Ocean’s Phoenix: A Memoir

Ahmed Nabil

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I plugged in my earphone, zipped my jacket, rest my head, and tried to close my eyes as soon as I sat on the plane seat. I always hate flying, especially a long-hours flight. Ironic because I like to travel a lot and that’s the only thing about traveling which I can’t stand. I didn’t even sleep the night before just so I could sleep on the whole boring flight.

“It’s just a 4 hours flight.” My mom said as she reached for the book she brought in her bag.

I mumbled. Didn’t care about what she said.

“Well, it’s easy for you to say. You’ve always been on a goddamn plane for 22 years.” I wish I could say that. But I didn’t.

Finally, I could escape from the “prison” that made me do the same things over and over again. I really needed some time to get back on my track because these past 6 months had absolutely tortured me both mentally and physically. I desired a fresh experience, a new adventure and a glass of beer.

Time passed and one of the cabin crew woke me up and told me to adjust my seat back. Oh, thank God it’s over. The pilot announced that we will land shortly in Sumba. I opened the window blinds next to me. It was really a wonderful view or rather boring if you prefer to be drunk and wasted in a nightclub than midnight meditation in the middle of a deep dark forest. It was nothing but hills, plain meadow, and more meadow. At first, I thought I was going to heaven and maybe I was already dead because the plane crashed. I always have a fear of flying, and that’s one of the main reasons why I hate a long-hours flight.

The main town was small and had very few high buildings. Kind of made me think how they could live their lives in such simplicity. Our tour guide picked us up and introduced both him and the town. He took us around the city before we went to the hotel. The crucifix necklace that hangs below the rearview mirror swang rhythmically with Agnez Monica song that he played in the car tape. Three of us arrived at the hotel. I was surprised. The hotel looked like it sells a ton of firecrackers on Friday night. Next to the hotel was an old painting shop. Jesus Christ paintings spread all over the counter. Maybe the people around here were very religious.

I immediately opened the pack of cigarette I bought next to the painting store once I putted my butt on the hotel bench. The ashtray was made out of a shell. I was not really surprised, because that’s what happened when you were surrounded by beautiful beaches. You would start making things out of marine resources. Curtains made of cowry shells, shark teeth necklace, you name it.

It was my first cigarette today. The clock showed 10:00 P.M. I went to our bedroom once the tobacco all burned out. After the dinner that was delivered to our room, I came back to the smoking room. I couldn’t sleep because I already slept back on the plane, and had a little chat with the hotel employee, asked them a few questions about the places that we could visit. He then told me about this legendary creature, a large-bird-like fish that can reach up to 7 meters long. I never heard about it so I tried to Google it.

"Holy crap." My mouth opened as I scrolled through Google images.

That was the most sublime ocean creature that I’ve ever seen. He also told me that this creature only showed up in particular season, but he had no idea whether this was the right time to see it. The smoke faded away, we both ran out of word to say, so I went back to my room right away.

“Go change your clothes before you go to bed." My mom said in a sleepy tone, covering her nose with the blanket.

She always hates the smell of tobacco, even though she smokes one. Hypocrite, she is.

I didn’t answer her and change my clothes right away because I also felt gross. I washed my feet and brush my teeth, and still couldn’t fell asleep. Reminiscing about the places I’ve been visited in the last 2 years was all I did on that night. Hopefully, Sumba will find its place to my paradise-on-earth list.

The sun rose and my adventure started. Our tour guide, Johnny picked us up at 07:00 A.M. We drove through the city that had so many holes on it, Johnny immediately turns the audio on and Agnez Monica song starts playing, again. I’ve had enough of this. I asked him if I could plug my phone onto the audio and played my playlist instead. He agreed, fortunately.

The first day of our adventure we went straight to the sea to see this creature because I told my mother I was really eager to see them. I rolled the car windows down and started to look around. All the hills I’ve seen back on the plane looks magnificent in close range sight. Yellowish green colors surrounds the hills, the chill wind gently blew my face. Eminem spat his bar in memorial to Agnez Monica.

We arrived at the beach parking lot. You could say the beach was pretty good, even though there were many ships and boats docked there. I was surprised there weren’t many plastics above the water. There were many local kids playing on the ship. Some of them tried to approach and asked us for money. Although they later dispersed after Johnny told them to leave us alone. Johnny explained that there were many local kids, whose parents couldn’t afford to send their kids to school, that tried to rob tourist in a very nicest way. He said that their parents told them to do so.

Johnny told us to wait for a couple of people to board on our boat. Because the boat fuel is expensive here, we had to share the boat and gas costs with other tourists who also rent the boat. 30 minutes have passed and 3 men walked close to our boat. It was 3 young men, 2 British faces with an annoying accent and 1 Japanese dark-skinned man who was mistaking me and my mother for a couple on their honeymoon.

The boat started and the propeller rotated. We sailed through the beach and waved goodbye to Johnny, who actually would pick us up in the same spot after our trip in the boat was over. I looked below and watched the mountains as the crystal clear water with a little bit of emerald green color pushed our boat forward. The boat’s captain said that he would try his best to find the best spot for us to swim with the creature, but he didn’t guarantee that we would see them, as this creature-hunting were being given as a bonus. Actually, we rented this boat to go to Rinca Island for snorkel, but our captain was a good guy and decided to give us a chance to see it.

We went from 1 spot to another, still no sign of that creature. We nearly gave up until one of our captain’s crew shouted.

"There it is!" He said with an enthusiastic tone.

Everyone started to jump onto the water, but my mom and I didn’t, she was scared even though she had her life vest strapped tightly on her chest. I waited for the creature to get close because I couldn’t see very clearly, but I jumped onto the water shortly after without my life vest, because I was not comfortable wearing one. Those 3 tourists started taking pictures of the creature which I couldn’t see.

My vision was blurry, I swam forward and saw a white image came near me. I continued to go farther from our boat and eventually managed to see them. There it was, swimming near the surface, flapping their wide wings gently. I tried to dive near them to get a closer look, and they didn’t seem to be bothered with our presence. As magical as it was, manta rays, the ocean phoenix.

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