The Eyes

Two weeks on, and the moment is still branded cold on my brain:

An oily black head with oily black eyes. Risen from the water in a blink. Staring at me.

Perhaps another language has a word for what English doesn’t: the thrilling lovechild of terror and wonder. I’ve experienced it, truly experienced it, three times. Others know it too. George Monbiot describes it in the abstract, believes that big cat sightings in Britain are a mind-manifestation of the craving for feeling it. When I interviewed people in the Forest of Dean for my dissertation, a few of them called it a thrill – an unexpected moment when they came face to face with a wild boar and even though they knew they were almost certainly safe their nerves and neurons were thinking this, this creature does not run from me like all the others do.

Time 1: snorkelling in Majorca, twelve years old. I turn.

The rock has an eye.

A blazing orange eye. As the spurt of shock fades from my blood, I begin to see the outline: a bulbous body, star-points of tentacles. Skin textured and dappled perfectly. My first ever octopus.

Time 2: exploring a Maldivian reef. Fourteen.

The shark glides towards us and circles. Barely half my size, a black tip on its fin that means there’s no need to fear, but reef sharks always swim away, as fast as possible. But this one – I am captured by the magnet of its sand-grey eye, the black slit of its pupil. For seconds, I am interesting to it.

Time 3: the oily black seal, two weeks ago. The biggest I’ve ever seen in British waters. Filling water I had vacated minutes previous.

Sinister. That’s the word that keeps echoing. I was never not-safe, and yet, I was afraid. Remembering, I am still afraid.

And I am in lost in wonder.

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