My phobia started when I was very young. Whenever time would start healing my fears, something or the other would wash away all my progress. I could never really go into a swimming pool or do any water sports throughout my life. I couldn’t even go on a boat. Paradoxically, my father was in the navy.
I think about all this while I do the trek. Why am I doing it? It’s my first time trekking at a Wadi. What prompted me to do this?
I’m here on vacation with a couple of buddies from college. We hadn’t met in a while and thought Oman would be a chill place to hang out. It’s less mainstream than Dubai and way more Arab apparently. We spent the first day doing a city tour and soaking in the Middle East culture. We sat for three or four hours doing shisha and chatting about life. That’s when the topic came up.
“Hey, Raj, you’re celebrating your dad’s 60th birthday on a boat right? With the navy officers?” Brandon asks.
“Yeah but you know. I can’t even go on a boat. You know my phobias dude.” I reply.
“What’s with that? You’re the only child bro. You have to be there. Don’t be such a wuss.”
I owe my dad a whole lot in life. My mother passed away in an accident when I was five years old and he’s brought me up with my grandparents ever since. He’s not complained even once. But I just can’t shake away the fear of water.
“We have to fix this bro.” Felix, my other buddy, suggests. Felix is always full of crazy ideas. I don’t like where this is heading.
“Look, we’re here for two more days. Google says there’s an awesome trek in a place called Wadi Shab. Supposed to be very beautiful. Let’s go there!” says Brandon while checking his phone.
“What’s a wadi?” I ask
“Wadi- a valley, ravine, or channel that is dry except in the rainy season.” He says.
“This one isn’t dry. It’s connected to a river. The entire thing will take one and a half hours one way. Let’s do this!”
“So I don’t have to swim then?” I ask
“No, there is a half an hour portion of the trek where you have to swim.”
“I’m not doing that.” I say
“Come on man. Seize the moment. Do you intend on being afraid of water for your whole life?” Felix comments.
“I don’t care, I’m not doing this.”
“Okay chill, we’ll go up to the first pool where you have to swim and turn back. Cool? We don’t have anything specific planned for the itinerary tomorrow in any case.” Brandon suggests.
“Fine. But I’m not getting into any pool.” I insist
As we drive towards the starting point of the Hike, I look at the world outside. Dry and barren mountains engulf the landscape. Yet, it’s so beautiful. Everything about this country is beautiful. The people of this country are so hospitable. I lie down on the backseat of a convertible we have rented and stare at the sky. I soon drift off to sleep.
You won’t leave me right? Never ever.
No Joanne. Never ever.
I wake up with a start.
“We’re here. You nicely dozed off. You’re totally driving on the way back.” Brandon says.
As I step out, the first hurdle was standing right in front of me.
“I’m not going. No Way.” I say
Felix and Brandon stare at each other.
“Dude, it’s literally a two minute boat ride. Come on. Even five year olds are going.” Felix urges me on.
The Wadi trek starting point was separated from the rest of us by a tiny lake. Tourists were hopping aboard mini boats to reach the other side.
“I can’t go. I can’t go.” I realize I’m already sweating. My heart beats ferociously.
“Felix ,bro, don’t pressurize him.” Brandson says. “Let’s go back if you want, we’ll do something else.”
Raj, you know what I like most in this world?
What is it Joanne?
Lakes. They’re always filled up despite not having a reliable source. We should all be filled up with love in our hearts right?
Why am I thinking about her right now?
“What a bummer. Anyway it’s cool let’s just get out of here. I heard there’s an awesome underground nightlife place back in Muscat.” Says Felix.
“No.” I say
“No, I’ll go. It’s just a two minute boat ride. I’ll do it.” I say.
The other two look stunned.
“Okay let’s go.” Brandon says.
As I enter the rickety boat my mind goes blank. I remember Joanne’s smiling face. That’s all I need to remember.
The engine starts.
Joanne is throwing snowballs at me. She’s giggling.
The boat starts moving.
Joanne takes my glasses away. I can’t see anything but I trust her blindly.
And it stops.
“We’re here bro. You look like you want to take a shit. Constipated as hell.” Felix comments.
Huh? We’re here. I did it. I went on a boat.
I feel myself tearing up as I get off the boat. But I quickly wipe it away. There’s no way I can let the other two see.
“Why are you crying dude?” Felix sniggers.
“I am not. Shut up.” I retort.
