Sunday, February 8, 2015

The 'Glowing Coals of a mangrove night' - An extract from 'The Last Wave - an island novel'

The Last Wave - An island novel
'Glowing coals...'
Pgs 1-2

Harish peered into the mouth of the creek as they approached it. The creek, so pretty and welcoming by day, had acquired a completely different feel at night; the waxy green of the mangroves had now turned pitch-black. Dense, uninviting, its earlier enticements replaced by an ominous darkness. The mangrove revealed nothing of what lay beyond. The sky, juxtaposed, offered relief – studded with a million twinkling pinpricks, little windows to gaze into and see through to the other side of the great heavens.

Reality was replicated perfectly in its reflection. The mangroves were revealed as a dark wall on the surface of the water along the banks of the creek. In the middle was the grey silver of the sky above, and the lines that separated these reflections receded like a giant V into the distance of the creek. If a guiding star was to be plucked from the night sky and placed in a creek, it would be the illusory tip of this always receeding V, forever at the centre of the channel of water – focus on it and you were never lost.

But they were not navigating the creek for the fun of it, Harish, Seema, crocodile man and institute director, David; and their most local of guides, Uncle Pame. This survey was to span the western coast of the South and Middle Andaman Islands – and they were actively looking for crocodiles. The inflatable moved at a steady pace, with David at its tip, staring intently into the night. He sat for a while and then switched on his torch. The powerful beam of light cut sharply through the dark and fell on the water’s edge to create a little pool of diffused yellow. It sallied back and forth, as David willed it, went off and then came on again on the opposite bank. This went on for a few minutes.

As they moved deeper into the mangroves, the creek became progressively narrower and the banks started closing in. The tip of the V was now closer, but still receding, always just out of reach in the brooding darkness.

David flicked the torch on again and directed its beam to the right. Suddenly, he gesticulated in a wild, animated manner. Uncle got the message immediately. The inflatable slowed down considerably and Uncle angled it to the right. Seema and Harish directed their attention to the new pool of yellow light that had come to rest on a little bunch of mangled mangrove roots and floating debris. They were about forty feet from the creek bank; the pool of light remained stuck where it was. David indicated again with his right hand. Uncle killed the motor completely and picked up the oar. Seema and Harish felt the tension, straining their necks as they scoured the pool of light that David now held steadfast.

David seemed to be in his element, completely focused, his gaze locked with something out there. ‘Glowing coals,’ he muttered in a muffled voice. ‘Look for the glowing coals.’

For a moment it made no sense. Then, all at once, it was clearly visible. Right at the centre of their attention, in the mangled debris, separated from each other by only a few inches, were two small dots of brilliant red: the eyes of the monarch of the mangrove creek. The animal appeared transfixed, blinded by the concentrated beam of powerful light fixated on it. Seema and Harish also watched, transfixed, as Uncle rowed onward in complete silence. The only sound now was of the swishing oar.

‘Small croc. Young one, about three feet long,’ David said softly, as if he could read the questions in the ignorant minds. ‘The distance between the glowing coals . . .’

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