Manta Ray

John Michael Gorrindo


Gunter knew how to handle the locals.  Sure, he could have bought his own boat and even built his own hotel.  Then, every year in December during the rainy season he could return to Düsseldorf and promote his tropical diving business at the annual water sports exhibition- the largest of its kind in Europe.  He had found the right place in Indonesia to set up shop and create a dive resort.  Complete ownership might bring him success given enough time and proper management.  But winning the hearts and minds of the cape’s villagers were of special consideration, and exclusivity was not the wise path to follow.

A traditional fishing village occupied the East Cape.  But it was the modern day destiny that the arrival of the outside world would descend upon the West Cape.  Only twenty-five years ago a young Bugis man named Riswan built a set of bungalows which served the first foreign visitors attracted to the great white beach that ran down the long finger of the then undeveloped West Cape. 

Twenty years later the legacy of Riswan had become an overburdened collection of mostly foreign-owned hotels that for a great deal of the time stood mainly empty.  They were clustered together near the beach on either side of the long, straight stretch of road ending in a cul de sac at the beach’s viewing terrace.

Gunter knew better than to build another hotel here.  He did the smart thing.  He approached a local hotel owner- one who was Indonesian- and contracted a deal whereby he would let out a facility on the hotel grounds and create a dive shop.  His would be the first on the West Cape.  Working with travel agents in Germany, he was now organizing diving tours and put the tour groups up in the hotel during their stay.  The rich Indonesian who owned the hotel was more than satisfied with the arrangement, and sponsored Gunter, enabling the German to obtain a work visa.  It was a win-win proposition for both parties.

Gunter could live in one part of the small building provided him, and store his scuba tanks, and other diving gear in an adjoining room.  Outside in a secured porch area, he could set up an air compressor to fill his tanks.

Gunter took his time in building a trust with the local Bugis.  Naturally wary of foreigners, they tended to keep their distance.  He was very proficient with Bahasa Indonesia, but couldn’t yet speak the local Bugis language.  That would come with time.  But Bahasa Indonesia would serve him will enough in the short term, and he soon found a reliable Bugis with a suitable pinisi tradisional he could charter.  Originally designed as a fishing vessel, the Bugis captain used his pinisi both to fish and shuttle local islanders from the West Cape out to the only local inhabited island, some five kilometers directly offshore.  The prospect of earning extra income using his pinisi for German dive tours would be most welcome.

Having contracted the service of a local boat owner, Gunter had made inroads into the community.  The locals could see that as a foreigner, he was willing to spread the wealth, and share his business’ earnings with them.  They began to take him seriously and he had gained an initial measure of respect.  Just maybe Gunter was more than just another carpet-bagging foreign investor solely motivated to make a profit off the natural resources of the cape with no mind to give back to the people who had always lived there.  They awaited Gunter’s next move, as they knew he needed a crew.

Every morning, Gunter would walk down to the beach from his dive cottage and smiling, great every Bugis he saw with “assalamualaikum.”  Naked children played with zestful abandon in the warm shallows of the sea, and women wearing traditional sarongs would make repeated trips down the long, cement staircase to the beach carrying with them goods they had bought from the traditional market two kilometers away on the eastern side of the cape.  Bunches of bananas, sacks of rice, bags of vegetables, and live chickens with their legs trussed were hauled down by the women and set together upon the white sands near the water’s edge  The women would patiently wait for a local boat to approach and transport then and their goods across to homes on Liukang Island.  Once the boat would arrive, each would grab a sack, bag, bundle, or clutch of chickens, and wade out into the sea where the captain would lift their loads on board.  Once that was done, he fixed a short ladder to the bow and helped the women up on deck.

Gunter would smile and wave to all these people too, as well as the long-faced fishermen who on their vessels would motor in nearly every morning and weigh anchor just off shore.  One morning Gunter spotted an unusually good looking crew hand on a large, sleek Bugis schooner gliding in towards the beach.  The crew hand smiled and waved to Gunther unprompted, and Gunter knew immediately he had found a great prospect for his own diving crew.

The unusually tall and well-built Bugis crewman disembarked with two others and waded towards shore in the high tide of morning, their calloused feet impervious to the jagged skeletal remains of the dead coral beds that lie between them and the beach.  The coral gave way to a swath of sea grass followed by a sea bed of white, chalky sand which extended naturally into beach past the water’s edge.

Gunter moved towards the Bugis crewman as he stepped out of the water, and extended him his hand.  Rokman, the young and handsome Bugis, shook it assuredly and smiled broadly.

The two men spoke alone and for a long time, standing together by the shore, the sea lapping at their feet.  Gunter asked Rokman what kind of wage he earned on the fishing vessel.  Rokman’s demeanor was humble and his replies honest.  This was much to Gunter’s liking.  Gunter was immediately prepared to make Rokman an offer to give up crewing on a fishing boat and come work with him on his diving tours.

“I can swim yes, Pak; but I am not trained to dive, no, Pak,” cautioned Rokman.

“That’s OK, Rokman, not to worry!  I will teach you myself.”

Rokman hesitated for a moment, looking down, shy to hear such an unbelievable opportunity come his way unexpectedly.  He did not know what to make of an offer he felt he didn’t deserve.

“You will do that for me, Pak?”

“Yes, of course.  I am a qualified dive master, and I want you to be my assistant.  First you will learn how to dive.  Then I will teach you to assist my clients to ready their diving gear, and accompany then on their dive.  I know you are capable.  I can see that.
And I will triple your current salary- just for starters.  Your training will be paid as well.”  Gunter smiled and placed a hand on Rokman’s sturdy shoulder.

Rokman was too overwhelmed to reply.  Who was this man, Gunter?  Someone sent by Allah, surely.  It was the only explanation Rokman could conjure.

“But why do you offer me so much, Pak?  How is it you choose this for me?’  Rokman looked down again and felt like weeping.

“I know a good man when I see one, and he stands before me now.”

“I must go home and talk to my wife, Pak.”

“Please do that, Rokman.  I would do the same.  Think it over and just let me know later.  Give it some time.  I will wait for your reply patiently.  You’re worth waiting for.”

The two men walked together in silence along the beach towards the cement stairway that led up to the viewing terrace that abutted the cul de sac and overlooked the beach and sea off the west cape.  Passing the vendors’ ramshackle warungs that ran along a short stretch of the access road running out towards the toll gate a kilometer away, Gunter stopped off with Rokman at Hotel Anda, home to his dive cottage.

“You see this small building here in the front, Rokman?  This is my dive cottage.  Stop by anytime.  Knock on the yellow door around the back.”

Rokman surveyed the grounds hotel.  The owner’s new, gleaming Kijang stood parked in the paved parking lot near the stairway of polished stone and tile leading up to a grand hotel entrance.  He had never stepped inside as it wasn’t his place to.  How could a Bugis fisherman ever be welcome in such a place?  Every time he walked by on his way to the sea from his house in the traditional village on the East Cape, he simply ignored Hotel Anda as if it never existed.  Now that he might be working there, he saw it with fresh eyes as if for the first time.

“Remember, Rokman- it’s the yellow door around back!” said Gunter, standing tall and friendly.

Rokman bowed his head timidly, turned, and walked slowly away towards the toll gates and the road beyond which took him to his home on the East Cape. 

After four days out at sea, Rokman was tired.  Bone tired.  A crew hand on a Bugis fishing pinisi took sleep when he could get it, and had to manage that while lying on a wooden deck.  His pinisi was rigged with lights, and the crew often fished at night.  If the fish were running, the crew was at work, no matter the time, day or night.  Once the haul was taken in and sold to a middleman on the beach, each crewman would be paid a small percentage less the food and water given him on board.  Wages varied, but never amounted to much with even the best of hauls.  It was always a struggle to pay the monthly fee for his two children’s schooling, and Rokman lived with the ongoing fear that he would become in arrears with the school district and his children forced to stay home.

Rokman had always been a god fearing man and accepted his lot.  He lived according to the ways of his Bugis ancestors, a tradition five hundred years in the making.  His own education had ended after grade six, and his parents had not gone to school at all.  His hopes were that his children could complete their education through grade twelve. 

