fascinate me.
It was Tuesday. My mate and I had been talking about the beach from work. 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 thirty eight degrees Celsius. The humidity level way out of ordinary. What really made us do this beautiful thing in such an odd timing?
It was one sure way of recreating and relaxing. We didn’t have cars. We came to work by taxis and went back by taxis. Abu Dhabi was not as 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 AD. The taxis were not very nice, some of the taxis stank. Most of the taxis, you needed to squeeze in if you were a big fella like me. You can imagine staying in the humidity for about ten minutes waiting for a taxi, drenched in perspiration, then one taxi finally appears and there are about fifteen people waiting for this singular taxi. A lady in black veil and attire just walks out from nowhere and enters the taxi and then all the men will stand back as if someone had brought out a gun to order everybody to move back. I struggled with this scenario.
One particular occasion, I was waiting in the bus stop for about eight minutes and then this car 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 is when a lady comes to take the taxi, the man would have to allow her in as a sign of respect. Or if a lady with baby or toddlers came for the cab, others would allow mother and child have it. The one with mothers and babies cum toddlers made some sense to me. But I thought balderdash to the other idea of the lady. The case of my wife with two toddlers came to my mind. She would have a double buggy with two toddlers waiting to get a cab only to be shoved off by some male folk. Does this apply to all women I was about to ask her or only the veiled rather women in black, 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 here. After work, we would have to walk to the main road to grab a cab or bus back. Walking under the hot sun is never a fun experience. Having to cross this main road to the other side was even more dreadful. They wasn’t any 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 challenge and project. Sometimes we would have to wait for about thirty minutes before there could be a slight opportunity to run across. 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 chance of survival in case I got knocked or run over by any of the speeding maniac 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.
Iyan and I had just arrived 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.
This evening, after the Frisbees, I decided to do some more swimming. 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 am 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 swam back to the shore. I looked for the life guard and called the emergency service.
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 plam. He has been swimming in this beach for about ten years. He has witnessed all the changes of the beach.
“I had swam from the corniche road end to the break water point and I was swimming back. I decided to lay 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 judging from the time the first diver grabbed me. I had arrived the break water about 5pm and by the time I looked at my watch it read 6.05pm”.
“You mean to tell me that you were sleeping all this while and you never heard the copter or the speed boat?”
“Trust me I never. It was when the diver grabbed me that I awoke. I was scared but then I thought these waters don’t have shark then it dawned on me what may have transpired”.