I’ll never forget those fish. How they terrorized me with every fin flip. These glittered, finger-sized beasts chased me all the way into his arms. There, we floated in a turquoise sea with a rainbow of plump fish orbiting us. Seagulls whistled above in a clear blue sky, as wet salty hair crinkled with an echo of soft breeze in my ears.
“You made it,” he said as my toes sank in creamy white sand.
“Oh my God! Look at all these colors,” were the first words that came out of the Mahmya me.
I was terrified of fish. The thought of being nibbled on made me curl in chills. “Mahmya,” Arabic for “Protected” had a mysterious ancient air about it. This beachfront camp on the big “Giftun,” pronounced “Giftoon,” island was not what it seemed. On the surface, it’s like any other island beach, but once I became a part of it, it became a part of me.
No one mentions “Mahmya” on their own. I stumbled upon it by coincidence while searching online for beaches in Hurghada, Egypt. The few locals who knew about it paused in a daydream and smiled before saying variations of “you should definitely go.” The staff on the beach spun tales of Pharaohs visiting it in summer and took pride in how it remained undisrupted. Like traveling back in time, everything there was made of wood from the benches and tables to the “Cliff Bar” at the top of a hill on the left side of the beach.
It started with a girl with flowers in her hair, an uncommon sight on Egyptian beaches. My husband and I walked into the water as salty air tickled my nose and I froze. It was clearer than tap water and there were small silver-glittered fish with neon green stripes everywhere. I had never been face to face with one of my deepest fears before. I headed back to shore.
“Excuse me?” A high pitched voice rose from behind me. The pretty brunette with flowers in her hair and a garland around her neck asked me to take a picture of her Hawaiian themed bachelorette party. I took a few of them in the water.
As the girls hovered over the camera, praising the pictures and squealing in cheers like they’d found hidden treasure, I realized I was waist down in the water with fish circling me.
Curbing my fright to avoid an embarrassing scene in front of a hundred Egyptians and tourists on the beach, I decided this was it. Fish or no fish, I would make my way to my husband, who was four meters away. There was something about “Mahmya” that made me feel safe. It could’ve been its name, its lukewarm water, or how its marshmallow sand wrapped itself around my ankles, like telling me to stay whenever I tried to leave.
With no clue as to where my courage came from, I took a step forward. The fish kept a safe distance of about an arm’s length away as I walked, skipped whenever a fish broke the rule and got too close, and finally dived in and swam over to him.
He squeezed me in celebration while I hung onto him in disbelief as the rainbow of colored fish swam around us and the scattered coral reefs, like a ‘Life of Pi’ experience. I had never felt more alive. Only this moment mattered. He and I had been drifting apart and this moment made it all go away. My newfound bravery revived our sense of intimacy and brought us closer than ever. We were happy again and emotionally connected as we surrendered our fate to a sea full of life.
We napped in each other’s arms on a floating deck in the water, basking in comfort like we were one with the sea, covered by a blanket of soft breeze and warm sunshine.
Before we knew it, our ferry called to take us back to the Hurghada Marina. With bitter-sweet sadness, I bid “Mahmya” goodbye as it got smaller in the distance. Playful dolphins made my heart skip beats as they followed us in the sunset. As cliché as that sounds, it really happened. They made sure I’d remember how my fear was the gift that led to saving my marriage.
“Mahmya” helped me get over myself and brought out a brave part of me I never thought existed. A little part of my soul will forever remain there and a little bit of its magic will forever remain in me.
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