At the age of thirty, Rokman had seen the cape transformed by tourism over the course of his lifetime.  A few men like Riswan had seized the opportunity to make a revolutionary change in the local economy and had become the cape’s richest people.  Riswan had successfully brought the tourist dollar to the cape, and had shown the Bugis villagers that the world could beat a path to their door.  And Riswan had learned to speak English in the process- the first Bugis on the cape to do so.  But few on the cape were capable of following this new economic path.

The pittance Rokman was paid as a hired fisherman could be tolerated.  He had inherited his parent’s house-on-stilts located on the East Cape’s beach.  He lived there with his wife Basi and his two children, and when they were alive- both his parents- whom he taken care of until their passing.  The youngest of eight children, it had been Rokman that was closest and most dutiful to his parents, and he had never strayed from home to seek a living elsewhere.  His devotion to his parents had been complete, and it would have never occurred to him to leave their side while they lived.

Rokman passed through the toll gates whose toll takers lounged in plastic chairs next to their kiosks shaded by a large roof set far above them.  At mid-morning, the equatorial sun had driven most villagers into the shade, and the toll takers laughed at Rokman for not having paid to take a microlet home.  Hadn’t he earned anything during the last fishing trip?  He simply smiled, acknowledged their jocular humor, and continued walking along the coastal route until reaching the access road to the East Cape’s seaside village.

At the fork, the Flores Sea and East Cape suddenly revealed themselves.  A paved road ran straight down onto the jetty and out to the port and breakwater where trucks were in queue to board the ferry docked in the only large berth available for handling a large vessel.

Each time Rokman saw the port, the harbor, and the anchored ships languishing in the still, protected waters secured behind the breakwater, he recalled the time of its construction when as a boy of ten he would run carefree up and down the length of the beach in front of his house-on-stilts which was nestled behind a phalanx of coconut trees that ran the length of the East Cape’s white sands.

But what he most remembered was the outrage of some of the villagers who cursed the village chief for having agreed to the port’s construction, and how the chief’s body was brought to the beach and buried in the Muslim cemetery there, wrapped in white linen after having been stabbed to death by his own cousin who was more outraged than the rest.

The port’s construction had signaled the beginning of the end of life as had been lived on the cape for five hundred years.  And Rokman trembled as he looked out at the docked ferry.  In this moment he stood on the precipice of something more significant than a golden opportunity offered him by the likes of a foreigner who had arrived on that very vessel- for what was to be gained surely meant the forsaking of a traditional life so passed on to him by his ancestors.

Rokman knew it was too big a decision to make alone, and after standing alone in silence staring out to sea beyond the port for a long while, he suddenly found his feet moving beneath him, carrying him home to his waiting wife and two children whom he hadn’t seen in four days.

Two days later, Gunter heard a faint knock at his back door.  It was early in the morning, and droggy after a late night of drinking beer in the West Cape’s best beachside restaurant, he nursed a strong cup of coffee at a simple table that served both as his office desk and place to dine.

Slipping on his sandals as he steadied himself with his right hand planted on the table top, Gunter stood and shuffled to the door.  Opening it, Rokman stood before him, bowing slightly.

“Selamat pagi, Pak Gunter.  I have come to speak with you.”  Rokman spoke with difficulty.

Elated, Gunter’s face instantly broke free of his hangover, and he quickly reached for Rokman’s hand to shake it.  “Ahh, Rokman!  I’m so happy to see you!  Please, please- come in.”

Rokman hesitated, but warmed to Gunter’s invitation after only a moment’s passing.  In the village, it was not customary to be invited into someone’s house, even if you knew them well.

“Please, Rokman, sit here at the table.”  Pulling up a chair, Gunter patted the seat.  “Do you drink coffee?  Let me get you some coffee.”

“Ok Pak, I will try some. Sometimes I drink it, but it’s very expensive for me.”

Gunter considered his reply before speaking.  “Oh, well, Rokman, I will always share my coffee with you.”  With an avuncular smile, he turned towards his kitchen area which consisted of  a two burner stove top fed by a black hose connected to a large canister of gas sitting on the floor.  He spooned some coffee powder and sugar into a glass, and with the aid of a hand towel, picked up the large, hot kettle that sat simmering on top of one of the burners.  Pouring the glass mug full with steaming water, he stirred the hot mixture a few short stokes with a soup spoon and brought the coffee to Rokman.

“Terima kasih, Pak,” Rokman said thanking him with a shy smile.

Gunter sat down next to Rokman and leaned back, smiling.  He took two or three sips of his own coffee, and lit a kretek cigarette.  The sweet smell of cloves and tobacco quickly filled the room, the grayish-white layers of smoke wafting lazily, drifting towards the open window next to the table.
“So have you considered my offer, Rokman?” Gunter asked.

“Yes, Pak, I have.  But my wife is concerned about me leaving my other job.  What will we live on this week, she asks me.”

“Yes, Rokman, I understand.”  Gunter showed convincing empathy.  “Remember, I said I would pay you during your dive training.”  Gunter paused and continued to draw in the sweet taste of cloves and tobacco.  “I am prepared to pay you money in advance.”

Reaching into his pocket, Gunter pulled out a wad of bills tidily folded, with the smaller denominations showing and the larger bills hidden the crease of the fold.  Unfolding the stack, he peeled five 50,000 rupiah notes off the top and held them out to Rokman.  “This should tide you over for the week.  “I’ll pay you again one week from today.” 

Rokman stared in disbelief at Gunter, but he soon found his right hand reaching out involuntarily for the cash.  The money exchanged hands and Rokman set his hand down on his right leg, holding the cash which lie flat and crisp in his upward facing palm.

Gunter’s face illuminated with a paternal smile.  “So let’s start your training today.  What do you say, Rokman?”

“Yes, Pak.  Tentu saja, Pak.  I am ready.”

“Rokman, as soon as I have another cup of coffee and a cigarette, I will be too!”  Gunter chuckled gently, stood slowly and ambled back into the kitchen to fix another cup.

Over the next cup of coffee, Gunter inquired about Rokman’s family with a concerned interest that Rokman found welcoming but made him feel shy and a little ashamed as well.  Gunter sensed Rokman’s growing discomfort, and had the good sense to drop the steady flow of questions.

“Enough talk, Rokman!  Here, let me show you the diving equipment.”

The only diving Rokman had  ever seen had been of the traditional variety.  Out at sea he had seen sponge divers at work.  They wore old surplus diving suits and bolted-down, sphere-shaped helmets with leaded boots and weight belts.  The diver was lowered into the water off the side of the fishing vessel where an onboard compressor fed him air through a hose.  He sank to the bottom, and with a net sack tied to his side, he would begin to run in his lead boots along the bottom, scooping up sponges.  The diver had to keep up with the boat’s drift, and if he lost balance and stumbled, he would be dragged along the bottom by the air hose.  If he was pulled up too quickly by the crew, he would contract the bends.  Rokman had never seen a more dangerous job at sea.

Then there were the lobster fishermen- who dove as well- but used much less gear and usually worked in pairs off of a small fishing boat.  A lobster diver simply wore a mask and leaded belt, holding the air tube in their mouth.  Alone at sea, a man on board would feed his diving partner air through a hose from a small compressor.  The diver worked at depths of fifty meters sometimes, and the bends was always a threat if the air compressor failed.

But scuba tanks were new to Rokman.  Gunter took him into the diving cottage’s storage room and there stood twenty-four singles, the color of gun metal.  Gunter started the instruction immediately- first showing Rokman how to properly attach the air regulators.  Outside on the porch was the air compressor.  Gunter then taught Rokman how to refill a tank.

An hour later the two were seen walking down the cul de sac to the beach, each wearing a weight belt and carrying a tank in one hand and net bag containing mask, snorkel, fins, and air regulator in the other.  The women who tended the roadside warungs stared and pointed at Rokman.  Children capered about, running back and forth and circling round the two men as they walked.

It was high tide.  Gunter and Rokman attached the air regulators to their tanks, put on their fins, and carrying their tanks, waded into the sea.

