DEATH BY SHARK BITE
Yes, I remind myself. More people die from being kicked in the head by an ostrich than being chewed by sharks. I surface for a minute, spitting out the snorkel. My head is throbbing and the back of my throat is prickling with salt. I keep dipping too low, water gushing down my tube.
I haven't seen the glow of orange-yellow gold. But I'm almost sure I spotted a shark, his teeth glinting behind the shifting murk.
Hassan gave me the ring yesterday afternoon, right after we flew in from Cairo. We were sitting beneath an umbrella, drinking bitter Egyptian wine and eating chalky white cheese, when he blushed and pulled his pocket inside out, the ring falling into the sand.
His hands trembled as he picked it up and handed it to me.
Americans like the surprise, mish kida?
Mm, I said. You may be right about that.
I slipped the orange-yellow ring on my finger, spinning it around.
Do you love it? he asked.
It's orange, I said.
This means, ba'a, very good quality.
Mm. I leaned back in my chair, studying the underside of the umbrella. It was streaked with dirt.
I fill my lungs and cheeks with air, and plunge back underwater. That might be a nice way to go, being kicked in the head by an ostrich. A single blow -- kapow -- and you'd be shipped off to the Great Beyond. Not like being torn apart by sharks. A shark, he'll tease you. He'll rip off a hank of your arm and let you struggle forward. Then he'll snap off a chunk of your leg and you'll be thrashing, blood attracting other sharks until finally they surround you, closing in.
I see a glint of orangey gold and dive, trying to grab for it. More water rushes in through the snorkel and, choking, I come up for air.
It was funny to be engaged. At least, it was funny for the first couple hours. Then Hassan started to ramble on about immigration and his sister's university education and how much his father's heart condition would improve in America. At night, he wrapped his arms around me so tight I couldn't breathe. I woke up early and came out to the sea. That's when the ring just slipped off.
I'll tell him I've had second thoughts. No. I'll tell him I called my father, and my father doesn't approve. Then I'll give back the ring, no hard feelings, see you around.
There there there! I see it, I'm sure I do, resting on top of a giant bluish clam. I take a deep breath, spit out the snorkel and dive. I stretch both hands toward the clam, holding on and kicking. My right hand closes around the ring and I notice something else, a plastic bag. Goddamn tourists, I think. Littering the Red Sea. I grab the plastic bag and start to surface, when there's a jolt of hot pain through my arm. I struggle to get a breath and wipe my left hand against my cheek. Pain sears through my face and I cough, bobbing above the water.
The plastic bag is soft in my fist. My heart is rattling now, left arm pulsing, and I kick hurriedly off for shore. Jellyfish. I'm allergic to jellyfish. Still, I keep my right fist clamped around the ring. Can't lose it, I think. Not now.
My face is swollen, the right eye sealed shut by the time my toes finally brush rocky sand. I heave up and stumble in through the water, hand pressed against my throbbing face. I drop to my knees when I reach shore. Thank God, thank Allah, thank whoever. I made it.
I see Hassan there, through my blurry good eye. He's rushing forward, tripping through the sand. I fucking hate you, I want to yell. I would never marry you, you silly prick.
He wraps my body tightly in a damp towel and lifts me, stumbling to a taxi. He sets me on the back seat as my good eye swells shut, leaving me in darkness. The doors slam, and it's like I'm closed in a coffin, buried deeper and deeper in the dirt. Hassan yells at the driver to hurry to the hospital, yella, hurry.
Marcia Lynx Qualey, some years ago, fled no apparent persecution in the American midwest for a life in the Middle East, where she writes and wrangles a one-year-old boy. Her work has appeared in Pindeldyboz, Smokelong Quarterly, Woman This Month (Bahrain), and others. We're happy to have her.