Bluebottles dot the sand around me, and I, as I navigate around them like a soldier would a minefield, try to imagine what it would be like to be one. Small, unassuming, but carrying an electric bite no tourist would see coming. That’s my favourite part of the beach – watching the tourists trying to tame the wild surf and rips, failing to realise the real danger dwelled beneath the sand kicked up by all those screaming toddlers constructing their sandcastles destined to be swallowed up by the tide.
If I were a bluebottle, I think life would be much simpler. Bluebottles spend their days in the ocean. I love the ocean. Galaxies of fish and coral, of creatures hidden in the deep blue, of mysteries yet to be discovered by the probing minds of scientists. There’s so much power there – in the swell of the waves and the beasts cutting through dangerous waters. Kids at my school have posters of their favourite athletes, all powerful in their own right, stuck up on their wall, and they praise them as if they were a religion, a bedroom wall becoming a temple under their name. My temple, my preteen’s bedroom wall, is the beach. Here, I can worship my god. Had I been born a bluebottle, I could spend everyday in my temple, digging my toes into the sand, the ocean’s wisdom becoming my own.
I read somewhere bluebottles aren’t just one animal, but rather a colony of organisms, each little life fuelling another, all working cogs in a machine driving life and all its wonders. I want that. Standing on this beach, looking out to the horizon, it’s too easy to feel alone. The universe is so big. Too big. The bluebottle, I think, is another little galaxy. A miniature Earth. A cosmos brimming with life and love; every cell having its purpose and its story; every organism useful and loved, quite unlike the cosmos I find myself living in now – a cosmos where people would rather die than live one more day on the grind, all the bills and the taxes and the hate and the judgement and the wars and the deceit. A place where sometimes it gets too much.
Had I been born a bluebottle, maybe I wouldn’t have to be so afraid of growing older, afraid of understanding why people decide to end it all. And, the idea of stinging tourists gives me an odd sense of glee. Too many times I’ve had Americans push in front of me at the self checkout with drawling “sahrry”s like they were more important than me: a twelve year old boy wanting to buy a roll of Hubba Bubba. Had I been born a bluebottle, my fellow organisms and I would’ve fought back, sending electricity pulsing through tourists’ veins, our hidden power revealed. Now, in this body, I’m just too small. I’ve always been too small.
Weaving my way through the lines of tourists and locals sprawled across the beach, through the piles of seaweed and rubbish, I see something that makes me stop. Centimetres away from my feet, a metre away from the relaxed figure of Mum as she sunbakes, is a shining speck of blue peeking up from the sand, in wait like a coiled snake.
Mum looks up at me from her beach towel, lying on her bronzed belly and squinting through her sunglasses. ‘Whatcha lookin’ at?’
She smiles. She’s always smiling. ‘You might be the only person in the universe who likes them, you know?’
I do know. ‘I mean, someone has to. Everything must be loved by someone, right?’
‘Of course,’ she says. Like the rest of the world, she doesn’t see the appeal of bluebottles. They’re just another obstacle in the sand, another thing she has to protect me from. I don’t mind that she doesn’t like them. I prefer it. This way, I have them all to myself.
She continues: ‘Like I love you.’
This is my daily reminder. While other mums might remind their son to brush his teeth and close the toilet lid once he’s done, my mum reminds me that her love for me is perpetual. I’m lucky. Some kids in my class don’t get told by their mums that she loves them enough, and I think that’s why they’re so mean and angry all the time. Kids like them need love like I need the ocean. Love is the ocean – deep, never-ending, wise and powerful. Some people are like Mum and I: encompassed by our love for each other, able to navigate rough waters without an inkling of fear. Others are like the tourists, new to it, beaten by raging waves without knowing how to tame them. Then there are those who have never seen it. Never felt the water against their skin. Never smelt the salt in the air. Land-locked by hate. Marooned by loneliness.
The organisms that make up a bluebottle probably love each more than the universe itself, which is why they can live in harmony the way we wish we could, always falling short because of one simple thing – human nature.
‘Eli,’ Mum says, pulling my attention from the bluebottle at my feet. ‘Come here.’ I do. I sit on her towel, sink into her chest as her arms wrap around me and pull me down to lie beside her, the heat of her skin melting into my own. She holds me tight until, after a couple minutes of warmth and love, her grip slacks. Sound asleep. Other kids my age may cringe at this, saying that they’re too old to hug their mums. I don’t. This is her daily reminder.
I crane my neck to look over Mum’s arm slung across my torso to see Dad gliding through the water, inching away from the yellow and red flags, but, unlike the splashing tourists, the ocean is Dad’s home – his pulse. It’s engrained into his DNA, eyes like its deepest crevices, movements swift as the water, free and untamed. He loves the ocean more than he loves us. The ocean is his god, and it pulls him in like a magnet, leaving us behind on the shore, waiting for him to come back. Sometimes I think he won’t, diving into the waves and never resurfacing, swallowed by the endless deep blue, forgetting Mum, forgetting me. We’re too small for him. Always too small.
Its power lures him in. It’s entrancing; alluring like a bar of gold glinting in the sun. It’s ancient, too, he’s always telling me. Seen things and been places that we will never know – things and places we will never dream to know. It’s everything humanity is in one, never-ending expanse – violent, gentle, beautiful and dangerous, an oxymoron of the greatest proportion. I know I can never be as powerful or as wise as the ocean, and I try to convince myself that I already have enough; that, encircled in Mum’s arms, not even the ocean can match the love seeping in through the warmth of her skin, enfolding me in its longing grip. I try. But there he is, embracing the ocean like he never embraced me, and I fail.
Someone walks by us, kicking sand into my eyes and mouth with their unpractised, sloppy steps. Karma comes in the form of the stranger stepping directly onto the tentacles of the bluebottle in waiting. He collapses in front of us, screaming like I did when I broke my arm falling from the ropes course at Year Five camp, waking Mum up and calling attention to the lifeguards on duty. Bluebottles: small and overlooked, like me. But they, even with their little bodies, hold so much power. Small, unassuming, but fighters. Conquerors of tourists. Challengers orbited by their own little solar system of friends and family. I don’t understand why the world can’t see it. Why they can’t see the power, the wisdom, the beauty dwelling in vessels so small, so simple. Why he can’t see that you don’t have to be the ocean to be something more than just a little boy, too small for this too big universe, not powerful enough, not wise enough to snatch his father’s attention away from his glistening paramour enveloping the horizon, the whispering of its waves only for him.
The stranger cries. Ocean roars. Bluebottle victorious.