Gunter smiled at Rokman.  “There’s nothing to be afraid of , Rokman.  We will only swim out to the coral gardens and never dive to depths below seven meters.  Any deeper, and we’ll have to decompress.”

Rokman nodded.  “Saya tidak takut, Pak.  I am not afraid.”

“Good , Rokman.  When you submerge with your lips securely around the mouthpiece, just stay relaxed, breathe slowly, and keep your arms to you side, propelling forward with your fins.  You see my diving watch here?  This window here- look at it.  The number inside will tell us our depth.  I will show you it from time-to-time.”

The two slipped on their tanks and masks with snorkels attached to the head straps.  Pushing off of the sandy bottom, they moved into the fields of tall, green sea grass, each blade moving like the next, yielding to the weakest of wave action and force of current.  Soon they saw a black and white banded sea snake writhing through the blades of grass, sometimes straightening its body in order to forge ahead, or if wishing to hover, doubling back around, its body contracted into waves and loops.

Past the sea grasses lay the first coral beds- a tortured jungle of skeletal remains, probably the victim of cyanide poisoning.  Rokman glided with ease through the buoyant waters, feeling completely relaxed.  The two descended to only a couple meters in depth.

Once a hundred meters offshore, the two caught the current running parallel to the cape and they entered the zone of healthy coral gardens.  The reef teemed with colorful life and schools of racing fish, whose electric blue flanks gleamed silver when angled into the rays of sun penetrating the water.

Rokman marveled at the variety of coral- the massive bulkheads, mushroom-shaped and wrapped in a tight, leathery skin; the red fans growing off them, and the compact clusters of soft coral made up of  hundreds of short, supple tendrils with beaded tips.  It had been years since he had visited these gardens.  As a boy he would swim out to this very same place or jump in from off a small canoe, using only a pair of homemade diving glasses carved from coconut wood with small, round pieces of glass sealed into the eye sockets and strapped onto the head with a length of rubber cut from a bicycle’s inner tube.

The coral beds gently dropped off into deeper waters and abruptly ended once the depth reached fifteen meters, beyond which was a pure, sandy bottom.  Looking out into the yawning depths, the sea became an inky violet- opaque and fathomless.  Marine life would suddenly emerge from these darker quarters.  Rokman and Gunter both pointed in excitement when a school of a dozen Napoleon fish, massive and blue with knobby crests on their foreheads and sporting large, puffy lips suddenly pierced the dark veil and appeared just beyond the reef.

Gunter took Rokman’s wrist and pushing down on it motioned him to dive a little deeper.  The two angled down slightly and holding up his diving watch, Gunter showed Rokman the depth gauge as it slipped past five to six.  At seven meters the pair pulled up and leveled off their depth.

Now Rokman could better see the fish that hid under the bulkheads of coral- including lobsters and eels inhabiting the recesses where the corals attached to the sea bottom.  The colors of both the fish and the coral were now truer, richer, and textures came into sharper focus.

Rokman felt at one with the water and his diving gear.  The rush of air flowing through the air regulator and mouthpiece upon the ingress of his breath followed shortly by the sound of hundreds of bursting bubbles with egress were so soothing as to be hypnotic.

Gunter motioned Rokman to angle up into shallower water.  Then he made a circular motion with an extended index finger, signaling that it was time to turn around and swim back the direction they had come. 

Now the two were swimming against the current and for the first time its true strength could be felt.  They had drifted down the cape’s headland out towards land’s end quite a distance, and the current became increasingly stronger the farther along its path they swam.  Gunter chose to angle towards shallower waters while swimming back against the current, as its strength diminished closer to shore.  Once within fifty meters of the great sea terrace, Gunter turned in against the current headlong, and led Rokman back along the cliffs which ten minutes later sloped off abruptly onto the long white beach of the West Cape.

Upon return to their point of departure, the two wallowed in the shallows, dispensed of their gear, taking care not to get any sand in the air regulators.  As before, all equipment was stashed away in the large net bags save the tanks and diving belts.
Before heading back to the diving cottage, Gunter smiled and exclaimed, “Wasn’t that wonderful Rokman!  And you were magnificent out there!  You’re a natural, my friend!”

“Terima kasih, Pak.  Yes, I enjoyed it very much, Pak.”  Rokman, completely relaxed and at peace, showed Gunter the same smile as the first day they had met.  What a tremendous feeling it was to dive.  A rush of lost memories from his boyhood playing in the ocean flooded his mind.  He had almost forgotten how it was to be young and at one with nature.

The two men walked back up the beach, ascended the long cement staircase leading up to the cul de sac and walked the last one hundred meters to Gunter’s dive cottage.  There, Gunter had Rokman refilled the tanks.

Over the next month, Gunter took Rokman out diving several times, taking him into greater depths with a boat and teaching him how to decompress according to the computerized indications of a diving watch.

And each week he paid Rokman 250,000 rupiah- a sum of money more than enough for Rokman to feed his family and pay for his children’s monthly school fee.  Rokman’s wife, Basi, slowly warmed to the arrangement, though she had yet to meet Gunter.

Gunter continued to walk the beaches of the West Cape each morning, looking for young men who could serve as equipment porters on the diving boat.  One morning he approached by a small, young man whose right arm was missing.  Gunter had seen him many times before, but it was only now that the young Bugis had summoned the courage to approach him.

“Selamat pagi, Pak.  Good morning.  I am Hanafi.  You are the dive master, Pak.  I have watched you with Rokman.”

Gunter studied the short, wiry Bugis youth.  He had never considered him as a prospect due to his disability.  “Yes, I am Gunter, the dive master.  So you know Rokman?”

“Yes, Pak, I do.  He went to school with my older brothers.  I live near him on the East Cape.”  Hanafi stood tall and at attention, as if he was a private speaking with a commanding officer.  “Pak, I think you need some help, don’t you, Pak?”

Gunter looked at Hanafi with fresh eyes.  “Why yes, I need two equipment porters.”  His face ventured a small smile.

“I offer you my services, Pak.  I know you think Hanafi cannot manage to carry diving tanks, but Hanafi will prove to you he can.”

Gunter was impressed with the young man’s moxie, and his formal sense of respectfulness.  He did not look at Gunter with the wary fear and distrust that many Bugis men tended to countenance.

“Well, I think you might do, but you cannot manage alone.  I need a second man.  Do you have a friend you could recommend?”

“Oh, yes, Pak!  I do, Pak.”  Hanafi pointed to a man standing down the beach behind Gunter.  Older than Hanafi, he was burly and muscular.  Hanafi motioned for the fiend to approach, who had been watching from a safe distance.

Hanafi’s friend approached slowly.  Gunter watched him carefully and at first impression he seemed steady in temperament and unusually strong looking.

“Hello, I am Gunter.”  Gunter shook the man’s hand.

The man replied softly but clearly.  “Febrianto,” was all he said.

“Oh, Pak, Febrianto is the strongest man I know and we are such good friends and work so well together!” Hanafi interjected.

Gunter laughed.  “Yes, yes.  Well, listen, Hanafi and Febrianto.  I can’t use you right away.  Can you wait a month or so?  My first dive tour is scheduled for next month.  They are traveling in from Germany.”

“Oh, yes Pak!  We are at your service, boss.  And you have made us very happy!” exclaimed Hanafi.

“I suppose you know where I live,” said Gunter.

“Oh, yes. At Hotel Anda, Pak.”

“OK, Hanafi.  Stay in touch with either me or Rokman.  You know the captain named Igo?  He has a boat that sails in and out here.  We’ll be using his boat for the diving trips.”

“Yes, Pak Igo.  We know him, Pak.  A great sailor he is, Pak!”

“Nice to meet you, Hanafi and Febrianto.  You know where to find me.”

“Yes, Pak, and thanks be to Allah, and to you, Tuan, my boss.  OK, boss!”  Hanafi was still standing at attention.

Gunter smiled and shook each man’s hand.  He turned and walked away, wondering if he had made the right decision.  It had all happened so fast, and felt fateful.

