Bluebottles To The Rescue

Ezra Azra

Photo by Marat Gilyadzinoy on Unsplash.
Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra

Photo by Marat Gilyadzinov on Unsplash

Kalendri was one of the children in our Village in Fynnland, Durban, Natal, South Africa, in the 1950s. This is an account of an adventure a group of us had. All of us were in our early teens.

Fynnland was a suburb of Durban. One of its boundaries was a section of the shore of Durban Bay on the Indian Ocean. In the second half of the nineteenth century, our Village grew in a small area of that section.

Although just about everybody in the Village fished at times, fishing was not a full-time profession. All adults commuted daily to workplaces beyond the Village. It was the children who had fun fishing, just about every day, and sometimes at night. Of course, we ate the fish we caught.

All the fish we caught, we caught by hand, among the mangrove roots.

The mangrove tree grows in ocean salt water. Some of its roots grow in a tangled mesh above ground under water. At high tide, fish swim about in the mesh, but when the tide recedes to low tide, some fish get stranded in the mesh. That is where we caught them.

It was not as easy as it sounds. Most of the times the fish got away, because wet mangrove roots are dangerously slippery to feet, bare or in footwear; and dangerously tricky for hands to get a grip, bare or gloved. Rarely would there be an opportunity to stand with both feet underwater planted on the sea floor while we fished with both hands. Always, there had to be some bracing contact with mangrove roots.

The fish forever had all the advantages even when confined to maneuvering among mangrove roots. For us, all the difficulties were part of the fun of mangrove fishing, even the risk of being arrested by police for illegal fishing.

It was utterly ridiculous that adult police persons would spend so much time trying to arrest teenagers. We looked forward to the police chase through waist-deep sea water among mangrove roots. It was best at nights when there was no moon.

The police never had a prayer against us. In all those teen years I was involved, the police never succeeded in catching any of us.

From birth, Kalendri had a mental deficiency. At the beginning of her teen years she could barely form sentences. Mother Nature compensated by endowing Kalendri with unusual abilities.

For one, she was lightning-quick in grabbing fish out of the water. This was a priceless gift in our fisher-folk community. She never returned empty-handed when she went fishing. Day and night. The rest of us, most times, came back empty-handed.

And she could swim. We called it swimming because she moved silently and swiftly through the water, but her speed was out of proportion to the barely noticeable movements of her arms and legs. She could remain submerged longer than any of the adult, experienced fishermen.

We had competitions. Kalendri won every time. The only payment she accepted was riding in a fisherman's net. She was light enough for net fishermen to let her ride in their wood-frame shrimp nets they pushed in front of them through waist-deep water.

She wore trousers and shirt; never a dress. She paid the old women of the Village with fish for them to keep her head shaved of all its hair. She loved to fish in the mangroves with us, and to roam the Fynnland jungles for wild fruit. She sensed the presence of snakes. She would point, we would step back and detour even when we did not see the snake.

She communicated with us mostly by pointing. I never saw her smile or laugh or giggle.

At one time, a net fisherman found a long bone in his net, it caused a sensation. Everyone who saw it agreed it was not a bone from a marine animal. Perhaps it was from a land animal that a shark in Durban Bay had eaten? Durban Bay was notorious for shark attacks on swimmers and fishermen.

Nobody spoke it, but some of us feared that bone could have been human.

Kalendri had discovered a mangrove pool of poisonous Blue Bottle marine creatures. The Blue Bottle is a marine organism that at one end has a thin bluish bubble from which extends, for yards, a thin line of living tissue bearing highly poisonous sting darts that inject their poison into a prey, causing excruciating pain for hours. In smaller prey, the poison is lethal within seconds.

There was no way for Kalendri to let us know how long after she discovered the pool she invited us to see it.

That pool was deep among the mangrove trees; encircled by the trees, and most of it was almost stagnant because of the thick growth of mangrove roots.

She gestured us to hold onto branches at the side, above the pool. She clutched at a branch, too. What was striking was the colour of the water in the pool. Being among the mangroves, the pool could not be more than chest deep. Its almost calm surface had a tinge of blue about it.

Kalendri, holding onto a branch above, leaned over and splashed the water with her foot, and quickly lifted herself back up. Within seconds countless Blue Bottle organisms rose to the surface. Their presence on the surface made the water breathtakingly deepest blue.
Despite the total beauty, I was more than a little frightened to be that close. Months earlier I had been stung by a Blue Bottle while I was fishing among the mangroves. I had immediately torn the tentacles off my arm. Nothing helped. I was in stinging pain on my arm for hours. For days afterwards the affected part of my arm was numb.

At Kalendri's pool, after what seemed a long while, the organisms slowly sank to the bottom.

Kalendri horrified us by slowly lowering herself into the pool. She slowly and silently walked through the chest-deep water. No ripples were created by her movements. Then she slowly submerged. We could see her all the while.

She emerged slowly a few steps farther, and continued walking. When she reached the end of the pool, she climbed up the mangroves. She waved a giant prawn shrimp at us in her hand.

She had found a way to move silently and slowly enough to not trigger a response from the Blue Bottles, and, while she was at it, to grab a prawn from the bottom of the pool.

It seems the prawns and the lethal Blue Bottles lived in harmony at the bottom of the pool among mangrove roots.

That pool was Kalendri's very own prawn-fishing place. Everyone had always wondered when she turned up with a few prawns in her pockets.

Days after she had shown the location of the pool to us, she confided in us that a long time ago, she had been pursued by a policeman into the mangroves. She had entered the pool and waded along. She was climbing out at the far end when the policeman plunged into the pool after her.

It was Kalendri's guess the bone the fisherman had net-surfaced, had been from that policeman's corpse.

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