The three of us – The Prof, The Freak and I – brushed out of Cape town early in the morning. I was so bleary–eyed I don’t even remember passport control or what airline we travelled except that the destination was Split, not Beijing. The Prof had convinced us that our recovery after the summer’s excitement would be assisted by a few weeks on the Dalmatian coast at ‘Hotel Zrinski’, named after Nikola Šubić Zrinski the Croatian renaissance hero of the Ottoman wars. Zrinski was a survivor, present in 1529 at the siege of Vienna and 37 years later in 1566 at the Battle of Szigetvár where he and his small force of 2,300 was overwhelmed by a host of 100,000 Ottoman Turks.
I am sure that if the Prof could have prevailed on the Croatian authorities to reinter Zrinski in the shady gardens of the Hotel he would have done so. Instead a grand portrait of the man is cut into the supporting sides of the grand archway into the Hotel. The Hotel itself flanks Lovrečina Bay on the southern side of the island of Brač, a small uncluttered and unpolluted hideaway with a sandy beach that runs into the coolest clearest bluest water one could imagine. A long, long way from Newlands, but a trip made all the easier in first class. [Ed. That’s right, first class at every stop!]
The early morning breeze rustled through the forest of Aleppo pine as we followed the path to the beach. It was as we anticipated. Umbrellas, banana chairs and an esky full of the finest Brac has to offer for a mid-morning snack. A large sailing boat lay at anchor in the lee of the cove. It’s tall mast rocked gently on the swell.
“That’s for next week” The Prof murmured “A three day cruise snorkelling unexplored ancient Roman sites with a local Professor of archaeology. For now, it’s a few short day trips up the coast to see the sites.”
With that he strode into the water and swam out into the blue. His bronzed arms, honed in the wild sun of Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Newlands, rose in a rhythmical fashion until he turned to us treading water and pointed out to sea.
“What is that?” I heard him say across the watery depths.
The Freak waved back, lifting his worn field binoculars to his eyes.
“It’s a shark”, he said to me. “I can see the Fin. You had better signal him.” He put his glasses down, and resumed reading The Captain’s Diary, The Captain’s manuscript copy of his account of the Ashes summer in England. I did as he suggested.
“SHAAAAARRRRRRRKKKKKKKK” I yelled.
“S H A R K!!!!”
The Prof yelled something back. It sounded like SHIRT but it could have been any other slab of evocative imagery. Suffice to say that he received the message. His arms churned the water like a paddle steamer making for shore.
I made the T – sign to review the decision but received no reply. The Prof was as you might imagine, ‘otherwise engaged’.
The Freak giggled to himself as he worked the shark’s remote control levers to the right speed and angle of attack. The heart of The Captain’s Diary – it is a thick large font book – had been cut out to hide the controls.
I walked to the water’s edge and trained the binoculars on The Prof. He was the picture of gasping angular frantic movement I imagined. I broke a wry grin. At one point he looked at me with the half quizzical pained expression one has when even breathing melts your heart like a nuclear pulse. I waved back. Then he saw a grey fin approaching from his left side and seemed to redouble his efforts. The Fin took a wide C- arc and closed in on The Prof’s beating torso. He saw it and stopped swimming. He turned towards us, as if to say goodbye [Ed. I deny that inference!], and then began to point wildly behind me just as the Fin crashed into his midriff. I saw it all in an instant – the Fin, The Prof ready to meet his maker, and behind me The Captain’s Diary in flames as The Freak tried to turn off his pride and joy.
We pulled The Prof and the Fin from the water. Both had seen better days. The Prof regained his composure after a day or two. No one except the twitterverse saw anything – the still photos though were spectacular. The Prof is thinking of including this along with the snorkel experience as part of his signature Hotel Zrinski ‘Red Balloon’ experiences. (Just don’t try this at home.)
This ends our summer. Eight tests in fifteen weeks. We won 7/8 by a billion runs and were hammered in one test by a similar margin.
“Not bad” The Prof said, as he changed The Freak’s return ticket to economy class, next to the swinging bathroom door.