Two equipment porters, a dive assistant, and a sea worthy pinisi with an able captain- everything was now in place for Gunter’s dive business to make its maiden voyage.  But there was a lot of work to be done before the arrival of the first German dive tour group.  Gunter was still searching the greater waters around the cape, making exploratory dives in order the find the safest and richest diving grounds that wouldn’t fail to thrill his clients with sure sightings of sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, tuna, varieties of other pelagic, and with some luck- whale sharks.  Some marine life appeared only during certain seasons, and Gunter was still learning that as well.

Gunter was happy with Rokman’s progress as a diver.  Rokman could manage depths of thirty meters easily and knew how to use a diving watch.  The technical aspects of Rokman’s training were coming along nicely, but Gunter felt it necessary Rokman embark on a crash course in basic German and English.  In Gunter’s mind, Rokman’s only weakness was that he was a little shy and not a man of words. 

Gunter did not think that it was enough that Rokman was personable and easy to like.  He was uncertain as to how quickly Rokman could manage learning enough foreign language to help tour groups with their equipment and give dive instructions.  In any case, the language lessons would have to begin immediately.  The only thing Gunter knew concerning Rokman’s language skills was that he could read and write Bahasa Indonesia.

Rokman arrived at Gunter’s dive cottage the day after Gunter had met Hanafi and Febrianto.  “Rokman!  Hello, my friend.  Today we begin your language lessons.  You need to learn some German and some English.  We’ll begin with lists of nouns related to the sea, to boats, and to diving.  You’ll need to take these illustrations I’ve made labeled with German and English technical terms; take then with you after first studying here with me, and continue to review then at home.  You have a month to learn as much as you can.  The first tour group will be German, as will be most of them; so we will start with the list of German terms.”

Rokman knew this day would eventually come, but he had avoided the thought of it.  He stood in front of Gunter with great unease, and walked over to pick up one leaf of paper off the table- a diagram of the complete set of a diver’s equipment- the German terms labeled in red, and the English in green.

“This is as good a pace to start as any, Rokman.  The German terms are in red.  But first, let me make us some coffee.  It makes the brain function much better when learning language.”  Gunter walked over to the hot kettle on the gas burner.

Staring at the diagram, Rokman sat down slowly without  taking his eyes off the diagram, and silently moved his lips, trying to form words he had never seen nor heard before.  Rokman never read books or newspapers and neither did anyone else he knew on the East Cape.  He hadn’t stepped into a classroom nor picked up a pencil to write in almost twenty years.  His lips and mouth turned dry and chalky, and his hand trembled a little, making the single leaf he held shake.  Rokman hoarsely said something to Gunter, but it was unintelligible.

“What’s that you say?  Asked Gunter, cocking his head Rokman’s way as he stood at the stove, his back turned.

“Water, Pak.  I need some water.”

A small tour group of six German diving enthusiasts had arrived by charter Kijang from Makassar around 1 PM.  Gunter greeted them at Hotel Anda’s front gates, and helping them check-in, made sure they were happy with their accommodations.  Giving them time to settle in and rest, he asked then to meet him in the hotel lobby at 4:30 PM. 

Gunter returned from his dive cottage at the appointed time and promptly bought everyone a drink.  He sat everyone at a large table and sitting at the head, reviewed with then their diving itineraries.  Over the next week, they would be touring three different dive locations, and given the season, informed them as to what kind of marine life they could expect to encounter.

Gunter inquired as to their diving experience and asked to see their international diving cards.  He then carefully explained the nature of the currents they might experience in each diving location, and safety precautions to be taken in good faith and responsibility by each individual in the group as well as him and his own crew.  Most importantly, the group had to swim within close proximity of either him or Rokman at all times during the dive.  Gunter reminded them that he carried accident insurance with a German company, but that they must sign waivers protecting his diving business from claims as a result of personal negligence as demonstrated by a client’s willful disregard of said safety rules and procedures.

Gunter also reminded them they were in Indonesia- a country with weak if non-existent liability laws, and that if an accident occurred, a suit filed by a foreigner against any Indonesian individual or company would most likely never see the light of day in court.

This was all boiler-plate, Gunter told them, and a necessary formality.  He assured them of his complete faith in both his crew, the safety of the boat, and the expertise of the captain.  Unless there were concerns expressed presently, there would be no need to raise the issue again, he concluded.

Each client at the table looked searchingly at each other, and sensing no unease, nodded in satisfaction to Gunter.  Each signed the waivers before them, and Gunter walked around the table collecting each one and checking for errors or omissions such as not properly dating the document.

“Now there is a great bar and restaurant here at Hotel Anda, a courteous staff, and Pak Anda will drop by to welcome you at dinner.  Don’t hesitate to call on me if needed.  You can ring me at the dive cottage.

“We’ll meet here tomorrow morning after breakfast at 7:30 AM, and feel free to bring a day pack with you.  A box lunch will be provided, but you may want to bring some snacks and you must provide your own bottled water. Do not forget to bring at least one large bottle along!  There will be an emergency medical kit onboard, and I always carry my charged cell phone just in case.  We will never stray outside of signal radius.  There are three telecom towers here on the cape.

“My diving assistant is Rokman, and he is my right hand man.  Being Rokman is a local, his German and English are a bit fresh, I’m afraid, so show him some patience and come to me if his instructions concerning anything leave you confused.

“Now it’s going to be a great week!  It is the height of the dry season, and that means the sun will most likely shine all day, every day. And as is noted in your itinerary, we’ll cap off the last dive outing with a barbeque on a secluded beach on uninhabited Goat Island.  Don’t let the name misguide you!  It’s a true tropical paradise! And don’t forget to bring your sun block!  Oh, and yes- there are several small warungs down the way which sell any incidentals you might need, including bottled water, of course.”

The group of Germans applauded politely, and stayed to socialize with each other, finishing their drinks and ordering another round as Gunter excused himself and left the lobby to return to the dive cottage.

At dawn the next morning, Rokman, Hanafi, and Febrianto knocked at the dive cottage’s yellow door, and answering it quickly was Gunter, who showed them to the porch area where all the diving gear save the tanks had been packed in sturdy plastic carriers.

“I may not help every time, but I will today, boys,” said Gunter.  “We’ll place the tanks in the wooden cart outside and take them down to the beach first.  Then we’ll return for the carrier.”

Febrianto and Hanafi pushed the cart down to the cul de sac, followed closely by Gunter and Rokman.  Quickly a gaggle of locals gathered around them and followed them to the cement stairway which descended to the beach.  The four men hustled sixteen tanks down the stair case and firmly planted each in the sand.  The pinisi was anchored just offshore.  Igo emerged from under his helm’s sun canopy and fixed a short ladder on the port side near the bow.

Hanafi squatted, and placing his left hand under the butt of a scuba tank, lifted it with his arm outstretched along the tank’s length, expertly securing it against his side with one swift, uplifting motion.  He then purposefully strode down the beach and marched into the water, wading into the high tide which was waist deep by the time he reached the pinisi’s bow.  Igo reached over and grabbing the tank with both hands, hoisted it onboard.  Febrianto followed closely behind, carrying two tanks.

Rokman and Gunter returned to the dive cottage with the cart once more, bringing with them the rest of the diving gear in the plastic carriers.  Rokman, Hanafi, and Febrianto continued to transport the tanks and carriers out to the pinisi while Gunter returned to Hotel Anda to collect the box lunches and some bottled water for the crew. 
Returning to the hotel, Gunter found the six Germans cooling their heels after breakfast, waiting for his arrival.

“Good morning everyone!  I trust you slept well and enjoyed your dinner last night and breakfast this morning.  We are all set and ready for today’s adventure!  Please follow me.”

The Germans strode together in their bathing apparel down the road towards the beach.  They appeared as a troupe of giants in comparison to the locals who followed them, gawking not only at their size and girth, but also at the paleness of their skin and the length of their noses.  Then there was the matter of the women in their brief swimming suits. 

This was a special occasion, as the cape had officially become a “tourist object” for divers.  Pak Anda stood on the viewing terrace overlooking the beach and greeted the tour group, shaking each of their hands, and wishing them the best on their outing.  He was not alone, as a crowd of villagers crowded the terrace in anticipation of the event as well.

