We'd been in South Africa for a week, visiting my parents. We were scrabbling around a mountain path, a long, winding, twisting path that curled its way up and around. It was right by the ocean, wandering through air scented with salt and sand and seaweed and the earthy, thick smell of the mountains. It's a heady combination, especially for my sister and I, traveling far and long to be there; her from New York City, me from Boston. My parents, wind blowing through my mom's hair, wind... um... gently shifting my dad's graying afro, were smiling at the joy on our faces.
We came to a bridge. A long, steel-reinforced, wood-slatted, rope-railing bridge that swayed in the high wind. It connected the path we were on to another path on a smaller rock formation, and across an ocean inlet. I can't remember if we were on the Atlantic side or the Pacific side of Cape Town. The bridge was spectacular - my father rushed ahead so he could turn around and photograph us as we clambered across it. My mother, nervously smiling, gripped the railings with white knuckles, determined to enjoy herself.
My sister and I do not know fear when we are together. Separately, we have our weaknesses. Together, we don't understand fear. I think sometimes her own brazenness simply makes me stronger. We giggled and laughed and bumped and shoved each other as we stumbled along the bridge. My parents made it to the other side, and stopped, sitting on a rocky outcropping, taking drinks of water and watching our hijinks.
We paused, leaning against the high rope walls of the bridge, gazing out at the sea, breathing in the sweet, salty air. The smiles on our faces had never been bigger, the sights we saw never more beautiful. We were probably 25 feet above the water. Gulls aimlessly drifted above us. Smaller birds flitted beneath the lazily swaying bridge.
We looked down at the water. My sister smiled at me.
We looked over at my parents. I smiled at her.
We grabbed the railing, hauled ourselves up, and without a word, without a second thought, without a sideways glance... we leaped.
At the time, the fall felt like minutes. It was likely not even seconds. We smashed into the water, a frozen, salted blast that shocked my entire body. It hurt my ribs to breathe. My lungs could barely keep the breath in them as I sank beneath the choppy, frigid surface. I let myself sink as long as possible, then kicked once, twice, three times and exploded to the surface. I tread water desperately - the surf was much more intense than I'd thought. My sister crashed through, looking like a black-haired devil bursting through the broken glassy waters. She screamed in shock, joy, with raw energy. We clutched each other momentarily, and turned our faces to the sun, feeling that small trickle of heat.
My mother was in an absolute panic. My father was rolling his eyes.
They should have known better, should have suspected. My sister and I are of the sea. Some people like mountains, some people like sand, some people like forests. We live for the sea. We do not fear it, not its brutal chill, not its depths, not its currents. We were raised near it, and it's a part of us. We grinned, dancing on the edge of madness as our hearts pounded and muscles strained, as our cold-weakened legs kicking to keep us afloat, spitting out the briny water, eyes shining.
Finally, we swam in stuttering, muscle-burning strokes towards the rocky shore. We pulled ourselves up, teeth chattering, bodies clenched in shivers, cramping, feeling absolutely, gloriously happy. My mother fussed and slapped me on the arm, trying to look stern and failing. My father, as is his way, took a picture.
That evening, we gathered at one of my aunts' house, regaling our local cousins with our foolish tale of craziness. They laughed along with us, giving each other "what can you do? They've always been crazy" looks, slapping us on the back and tipping back bottles of Castle Lager. One of them asked us, "Where were you again?"
We told her.
The air in the room got thicker, and the bemused looks turned to looks of surprise, shock, fear, anxiousness. My cousins stared at us, bodies immobile, silent.
"What?!" I asked.
"You guys! WHAT?!" My sister demanded.
Another cousin finally replied.
"They... you... that's..."
He started over.
"Jesus, you two. They go shark-cage diving there. You know, with tourists and marine biologists and stuff. They choose it because there are so many sharks around."
We do not know fear.
We are of the sea.