Swimming with Giants by Computer Engineering student Amr ElTawil

A sand tiger shark

The atmosphere was most peculiar. On one hand, we were promised an exhilarating experience. One we would likely remember the rest of our lives. On the other, there was no true guarantee that we would leave unscathed.

I was joined by some old companions, two men roughly my age named Amer and Hamza, who appeared equally conflicted. All seemed overwhelmed by a mixture of anticipation and increasingly apparent misgivings. One may view said misgivings as a product of common sense, but if any present were graced with it, they likely would not have been here.

We were greeted by a staff member that had worked with us before. A somewhat short and lithe man named Ronaldo. As ever he remained markedly buoyant for his age. Strange for a man leading a dangerous life with little to show for it. He presented me with a sheet of paper bearing the image of a particularly large shark. It was a waiver, stating that we were responsible should we be injured or killed. Quite an interesting way to welcome one’s guests. 

Some seem to view sharks as affable giants that rarely mean any harm to humans. Others view them as vile brutes that would devour us on sight. To me they were far more indiscriminate. Far more inscrutable. Not a simple transparent creature whose behaviour I can predict at will. They were able to shift at a glance from a mere feature of the environment amiably floating across the water, to a gluttonous amalgamation of viscous flesh and jagged teeth. That was part of the allure. To witness this peculiar creature from a rare vantage point.

The scene inside the enclosure was awe inspiring. A wide assortment of fish swam alongside the imposing sharks we had come to visit. A myriad of colourful shapes seemed to flitter and dance across the scattered rocks and coral reefs before wrapping around us, encircling us in a vibrant living dome. It was as vivid and serene a sight as I had ever witnessed, but the calm was soon cut short by a wild thrashing. 

Hamza’s equipment had loosened and he now desperately pawed at me hoping to maintain his balance. I grabbed him forcefully, motioning for him to regain his composure. It was already too late, as his thrashing had brought us unwanted attention. 

A monstrous thing approached us. A sand tiger shark roughly eight feet in length had grown dangerously close while maintaining an alarming speed. It opened its toothy jaw wider and wider as it did so. With no means to escape, I raised my fist ready to strike. The absurdity of the prospect was not lost on me. I could already hear the mocking whispers in the back of my mind.

“A large hungry beast rushed at him and the fool raised his fist.”
“As if a punch would achieve anything.”

Despite how silly it seemed, it somehow felt more dignified than simply curling up and accepting it. I awaited intently for the shark to strike, but it never did. The thwack of a stick had sent it comically scurrying away just as it arrived within an arm’s length of me. Ronaldo had struck it from beneath, causing it to assume it was being ambushed and flee. It was a remarkable sight, seeing one so comparatively small chase away a giant. Perhaps he was more deserving of the epithet, even if his size did not permit it. 

I should have expressed my gratitude once we returned to the surface, but my mind was preoccupied still reflecting on what had occurred. Ironically, my fleeting encounter with death had left me feeling more alive than ever. It seemed perfectly rational in retrospect. One is often too busy fixating on a possession’s flaws to truly appreciate it, until something or another threatens to take it away. But it was more than that. 

It was the same reason men would readily leap of cliffs or scale mountains in the dead of winter or any of the other countless foolhardy ways in which we might chose to entertain ourselves. It was the thrilling sensation that only flirting with death could ever truly provide. Would it really be worthwhile to live long and peacefully, if it meant having never experienced such sensations? As inane as such a question may seem to some, it was one I truly pondered. Regardless of the answer one thing remained certain to me as I made my way back to my home. I could not wait to return.