Gunter led the group out into the water. They waded together out to the pinisi where the crew awaited.  Febrianto was there to help each German up off the ladder and on deck.

The locals stood at the railing of the viewing terrace and watched the pinisi slowly motor off into the smooth seas of early morning.  None waved, but only stood and stared after the pinisi in silence.

A few minutes into the journey, Gunter broke silence, raising his voice in order to be heard above the engine’s chatter.  “Notice how calm the sea is.  It’s a little before 8 AM now, and we’ll arrive at our destination around nine.  The water will remain calm until about eleven.  By that time, we will have completed our first dive.  After that- lunch- and then some time to rest and sun bathe if you like.  The second dive will take place around 1:00 PM.  The waters will be a little choppy this afternoon, but nothing to be concerned about.

I take this opportunity to introduce you to my good man, Rokman.  He and I will together help you with your gear and accompany you on the dive.  I know you all brought your own wet suits and might well wonder why you would need them in the tropics.  It’s damn hot already, isn’t it?  Once you’re thirty meters down, you’ll be glad you’re wearing one.  Also, the currents sometimes carry with them hordes of tiny, snapping sea creatures that can’t really be seen individually, but only as a blurry cloud, but they can be both heard and felt.  Their bite is more an annoyance than anything else, but it’s best you wear something to protect your skin.”

Rokman shared smiles with the tour group and shook their hands.  They took to him immediately as far as Gunter could tell.  As the group squeezed into their wet suits, Rokman laid out their diving belts. Once everyone was suited up, he helped size each belt to fit.

This didn’t require too much verbal instruction, and gave Rokman some time to gain his composure and confidence.  In fact, Rokman soon discovered he needn’t say much of anything concerning the equipment, despite Gunter’s worries about proper communication.  “Remember, Rokman, Germans want their information clearly explained and done so in a timely manner,” Gunter had told him repeatedly.

Rokman could now see that wasn’t a necessity.  Instinctively he felt that the grace of body and patience of mind could do most of the talking for him.  Besides, these were experienced divers.  For three months Rokman had trained for this moment, and when that moment had finally arrived, he found himself already relying on his own instincts in addition to Gunter’s training.  Suddenly he became reawakened to his own sentient touch rooted in his natural athleticism and long experience as a fisherman.

As he helped the last German with her belt of weights, he peered into her eyes, his hands holding the belt securely around her waist.  Rokman could see her facial demeanor discernibly transform- her eyelids slightly droop and flutter; her lips relax and spread open; and the hard edges of her high cheek bones and jaw line soften and smooth.  Her true beauty began to show and her face glow.

The man in Rokman stirred, and he suddenly discovered he offered something to the tour group he hadn’t ever dared to think or imagine.  He had unwittingly crossed a threshold that brought him into a new world of sensibilities- and all of this catalyzed  by the experience of watching a woman’s face transform in the moments it took to adjust a weight belt to fit her waist.

Punctually at 9 AM, Igo reached the dive site, within sight of Goat Island.  Gunter, Rokman, and the tour group one-by-one toppled backwards off the side of the craft into the calm of the Flores Sea.  Gunter led the group with Rokman at his side, slowly descending into deeper waters, the sun illuminating the first ten meters of depth with a brilliance that could only be produced at the equator.

Immediately, the divers spotted some fifty meters ahead of then a school of hammerhead sharks browsing casually and circling about assuming a loose-knit, sparsely-spaced formation.  The divers’ presence didn’t give the appearance of fazing the creatures, and though each and every diver felt a twinge of fear in the pits of their stomachs’, this was the thrill they had all come to experience.

Rokman suddenly pointed up above him and to his right.  The group craned their necks in time to see two giant sea turtles paddling slowly, just a few meters below the surface.  The turtles slowly descended to greater depths, their fins working the water with unhurried ease.  For only a moment did they turn their heads, and with shy, baleful eyes acknowledge the presence of the eight divers.
Within minutes, a huge school of fast moving yellow fin tuna- many of them more than a meter in length- made a dramatic entrance stage left of the divers; coming into view very suddenly and in mid-run.  The tuna caught sight of the divers and suddenly veered away in that uncanny ensemble unison of choreography that expresses the mysterious unity of thought and reaction that gives any fish school the appearance of having one brain; one pair of eyes; one body.

In their passing, schools of skip jack, Napoleons, and flying fish vied for the divers’ attention.  The flying fish scattered the rays of the ocean’s refracted sunlight with their rapidly beating fins as they propelled themselves, diving in and out of the water.  Keeping their distance, but always within sight remained the hammerheads, still listless and browsing.

Air supply limited the dive to forty-five minutes maximum, and with a few minutes still remaining, Gunter signaled the group to follow him in a slow ascent to the surface.  They had been swimming at a depth of between twenty and thirty meters for some twenty minutes, the dark waters below them plummeting hundreds of meters into a sea trench that ran in between the islands.  With no sea bottom visible, the one visual reference the divers had as to the surface’s direction was the presence of refracted light above them.   When diving to great depths, the degree to which the ocean waters were illuminated by the sun made the difference between having one’s bearings and experiencing vertigo.  As the sun was now positioned high in the sky, it beat down directly onto the surface, and discerning distance and directionality was not a problem.
Gunter led the slow ascent, making sure everyone had his attention as this was the most critical stage of the dive.  The longer a diver remained submerged and the deeper the depth lengthened the ascent time, both factors effecting how the nitrogen in a diver’s blood would react upon decompression.

Upon surfacing, the divers discovered they were within sight of the pinisi as the current had been weak and hadn’t carried them far.  Igo spotted Gunter’s characteristic yellow and orange snorkel glinting in the sun, and steered his craft towards the group which was about one hundred meters away.

Hanafi and Febrianto helped everyone onboard, and the group was ebullient as they excitedly talked and laughed while drying off their hair and wiping the salt water from their faces.  Gunter and Rokman looked at each other and smiled with mutual satisfaction.  Their first professional dive together after three months of work-in-training had been a great success.

Once everyone had stripped away their gear,  the box lunches were passed around. 

As Gunter had predicted, the sea had become a little choppy now that it was noonday.  Both the sky and especially the sea had become deeper and warmer blue in color; and a slight breeze helped offset the midday temperatures.  Some of the divers huddled under the pinisi’s sun canopy, relieving themselves of the sun’s direct rays that burns skin so rapidly at the equator.
After an hour’s rest following a lunch of rice, fish, and vegetables, the divers readied for their second dive.  Hanafi and Febrianto rolled out the fresh scuba tanks while Gunter and Rokman made sure everyone’s equipment was secured and functioning correctly.

Fifteen minutes into the second dive, the divers experienced the thrill of the day.  A giant manta ray made its appearance, first seen as a grayish blotch some one hundred meters distant- a fuzzy visage that was outside the range of clear visibility- but its spacious surface area glowed and flickered as it was close to the surface and scattered reflected light in a penumbra that surrounded its massive hulk as it slowly flapped its long fins.

The great manta traversed from left to right across the divers’ line of sight, and as they forged ahead to gain closer proximity, they soon were able to see the sublime creature’s complete form in profile.

The manta ray is a deceptive fish; and though easily approachable and usually calm in temperament, it can become aggressive when it feels threatened.  None of the divers had ever seen a manta in its natural element except Gunter, and most were tempted to edge as close as possible, probably influenced to do so by the films they had seen of divers piggy-backing a ride on the great ray while holding on to the fish’s flat edges that tapered back into its fins.

 The manta ray’s great underbelly was colored off-white and its back grayish-blue. The fins resembled wings that seamlessly contoured in tapered extension from its body.  The manta most often swam slowly, beating its fins in unison; flapping then most casually as would a great bird in slow motion flight; held aloft by the buoyancy of the sea’s salt water.