“Okay whatever then. Let’s get on with this trek. I’m so excited.” He says
We pass rocks and barren land for the first five minutes or so and then magically, the greenery appears. Serene. I can barely see the rocks on the mountain. Everything is covered with shrubs. Everything is untainted. It’s like we aren’t in civilization anymore.
As we go uphill, the wadi flows on the side. We’re on a tall cliff without a fence or anything to protect us. I stay as far from the edge as possible. That idiot Felix is pretending he’s going to jump. Brandon calms him down.
We trek for an hour through this terrain. Sometimes we go up, sometimes down. Felix is at the front since he works out every day. I work out once in a while so I’m in the Middle. Poor Brandon, the voice of reason in our trio, is lagging behind.
At times we have to pass streams which aren’t even ankle deep. I hesitate at first but I’m determined to finish this trek until the pools no matter what.
As we reach the pool I feel adrenaline rush through my body.
“This was a good trek guys. I’m satisfied.” I say.
Brandon catches up ten minutes later.
“I need to rest for some time please.”
“You guys rest. I’ll go to these pools and come back.” Says Felix.
“We agreed not to though?” I ask
“Yeah but I’m here now. I really want to finish this. I’ll take pictures for you guys.”
“You can’t take your phone into the water, block head.” I point out.
“Oh yeah. Well whatever. See you!” And he’s off.
“He’s always been so impulsive.” Brandon comments. He takes out a pack and lights a cigarette.
“This is why you were ten minutes behind.”
“Lol.” Says Brandon.
After a while, Brandon doses off. I stare into the pool ahead.
It’s now or never.
I hear something prodding me at the back of my head.
You know how to swim. You’ve done it before.
My dad. The one who has raised me. If I don’t get over this fear, and don’t attend his birthday, maybe I will never be able to face myself.
Some unknown strength or energy I never knew I had , pulls me towards the pool. I take off my shirt and shoes and place them next to Brandon. I take a long deep breathe in and exhale.
Look ahead Raj. You can’t be stuck in the past forever.
I dive into the pool. The water came until my neck for the first few minutes and then I went completely within.
As I went underwater I panicked. I haven’t swam for over fifteen years. The last time was when I was ten years old.
I can’t breathe. How do I get air? I’m drowning.
I’m going to die. I’m going to die.
I remember Joanne, we were childhood friends when I was ten years old. We used to love going to the beach together and swim together. I secretly had a major crush on her.
One day we promised each other that the tide would never take us away. That we would always save each other. That we would never ever let each other go.
But that day I wasn’t the one who saved her. The tide wasn’t that high when we entered the water. The storm came out of nowhere. I held onto Joanne. I held onto her.
Then how did my hand slip away from hers?
I thank God every day that she didn’t die. The lifeguard got her a kilometre or so away from me. She was rushed to ICU and hospitalized for a month, she was kept back a grade because of that.
But I could never swim again. I betrayed our promise. Joanne never spoke to me again either. I blamed it all on water.
“What are you doing?”
An Arab guy pulls me out. I’m alive.
“Shoooooooo Hada?” He asks. “This is why foreigners are stupid. If you no know how to swim, why you come into water?” His accent was very Middle Eastern.
“I…” I start.
“I want to go to the end. I can do it.”
I’m alive, I didn’t die. The water wasn’t my enemy. I was my own enemy. I thought that I broke Joanne’s trust but it wasn’t me. It was because of the storm. I directed my fears towards water for the wrong reasons.
“Okay friend. I will accompany you. Stupid foreigner.”
“I look at him and smile.”
My instincts kick in and I start swimming again. I swim and swim and swim. I reach the end of the third pool and the official end of the trek. I put my head under against the waterfall at the edge, washing away all my fears.
Walid, my new Arab buddy and I high five each other. We head back to the starting point where Felix and Brandon look supremely worried.
“Where the hell were you?” Felix asks.
I look at Walid and smirk.
“Went for a swim.”
Felix and Brandon give me a tight hug. Hugging is not our thing so I was surprised.
“Now we’ll go buddy.” Brandon says.
“Where?” I ask
“For your dad’s 60th.”
My vacation gets over and time passes by. The day of my father’s birthday arrives. I wear a suit and tie and surprise him with his favourite book. My dad tears up when I step onto the ship. Brandon and Felix are by my side, and so is a special guest, Walid!
“You came.” My dad says.
Our group of five takes a selfie and party while cruising around. I’m not scared.
Source of keychain: Mutrah Market, Muscat.
This is a work of fiction