The Barracuda

I’d given up all hope of getting married by the time I met Henry Barley; I was 32 and although I had had a couple of serious long term relationships nothing had finally 'clicked.'  We met while I was filming a railway documentary in China of all places, even though we had been born less than a mile from each other and he went to school with my brother.

Henry fell in love with me when he saw me rescuing a hedgehog in a Chinese market. It had been bought for someone’s supper and I bought it back and took it out into the countryside to set it free. I fell in love with him because he noticed; and helped me to do something that the rest of the film crew thought was daft.

We had a paradise wedding in the Seychelles four months later, at the beginning of 1989, and both believed that life would follow the path of happy ever. I didn’t even mind that I lost my job – my expertise was all about China and the events of Tiananmen Square in 1988 had made China a no-go area for journalism.  But five months after our wedding, Henry was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he died in my arms one year, 16 days after our wedding.

I ran away to Australia for six weeks while I tried to face up to it. At the time I had no spiritual or holistic knowledge and it was unbelievably tough. It seemed like my whole future had been removed.

My friends Peter Seccombe and Sarah Douglas were on a year’s Sabbatical travelling the world and we arranged for me to fly out to spend two weeks with them and then to go on and stay with an old friend from my TV days who had emigrated to Sydney.

My flight took me into Cairns in the Northern Territory and I arrived two days before Sarah and Pete could get there – in the days before mobile phones and the Internet liaising on an exact date with travellers was a pretty tough call. That first night I went tentatively down to the hotel bar; I was very aware of being not normal; grief had set me somehow about half an inch out of my skin and everything looked and felt wrong wherever I was. I had a constant feeling that if I stepped out in front of a bus and it didn’t stop, I wouldn’t have minded. I certainly wasn’t paying very much attention to life. I didn’t see the point in anything.

It was my birthday the next day so I went out to the Barrier Reef to do some snorkelling. I had been planning to wait until Sarah and Pete arrived but there are only so many circuits you can make of a town when you’re miserable.

The ship that took us out was crowded with Japanese tourists so I could hide quite neatly in the crowd. I did listen to the announcements on where to swim and where not to go.

‘Just avoid the deep water,’ said the announcer. ‘You’re perfectly safe in the shallows and we keep an eye out for you. No one’s ever been hurt in the shallows but you must stay there because there are sharks in the deep water and two divers were killed by an eight-foot barracuda only about six weeks ago. That guy wasn’t within 20 miles of here but it’s best to be sure.’

Into the water we all went and I floundered around for a while, hating it. My mind wasn’t relaxed enough to deal with all the shouting, giggling and photograph-taking all around me. What did I do? Yes, of course I swam round the boat. I had completely forgotten what the announcer said.

The barracuda was right there; lurking. It was enormous, with great black marks like portholes down its side and teeth that made me shiver. It was side on when I first saw it but it flipped in less than a second to face-on and came towards me so fast it was like a blur.

It is true that time slows down in a crisis. I remember the terror – and I also remember thinking very clearly ‘I want to live.’ Until that moment, I hadn’t been sure.

A Voice cut in to my thoughts very clearly ‘Swim forwards and make as much noise as you can. When you get near, hit it on the nose. If it turns, poke its eye with your thumb.'

So I did the complete opposite of what instinct wanted me to do – swim away as fast as possible - and obeyed the Voice without thought. I swam straight at the barracuda, yelling under the water.

It flipped away.

I lay there and watched it; it watched me. Impasse.

The Voice spoke again.

“You can swim backwards,” it said in a kind of resigned tone. I’d never, ever thought of that. I did so, keeping a sharp eye on the barracuda which didn’t move. In less than a minute I hit the side of the ship, hard. Still the barracuda didn’t move.

Being a journalist – and afraid that no one would believe my story – I took a photograph with my underwater camera. The Voice sighed.

‘Get out of the water?’ it suggested.

I turned and swam round the ship as fast as I could. Out of the water, I vomited with fear and shook like
a leaf.

I didn’t tell anyone on the ship; I was too scared of being told off and there was no one else who was about to be as stupid as I had been. But as I sat, wrapped in my towel, shivering, I knew: I wanted to live. Henry’s death was not the end of me and I would survive.

I have the murky, slightly out-of-focus photograph of that barracuda on the desktop of my computer to look at whenever I’m feeling small or scared. It helps.

My path took me where I’d never expected. It turned me into the luckiest woman on the planet. For the last 15 years I've been teaching prosperity consciousness and Kabbalah. As my Life of Miracles has included riding on the back of a Bengal tiger, widowhood, redundancy, making TV documentaries, swimming with dolphins, having my life saved by a brave Chinese security guard, emigrating twice in 11 months, a gloriously happy marriage, having sixteen books published, living a wonderfully healthy and wealthy life and being really rather happy...I've tested all this prosperity work to the full.

I'm also proud of the TV documentaries I made about China, about once being told that I made the best chocolate cake in all of Montana, being a radio presenter for three different radio stations, editing an holistic magazine and the fact that I got my beloved beagle, Didcot, back from America on Passports for Pets before it was possible to do so (and I did it legally).

But most of all, I appreciate the joy of living peacefully, prosperously and happily with Lion, the best, kindest and funniest love of my life, in a lovely house surrounded by trees in the Midlands of England.
If you'd like to know more about me, please visit my website.

To read about my books visit Amazon.


Elderwoman said…
Thank you for this marvellous story, Maggy. We humans are such a predatory species that it's a rare privilege, in our modern world, to have the ancient experience of being prey. Not that it feels like a privilege at the time, of course! Reminds me of the late Val Plumwood and her story of being 'death-rolled' by a crocodile.
Thank you - very much appreciated x

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