Gunter allowed the group to approach only as close as he felt comfortable.  Turning towards then, he crossed his two index fingers in the form of an “X,” then held out his left arm, grabbed his left elbow with his right hand, and snapped his left forearm up and down several times.  The signal meant for the group to beware of the manta’s two meter long tail.  Its spiked end could deliver a dose of poison with deadly aim; enough to kill a man easily.  For sports divers, the usually peaceful fish tended to inspire awe due to its subdued grandeur and shapely beauty- but less so, fear.  As all carnivorous creatures do, it embodied the killer instinct, and reserved its expression for only those times it was hungry- or threatened. 

Divers sometimes overlook the obvious, and are often drawn to make physical contact with the manta.  It was like an elephant.  There was something so inviting about it.  Gunter’s signal clearly communicated to all that he would not allow such contact.

The group kept a relatively safe distance of about eight meters from the manta ray. As it swam leisurely along, they followed for a few hundred meters; marveling at its grace and size; fixated on its powerful presence; and disregarding most everything else the sea had to offer.

Finally, Gunter signaled it was time to surface.  This took place rather instantly as the group had been swimming with the ray at only about seven meters of depth.  As the group had swam far afield from the pinisi in their long jaunt with the ray, Gunter had to unstrap his flare gun from his side and shot a bright red flare straight up into the air, signaling their location to Igo who sat at his helm, scanning the sea for signs of the divers.

Febrianto first spotted the flare’s red contrails, and shouted to Igo.  The pinisi turned rudder, and Igo quickly circled the craft about and at full throttle beat a path through the waves as quickly as he could.  The divers bobbed up and down in the choppy seas some one kilometer away.

With Hanafi and Febrianto standing attentively at the bow, Igo pulled along side the eight divers all looking a bit spent as they tread water.  Febrianto moved quickly to put the ladder in place and stood firm until the first diver had swam abreast and grabbed the lowest rung.  Hanafi huddled in close to Febrianto’s side, and the two began to help hoist everyone aboard.

“We got a little carried away, now didn’t we?” said Gunter, breathless and smiling.  The diver’s busied themselves in stripping off their wetsuits after the crew had helped them with their tanks and belts.  “Sorry if I scared you out there with the flare, but it’s the surest way to signal our precise location.”

No one seemed to mind.  Indeed, now that they could speak to one another, they passed over Gunter’s apology, more eager to mutually exchange their shared oohs, and ahhs as concerned the exciting encounter with the manta ray.

Gunter couldn’t have been more delighted in being so ignored.  Once again, he and Rokman exchanged knowing smiles.  Rokman was flushed with excitement himself, and a permanent smile of sheer exhilaration was pasted across his youthful face.

The young woman whom Rokman had earlier helped with her waist belt had stripped off her wet suit was drying her long blond hair with a fresh, red towel.  She rested her body weight on one leg- the hip and rounded buttock of which posed suggestively while staring at Rokman with blue eyes alight and a relaxed smile crossing her fair, sunburned face.

As Rokman sat squatting while cleaning out some debris from his air regulator, he looked up involuntarily, drawn to meet her unblinking gaze.  Once she had gotten his attention, she set aside her towel, threw back her hair, and tip-toed over the wet deck his way.  Squatting next to him, she placed her hand on his shoulder and pressed a breast against his arm.  Leaning her head forward, she whispered into his ear.

“Thanks so much for everything, Rokman.  I’m so looking forward to our next dive together.”  She then stood up lazily, leaning hard into his body her hand still planted firmly atop his shoulder, slowly leveraging her slim body back into an upright position.

Rokman did not respond, but remained fixed in place, squatting and motionless save his head which followed the lead of his eyes which were trained on the sight of the woman as she walked away.

Her touch had not only frozen Rokman in place, but had sent a tingling rush down his spine and out through his genitals.  No woman had ever touched him like that and whispered into his ear.  Certainly his wife never had, and he couldn’t help but want to know more.  Her touch left him both wanting more and wondering what it would be like if he could only have it.

Igo made sure everyone was settled in for the return voyage to the West Cape, and then gently pushed the throttle forward.  The pinisi slowly responded, breaking inertia while rocking forward as it began to cut across the wave fronts.  Goat Island receded into the distance as the West Cape’s great strip of white beach slowly came into sight.

An hour later, Rokman left Gunter’s dive cottage and walked home alone to the East Cape.  Once he skirted the harbor’s cement barricades lining the road running out to the jetty, he continued on the ancient dirt path that took him along the base of the limestone cliffs that abruptly rose up from the upper reaches of the coastal flats and continued on to the two lane road high above.  Soon the familiar sight of a dense collection of Bugis house-on-stilts came into view, nestled in the flat of land situated between the cliffs and the beach, shaded by hundreds of coconut palms.

Rokman could see his neighbors keeping their customary ease; men mending fishing nets closer to the beach amongst the palms; women at work with their hand looms, weaving tight knit sarongs underneath their houses between the stilts which elevated their homes a meter above the ground.  Children ran along the beach, some of them dragging kites by their strings, hoping the light breeze might catch and hoist them into the air.

In the center of it all was the neighborhood Muslim cemetery, containing scores of  graves marked by small flats of carved stone tightly clustered in a hodge-podge manner.  The small, sandy area was bordered by flowering plants.  The path Rokman followed had now become sandy, too, and well beyond the cemetery was his own house-on-stilts, a glint of afternoon sun illuminating its roof.

Rokman saw there his son Herfandi and daughter Riska playing together in the front yard, while his wife Basi sat on the steps, one hand having bunched up her sarong as it was tucked between her legs; the other hand holding up her chin as she propped an elbow on her thigh.

When Rokman’s children finally noticed their father approaching, they ran out of the front yard to meet him.  Basi responded lazily, turning her head to watch, smiling peacefully. 

Lifting the younger Riska into his arms, Rokman held Herfandi’s hand and continued walking, turning through the open gate of a rough hewn fence made of sturdy tree branches into the clean and well-kempt hard-packed dirt of the front yard that Basi swept every day.

Basi rose to her feet and turning, ascended the steep and narrow set of stairs that led to the open doorway of the house as Rokman followed with the children.

Basi entered the kitchen to begin cooking dinner while Rokman changed clothes.  Standing naked in his unlit room, he slipped into a golden colored sarong, secured it at the waist and walked back outside and down the stairs.  He turned back towards the small hut next to the house and propping open its wooden slat door stepped into the mandi whose cement bok was filled with water gravity fed through plastic pipe running straight down from an orange tank standing atop a wooden tower set back from the hut.  After placing his sarong on a nail on the door, he took a plastic water scoop and dunking it into the bok, poured the water over his head.  Soaping down, he scrubbed and then washed away the salt of the sea.  Slipping back into his sarong, Rokman emerged from the mandi, met as always by an unobstructed view of the sea.  Grabbing a towel from off a clothes line next to the mandi, he dried his hair and picking up a comb from the ledge of the house, ran it through his hair with a few, short strokes.  All the while he looked out to the sea’s eastern horizon, watching the small fishing boats coming home to beach themselves on the sands just beyond the coconut palms that buffered the seaside village from both the sun and wind.

The smell of fish fried in coconut oil wafted out the door way and windows whose shutters were thrown open and latched to the house’s hardwood plank exterior.  Rokman wiped away some lingering moisture from his neck, shoulders, and arms.  After tossing the towel back over the line, and walked back up the wooden stairs into the house.

The family all sat down on the wooden floor, the food spread out on a large cloth.  Basi served the rice onto plates and everyone helped themselves to fish, vegetables, and sambil from three separate bowls.  In silence they ate with their hands, squatting or sitting cross-legged on the floor.

While eating, Rokman occasionally looked at his wife who helped feed their young daughter, Riska.  Rokman and Basi had been together since the age of seventeen, and he remembered how at first her father was hesitant to accept young Rokman’s proposal of marriage.  Rokman’s family was poorer than most on the East Cape.  Neither the prospects of a poor fisherman marrying his daughter nor the best dowry Rokman could manage was of a satisfactory nature to Basi’s father. 

Basi had cried and pleaded with her father to give his consent- a bold and brave reaction to be taken by a young Bugis woman in the face of her father, the family patriarch.  Without her tearful persistence, the marriage would have never come to be, and Rokman so reminded himself as he sat and ate.

