Give a man a fish

Beheadings. Beatings. Murders. Hassles. Friction. Ever broiling, ever toiling, it’s a ball of confusion. Which gives me all the excuse I need to lay down, close my eyes, and go escapist, back to that enchanted afternoon in the perfect blue water of the Caribbean Sea, just off Ambergris Caye, the playground of Belize.

There were six of us on this snorkeling tour, and we had parked in an area known for its sharks and rays. We were in the water, which was all of maybe five feet deep. The bottom was covered with grass, and in the grass, hundreds and hundreds of living conchs. The Conch Garden. Pretty neat. Captain Chuck told us to just hang around the boat, because he was going to load the chum bucket and throw it out there. He promised that things would get interesting soon after.

In two minutes, three nurse sharks showed up to have a look. These are big fish, about seven feet long and unmistakably sharks. They are also completely cool with people, and we could swim near them without fear, which was nice. It was dramatic and fascinating watching them go after the free food in the bucket, unbothered and unfazed by our presence.

And then, coming in from the open ocean was a creature who was a bit more charismatic. He casually approached the group, also interested in the prospect of free food. There was no mistaking this guy. Three feet long, about as thick around as my forearm, gleaming in his silver sheen and showing off his telltale teeth, protruding visibly from his pugnacious lower jaw. Well, looky here, now joining our little gang was none other than a big ole barracuda.

Captain Chuck said it was fine, no problem, 'cudas are cool, just don't do anything stupid. Check. Got it. What was extraordinary about this fish was how close he got to us. At one point, he just kinda casually swam in between me and another snorkeler, cruising in front of my face at a distance of no more than two feet. Way cool. And very, uh, well, very charismatic. I sure as hell wasn't watching the damn sharks anymore. And I had very little urge to reach out and pet him, which I assumed would be a move that would definitely qualify as “stupid.”

Mr. Cuda was a gorgeous, impressive sonuvagun, and he hung with us for a half hour, lurking on the outer fringe of us snorkelers, occasionally swimming among us, on the prowl for some scraps, and adding a bit of thrilling, low level menace to the scene. Just by being there, he livened things up. And god bless him, he minded his manners, as did all of us highly respectful humanoids.

And then the damn phone rang …