I had set the alarm clock to an early hour so that Maria and I could have a little of the morning to ourselves before the crew, and shortly afterwards the passengers showed up; a nice quiet breakfast for two, lingering and chatting over the second cup of coffee while the sun slowly rose like an overloaded plane.
As I was shaving by the open porthole of my cabin while Maria got the breakfast ready, with the sunlight full on the side of my face, I discovered my first grey hair, on the left temple, just above my ear. It gleamed when the sun struck it and that's how I noticed it; it might have turned grey only last night, but it might also have been hiding there for some days or even weeks without my noticing it. I checked my hair carefully for more but there was only this one, looking very much out of place and lonely, and I said to myself the hell with it, one swallow does not a spring make nor one grey hair an autumn, and plucked it out There was a chance that this grey hair was a single premature case, not to be followed by others for a long time yet. But I decided that when more did show up I would leave them alone; I was not going to pluck them one by one, or dye them. There is a story about an elderly man with two wives, one young and one old, who left him bald because the young one would pull out all his grey hair, and the old one all the black. I was probably going to look quite attractive with a little gray hair on the temples of this suntanned and handsome face. I was thirty-three for God's sake; Raffi Glickstein, a diving instructor at Sharm and an old friend, two years younger than me, already had quite a lot of it and looked very handsome with it. The last time we met, on the Ras-Uhm-Sid beach near Sharm, he was part of a little scene which had strangely touched me at the time and now drifted into my mind again. There is a miniature cove there, four or five metres across and about waist-deep in the middle. Raffi was sitting on a rock while his little son, four years old and very suntanned ( there is also a baby girl) was snorkelling in the middle of the cove, while Raffi, in his quiet and authoritative instructor's voice was coaching him in the finer points of snorkelling, and supplying information on the conches, sea urchins, corals and fish the boy was seeing. Raffi had married comparatively young and although his wife had taken a scuba course she was not quite as enthusiastic about it as her husband, especially of late, what with a home and two children. Yankele referred to her as "Raffi's Xanthippe" but he was exaggerating; she was no more a Xanthippe than the somewhat dreamy and easygoing Raffi was a Socrates; she simply ran her home with a firm hand, and was a good mother and wife. When their little boy was still a baby and there were lots of debts to be paid off and Lili (Xanthippe's real name) was badly overworked and grumbling, Raffi may have dropped a few words of regret concerning his early marriage in Yankele's presence over a mug of beer at the Dolphin Bar in Na'ama. But ever since the boy grew up a little and took to the water like a seal, Raffi and him became great friends, and any regrets there might have been evaporated without a trace.
Shortly after Maria and I finished breakfast, Ron, Ilan, and Bob reported back for duty, Ron and Ilan looking slightly worn out after their night activities on shore. No one has ever seen Bob looking sleepy or tired whatever he might have been doing. Bob, my second in command, was American, non-Jewish, a certified diving instructor, yacht skipper, and marine engineer, and very much a master of all these trades.
While Ron and Ilan were reviving themselves with strong black coffee, I gave them a last briefing.
"Look, you two," I said, "we've been over all this before and you're reasonably OK but also slightly incorrigible so here goes again. Please remember at all times that in spite of the brotherhood of all men and especially all divers, the people coming here this morning are still our paying customers, and we, their hired servants. I am not asking for any arse-licking or prostitution; just keep in mind that they might have already heard that joke that only reached you last night; that they might not want to tell you all about their earnings and sex life; and above all that they might not be interested in Zionist propaganda or a detailed hour-by-hour account of what you did in the last Arab-Israeli war."
"They are not Jewish, any of them?"
"Not as far as I know, so no Crucifixion jokes either. Now about diving itself; Bob and Maria, would you join us, please? There will be six of them and I suggest that during the first dives three of us go down with them, one to each pair, Bob and I at all times, Ron, Ilan, and Maria in rotation, at least until we get to know them underwater and are sure they are alright. Without any racism and begging Maria's pardon, please keep a special eye on the Germans; most of them are very good and disciplined, but there have also been cases of unnecessary risks like going too deep, staying too long, and making repeat dives too soon. Should any of ours show any such tendencies they'll have to be restrained gently but firmly."
"I am not expecting any trouble on that account", Bob said. "They only do it when they're on their own. Under supervision, diving with a club or a yacht, they're perfectly 0K and better than most; they have a very good technical background and discipline. There shouldn't be any problems."
"I hope so. Oh, and one more thing," I said lightly. "I wouldn't exactly call them nightwatches but one of us should be awake and on deck whenever we're anchored near the shore, shall we? Major Yankele was here last night and warned me about a couple of recent cases of people swimming out to anchored boats at night and pinching things from them."
©1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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