Basi’s love for Rokman had been constant and absolute.  Outside of his parents’ great love for him, Basi’s own love was what had kept him afloat and moving forward.  Without Basi he could have well ended up alone and drifting, searching for work far away from the cape, as so many young Bugis men were forced to do.

Until this very day, Rokman hadn’t ever allowed a second thought enter his mind about his life, his marriage, his responsibilities to his children, and to Allah.  But today a blond haired woman from a far away land had just finished convincing him he was more than a Bugis fisherman whose lot in life had been dealt him en toto at birth.  Gunter had given Rokman a first taste of new possibilities- but this blue eyed lady had completely whet his appetite. Rokman now knew he was an object of desire- a realization that turned his self-concept upside down- as does a farmer’s shovel to a spade full of soil; exposing something once buried to the light of day.

Rokman knew he could have that blond haired woman, and it had thrown his entire being into a free fall of yearning confusion.  Suddenly the world that used to be indivisible and whole had been cracked open like an egg, and a sticky mess of runny yolk had gummed his brain.

But Rokman remained composed as he ate, and as a man of great composure, guarded against ever revealing an iota of the turbulence that filled his heart and the queasiness that turned over his stomach.  He managed a smile as Basi finally looked up at him to speak near the end of the meal.

“How was the day?  Did it go well?”

“Everything went very well, alhamdulillah.”

“Pak Gunter was happy, too?”

“Oh, yes; and the Germans, too.”

“And so you will go out tomorrow again?”

“Yes; tomorrow, too.  And everyday this week.”

“And Friday you usually go to the Mosque.  What about Friday?”

“I will go in the evening.  I will return in time.”

“Pak Gunter has paid you today for your work?”

“Yes.  In fact, he has paid me for the whole week.  And the pay has been raised now.  The training is over.  This is real work now, and we are already benefiting.”

Basi smiled and said no more.  She cleared away the dishes and brought then into the kitchen, dunking them into a black plastic tub of water to soak.  Darkness had fallen, and the day was done.

Rokman lie in the dark, staring at the ceiling, Basi asleep at his side.  So this is what happens when something is close at hand that could be yours but is a temptation you should not touch, Rokman thought- you cannot sleep.  He thought not only of the blond haired woman, but also of the manta ray.  Maybe they were not that much different, he mused.  You can get along side and admire, but should not touch.  Yet you want to touch.  Then, ride.

Listening to Basi breathing deeply and so softly next to him, his heart was dumbstruck with agitated confusion.  These conflicted feelings were something new, and to be utterly alone with then was unlike anything he’d ever experienced.  In brief moments Rokman could see that opportunity bred a pestilence of the heart and mind, and he remembered how his Muslim teachings had repeatedly warned him that to think too much about what was not his to have but could be taken turned one’s heart away from Allah.  His mind worked like the hand shuttle of Basi’s loom stored underneath their house, being tossed through the taut upper and lower strings of yarn strung across the loom’s frame; coming up short suddenly on either end; only to be thrown back again in the opposite direction.  The pattern his mind and heart wove was a woof and warp jumbled in form and whose colors clashed violently.  This unsettled feeling left him suspended in a void- afraid and lonely- even though his wife lay next to him.

Every day that week, the pinisi  left the West Cape sometime before eight in the morning, transporting Gunter’s crew and clients to one of three dive sites located inside an obtuse triangle whose three vertices were Goat Island,  another smaller uninhabited island closer to the cape, and the West Cape itself.  The weather was compliant- never too hot, too windy, nor the seas too turbulent.  And the currents never presented a hazard as well.  Gunter could not have asked for a better set of circumstances surrounding the grand opening of his business.

The week passed quickly, and come the last day, the itinerary included a morning dive, followed by the barbeque on Goat Island.  If time allowed, an afternoon dive off the vertical wall of Goat Island would finish out a week of diving before motoring back in the pinisi to the West Cape.

After the morning dive, Igo steered the pinisi to the protected west side of Goat Island, the uninhabited, paradise isle with long, white sand beaches and a healthy coral reef.  Local fisherman had so far spared the island’s surrounding waters of their penchant for dynamite fishing, and Gunter could only hope they would continue to do so.  Igo brought the pinisi in close to shore as it was high tide, and Febrianto readied the ladder.  The German divers sung praises to each other of the island’s beauty, and waded together through the tide up onto the pristine beach.

Gunter followed close behind along with Rokman.  “There!  Up there!  We’ll eat in that bamboo hut!” Gunter shouted out to everyone.

Febrianto and Hanafi hauled some coolers on to the beach full of food and other supplies; and once collected, on up to the hut.  They went foraging amongst the coconut palms above the beach and beyond some limestone outcroppings for dry vegetation and coconut husk which they stashed in a canvas bag and brought back down to build a fire.

Gunter had bought fresh fish that morning for the noon day feast, but Hanafi and Febrianto had caught some even fresher while waiting for the divers to return from the morning dive, using only hooks tied on to one end of a spool of fishing test cast off the side of the pinisi.

Gunter had also brought along his guitar and a few stapled paper packets of song lyrics.  There was beer in the coolers for refreshment.  Gunter had spared no detail nor expense for the barbeque and had made every attempt to make sure his clients would sing his praises as well upon returning home to Germany.

Once everyone was comfortably settled in and around the hut, Igo stepped off his pinisi’s ladder and waded ashore to complete the cast.

The hut was elevated above the sand; the flooring made of slit bamboo slats which allowed for ventilation.  A breeze suddenly blew in from the sea, and cooled the divers who had found comfortable places to sit beneath the hut’s roof which was covered with overlapping layers of dried grass bunched together and sown into long strips.

The fish was cooked directly over the fire, impaled on skewers.  Containers of rice, noodles, sautéed vegetables, and even bread were taken out of the coolers.  Everyone quickly grabbed a bottle of beer, and soon the quiet of Goat Island gave way to the sounds of feasting, spontaneous laughter, and excited conversation.

The blond haired woman casually stood and told her female friend, “I’ll be back soon- I have to go relieve myself.”  Her friend nodded, smiled, and quickly turned her attention to Gunter who had finished tuning his guitar and was passing out the packets of song lyrics.

Rokman stood off to one side of the hut and exchanged smiles with the blond as she moved down the beach towards some outcroppings of limestone.  He continued to follow her languid movements and unhurried steps as she walked in the wet sand at the water’s edge.  Suddenly she stopped, and turning around, looked back at him, put her hands on her hips and motioned with her head twice.  For Rokman, the message was clear.

She resumed walking slowly, and Rokman nervously turned his head towards the rest of the group, who by this time were all sitting comfortably on the hut’s elevated floor, reading from their lyric sheets, singing enthusiastically as Gunter conducted with his guitar.

Rokman took a step back and obscured himself in the shadow of the hut’s side wall.  Having removed himself from most everyone’s sight, he made a quick start- moving several meters down the beach and then scampering up across some rocks and into a cluster of coconut palms growing on a flat of land above the beach.

Rokman’s yearning had inflamed him, and succumbing to his desires, he ran through the palms and then up a rise ahead- a man half-in flight and half in the hunt.  From atop the stony rise he could see the entire beach and the blond who now faced him moving along the wet sand.  He continued ahead until finding a narrow finger of craggy limestone outcropping sloping down from the rise above the sea and pointing out onto the beach.  He stood atop the finger of white cliff and caught the attention of the blond haired woman, who waved briefly in response.

Squatting down to reduce his profile, he waited for the blond to approach.   Soon she stood on the sand below the small white cliff, looking up at Rokman expectantly.  He stood and beckoned her to meet him on the rise above.  Barefooted, she carefully choose the sandiest route possible, avoiding the rocks until up on the firmer soil of the rise.

Rokman waited for her, standing next to a coconut palm.  She came to him and taking his hand said, “We don’t have much time, Rokman.”  He said nothing, and holding her hand led her deeper into the island’s interior, far from the sight of the ocean and the beach.

