By the time I returned to D’arros, the pace of life had sped up considerably and it was decided we would need someone with basic medical knowledge on the island.
I volunteered to go into training. Until then, the closest I had come to medical matters was swallowing panadol for a hangover, but a few sessions in Victoria hospital on Saturday nights changed all that. I was flung in at the deep end but came out with enough basic knowledge to be able to hold my own and greatly encouraged, took a course in basic dentistry as well.
The training proved invaluable. In two decades we have had it all : multiple lion-fish, ray and stonefish stings ; knife wounds down to the bone and even, memorably, a man amputating his own index finger, and another slashing his foot open on the blades of a lawn-mower.
For me however, the biggest discovery was the ocean. Prior to that I had only been to the sea-side on holiday but now the Big Blue had invaded my life entirely and if I was going to be an islander, I would have to leave my land lubbering days far behind me.
I was fortunate to have some great teachers. Old man Leveux, already on the island for forty-five years, taught me bottom-fishing. Just before sunrise he would make his way across the island by torchlight dressed in a tattered old black dinner-jacket and matching hat, worn over a pair of moth-eaten underpants which, deliberately I think, revealed more than they concealed. Unfailingly, there followed him, in strict order, his wife Maryanne, a black dog, a white dog and a goat. With a majesty that some kings might envy, he would bid farewell to his entourage on the shore and making a great show of having adopted this “blanc” as a pupil, we would then enter a small single-engined fishing boat and disappear over the horizon.
The risks we took doing this are incalculable and even today, give me goose bumps. Somewhere in my profound naivety, I imagined this man to be a mechanic as well as a fisherman and so never doubted he would bring us home safely each day. So he did, but more by accident than by design.
Fishing with Leveux, quite apart from the sheer entertainment value of this old sea dog and his theatricals, was nothing short of miraculous. I am convinced, somewhere in his head was a primitive radar which, miles from shore would allow him to find the same spot time and again. At the helm in regal nonchalance, he would suddenly stop in mid-ocean and looking into the blue-black waters, announce with a flourish that we had arrived. Realising that talking to me was going to be no fun whatsoever because I understood nothing he said, he spent rather a lot of time talking to himself. He punctuated the steady stream of coral fish that came into the boat on the end of his line with an impressive repertoire of guffaws, curses, exhortations and threats that made my presence quite redundant. As I grew slowly more adept at the techniques of fishing, we went for shark and in my time with Leveux, we battled some real brutes out there on the drop.
On the long return journey to the island in the late afternoon he developed the technique of talking to himself whilst looking at me. That way, I suppose he could reply on my behalf and in this manner, he shared many a side-splitting joke with himself on the homeward ride. Once on the island I would totter about, punch-drunk from the sun, whilst he saluted his menagerie who were there to meet him.
Then, doffing his cap to me, he would wend his way home at the head of his column of admirers, chuckling madly.
It was Egbert who showed me how to dive as well as the art of trolling from our boat, “Bells” back in those days when it was still possible to catch the first Tuna just beyond the reef. Toussaint taught me how to avoid the stingrays and find and catch the giant mud crab concealed in the swamps of St Joseph. Johnson was an absolute master of his environment who taught me, I hope how to explore this magnificent water-world with respect. I am deeply indebted to them for all their patience.
Wind-surfing became a passion and once mastered allowed me to discover, intimately, all the hidden coves and water-ways of the lagoon as well as letting me approach dolphins and other creatures without frightening them.
In all these fascinating new pursuits, activities and friendships the siren sang, wooing me — I see now — slowly but inexorably to what has become for me a more soulful way of living. In all this time, news from Iran was either scarce or unreliable and certainly not encouraging. Gradually, it began to dawn on me and not without some pain that I would not be going back.
Meanwhile new friends on the mainland helped me enormously to make the transition to a new life and Seychelles, always welcoming to exiles, took me also under her wing as a proud new citizen. I seem to have come full circle. The transition is now complete, the graft has taken.
Not long ago, while walking the beach, I observed a phenomenon I have often remarked upon and which, reflecting upon it further, has helped to make sense of much that has happened.
Scouting the high-water mark and the various tide-pools, I noticed how many different sorts of objects are pulled towards islands by mysterious currents hidden beneath the surface of things. Refugees from the open ocean, exiled from their source, they collect on the seashore, first in one configuration, then another, appearing to depart on one wave, only to return with the next. Some of course move on, but others stay behind adding their mass to that of the island, subtly changing it and being changed by it in return.
The siren does not sing to me now for she has no further need to. She, better than I, knows that I will not leave these shores for long. Such is the call of an island.
And such, the song of the siren.