My father loved marine life. He had received a degree in Marine Biology and had worked for an organization that allowed him to study marine life in the Caribbean Sea. Later, he took a job in St. Elizabeth working for a fish farm [a division of Jamaica Broilers], and he later worked his way up the ladder to become manager.
Because we had settled down in Mandeville, Manchester, which was the next parish over, he usually left home early and didn’t get back until late evening. Seeing our father was a treat for us, and spending time with him has given me some of the best memories of my childhood.
Sometimes, when my mum had to go to the fish farm, we would go with her. It was exciting, because we would be able to see our father. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t. When we didn’t, we had a lot of free time to ourselves.
Being a lonely child, I remember wondering the proximity of the main building by myself. I would also watch the baby fish rubbing shoulders in their cement homes. There were a few times when I would dip my hand into the pool, feeling their slick bodies slide past my small fingers. Once the fish grew too large for these concrete pools, they were moved to one of the many large ponds that had been dug out of the ground.
One memory I have on that farm was my father taking us to fish in one of the ponds. I must have been seven or eight at the time. My father and my uncle, who also worked for Jamaica Broilers, drove my cousins, my brothers and I, and a few others out to an area that my father knew had some fish. One of the ponds didn’t have any, and we were given permission to swim in it. It was large and long, shaped a little like a pool. However, we were warned to be careful, since crocodiles were known to be in the area [my father had made sure beforehand that none were spotted, but he had encountered them enough to still be worried. Crocodiles were, and still are, a problem for the fish farm].
At some point, my older cousin and I decided that we wanted to venture further down the pond. The water was only two to four feet high, depending on certain spots. We tried to see if we could walk on the bottom, where the mud was thick and slimy. Our feet disappeared in it, only to have the mud suck at us when we tried to pull them free. Soon, we were crawling on our bellies, trying to keep everything from the neck down submerged in water. We felt like we had traveled far from our group [in reality, it wasn’t that far, but at that age, not stepping on our parent’s heels felt like we were miles away from them], but we would talk one another into going just a little further.The mud felt disgusting, and we would pull fistfuls of it to the surface to inspect why. It was a greenish colour and shined. We decided that it must be from all the fish poop [though I’m sure that there’s a more biological reason to it]. We kept going anyway, talking to each other in low tones.
Suddenly, someone appeared on one of the nearby banks and started shouting to us. “Guys, what are you doing?”
“We’re swimming! What does it look like we’re doing?”
“Don’t you know that crocodiles live in this kind of mud?! Get back to the group, now.”
We instantly realized that this wasn’t a good idea anymore, and the fun we were having dissipated. But, instead of swimming to the nearby bank and climbing out like common sense would have dictated, we turned tail and tried to Michael Phelps it back to the other side of the pond. I’m sure we looked ridiculous, trying to fast crawl with panicked looks on our faces. Every time a limb disappeared into the mud, it felt like we were enticing the crocodiles. “Crocodile. O Croc-o-dile! Are you hungry? Look what I have to offer you!”
Since I’m here writing, it seems a little pointless to say that we made it back to the group without drama. I promised to never swim in the ponds ever again, which I’m sure I broke. The fear of the moment is lost when one has become the victor over a non-existent crocodile threat. Nevertheless, I will always remember the bonding my cousin and I shared over feeling like we were going to die. Trust me, you will bond with your worst enemy in those ten minutes of intense crawling. It will happen.