Soon they found a shaded clearing that lie hidden behind a thicket of tall, green bamboo.  The blond put her hands on Rokman’s hips and he leaned over to kiss her, cradling the back of her head with the palm of his right hand.  She groaned and fumbled for the buttons on Rokman’s swim trunks.  He pulled the straps of her bikini top away from her shoulders and gasped as she pulled his trunks straight down his legs to the ground.  Falling to her knees, she took his manhood into her mouth while cradling his testicles, one in each hand.  He stroked her blond hair as her head bobbed and weaved.  Placing his hands on the back of her shoulders, he pressed her closer and digging her fingers into the front of his thighs she responded to his touch with another groan of passion and sucked harder while sliding her mouth back and forth along his engorged length at a heart stopping pace.

Rokman leaned back while extending his arms into the sky, taking in the sight of palm fronds moving in the breeze atop the coconut trees far above and the blue sky beyond.  He took everything from her mouth she was willing to give, and then knelt to the ground, bringing her with him.  He wriggled her bikini bottoms down her thighs and then past her knees and clearing her feet, tossed them aside.  Positioning himself squarely over her body as she lie down on the soft leaves of the clearings ground cover, Rokman penetrated her warm redness after she placed her hands behind her knees and splayed her legs open; rocking them back, and angling her hips toward the sky in order to best receive him.

As Rokman and the blond haired woman consummated their week-long, simmering passion, they could hear the distant strain of group singing, all slightly out of tune, accompanied by the plucks and strumming rhythms of Gunter’s guitar, swirling through the coconut palms above them.

And when it was over, Rokman lie on top of her; their breasts heaving and hearts beating wildly.  “Rokman, we must go now,” the woman whispered in his ear breathlessly.  “I’ll go first.” 

She quickly dressed and left the clearing, walking down to the beach.  Rokman returned the same way he had come.

The beer had been flowing, and no one seemed to have noticed the absence of both Rokman and the blond except for Hanafi and Febrianto, who stared impassively at Rokman upon his return.  They said nothing.  Rokman avoided making eye contact.

Soon after, Gunter paused and said, “My friends, if we leave now, we have time for one more dive.  Otherwise, we can stay and enjoy our afternoon here on the island.  I’ll leave the decision to you.  What do you say?”

The decision was quick and unanimous.  Diving it would be.  Gunter, raising his green bottle of beer into the air, acknowledged the group consensus, and promptly guzzled down the last few ounces remaining.  “And so it shall be!  On to the pinisi!” he cried ceremoniously.

Within fifteen minutes, the pinisi was on its way, Gunter directing Igo out only a couple hundred meters from shore where vertical walls were to be found.  Gunter and Rokman led the divers’ descent into waters warmer than usual and lacking the clarity the group had enjoyed all week.

As Gunter had hoped, the marine life flourished around them, as wall diving usually offered great biodiversity.  The smaller creatures kept closer to the wall, while schools of larger fish were visible a short distance away, including a few sharks and sea turtles. The divers looked out into the distance, taken by the sight of the four sea turtles- an unusual large sighting- but then some short distance beyond, they saw the sight they hadn’t seen since the first day.  A great manta ray was approaching, and the divers immediately left the wall and started swimming out to meet it.  Gunter, a little drunk, led the charge, seeming to have momentarily abandoned his usual caution. 

The manta was just beginning to emerge from the murky blue-black zone beyond the range of visibility, and with it swam two smaller rays.  The three fish were upon the divers before they knew it, as visibility was only twenty meters and the fish were moving fast.  The largest of the rays was also taken aback by the suddenness of spotting the divers, its sight having been hampered by the swarms of snapping shrimp saturating the waters as carried in by the current, as well as the darkness of the water brought on by the flagging afternoon sun’s decreasing angle in the sky.

The eight divers had only swum a few strokes before realizing they were embarked on a head long collision with the three manta rays.  They all startled save Rokman, who had no fear of any living fish.  As the rest of the diver’s scattered off to the side, Rokman simply remained motionless and suspended, allowing the current to take him where it would, believing the mantas would judge him a floating object and simply veer away to avoid him.

The largest manta ray remained on collision course, beading in on Rokman.  With the reflexes of a much smaller creature, the great manta suddenly reared up in front of Rokman, exposing its huge underbelly, and propelling itself toward the surface, lashed out at him with its long tail in passing.

The sharp and poisonous tip of the manta ray’s tail did not miss its target, penetrating Rokman’s wet suit and striking him with full force squarely in the chest.  Rokman grabbed for his heart with both his hands.  His body, wracked with convulsions, writhed in the water.

Gunter turned just in time to see the manta’s strike, and with two others rushed to Rokman’s side.  They could not rush to the surface with Rokman’s body without risking the bends, and Gunter nervously checked his diving watch, directing the two others to swim forward while slowly descending.

Thirty seconds later the three divers surfaced with Rokman’s now listless body.  After inflating their life vests, and ripping off their tanks, they stripped away Rokman’s face mask as well as his tank and weight belt.  Pinching Rokman’s nose while tipping back his head, Gunter propped open Rokman’s mouth and did his best to deliver CPR while the two others held Rokman’s body aloft in a floating position, one of them on each side of his stricken body.

Igo could immediately see from his helm that something was terribly wrong, as the four other divers who had surfaced along with Gunter’s group waved frantically and screamed for help.

The hair on the back of Hanafi’s head stood on end as he locked his one hand in a death grip around a piped railing next to the helm.  Febrianto moved quickly to ready the ladder at the bow.

Igo circled the divers and pulled up along side.  He nullified the boat’s forward motion by throwing it momentarily in neutral; then reverse at high throttle; then neutral again.  He then rushed to the ladder and helped Febrianto and Hanafi hoist Rokman’s body onboard, laying it out on the deck.  Gunter was close at their heels, and immediately ripped away Rokman’s wetsuit from around his chest, tearing away at the gaping rip which the manta’s spiked tail had slashed open upon striking him.

Gunter resumed the CPR, his hands covered with the blood from Rokman’s chest would which spurt with every thrust of his palm into Rokman’s sternum.  The gaping wound lay wide open directly over Rokman’s heart.

Gunter felt in his own heart that his efforts would be futile, but his mind told him that might be an outside chance, so he persisted.  No matter the case, his responsibility was to perform CPR for as long as he could physically hold out. He alternated between delivering several breaths into Rokman’s mouth and then pushing down on Rokman’s sternum to aid the heart in pumping oxygenated blood into the body.

The diver’s stood around Gunter and Rokman in a circle, aghast.  The blond haired woman collapsed into her friend’s arms.  Igo had long before manned the helm and sped the pinisi at full throttle towards the West Cape.  Febrianto took Gunter’s cell phone and called for help.  The cape’s only doctor was not available.  He was out, having answered a call in an outlying village.

But word of the emergency leaked out of the doctor’s office and spread quickly through the West Cape.  Many locals began to run down to the beach as they saw Igo’s pinisi approach.  Hanafi stood at the stern, and waving his one arm, yelled at them to make way.

Gunter, exhausted and in a state of shock, looked up at his crew and the members of the diving group.  “Please take Rokman off ship,” he muttered.  He then hung his head while placing his hands on his thighs, propping his outstretched arms as he sat on his haunches in a pool of blood at Rokman’s side.

Four men appeared at the top of the staircase leading down to the beach, carrying a makeshift gurney consisting of a piece of canvas sown on to two bamboo poles.  The four barked savagely at everyone crowding the stairway and called ahead for everyone to give them wide berth.

Soon Rokman was hoisted down in to the arms of six Bugis men who had waded out to the pinisi.  They took on the responsibility of carrying him ashore.

Hanafi watched as Rokman’s lifeless body was placed on the gurney and several men pushed away the crowds so that the bearers could carry Rokman up the stairs and off the beach.  He could take no more, and turning away, walked alone to the pinisi’s bow.   Looking up, he saw the sun was about to set in the south west.

His one arm hung in mourning at his side, and tears streamed down his face.  As the sun at first slowly, then at a quickening pace had its fiery orb swallowed by the implacable sea, he looked out into the heavens and breathlessly cried,

“Oh Allah, how is it we have wronged you?”