They are both called Alex. She is German, tall and swaggering, with tattoos curling across her skin. She wears aviator sunglasses and smokes languidly, more Danny than Sandy. He is Greek, with shining green eyes and lurid orange shorts. His smile is bright and quick, and he speaks softly to the small boy on the boat who is too shy to look at the sea.
It is Alex’s last day in Crete, and her last trip out on the boat.
We punters, boxy in our life jackets, sit on the hot cushioned sides of the boat, smiling tentatively at one another. Alex and Alex leap around the boat, casually rolling up the anchor and performing safety checks: all confidence, cigarettes and dirty laughs.
As it is Alex’s last day she will drive the boat, so she takes her place astride the middle seat and lightly holds the steering wheel with both hands. Her wetsuit is rolled down to her waist, her soaked blonde ponytail drips down her back. Alex sits behind her, soft belly folding over his orange shorts. He places his hands fleetingly on her hips, before resting them on his own legs, turning to smile at the shy boy, who clings worriedly to his mother.
Alex starts the engine, and the boat gathers speed. The wind dashes our hair and the shy boy begins to sit up straighter. The gleam of the water reflects on his face as he turns to his mother in surprise and delight.
Alex parks the boat in a secluded cave, near a rocky outcrop and a not-quite-hidden nudist beach. One by one we snap on masks and snorkels, slip flippers on feet and tip backwards off the side of the boat. We glide through the water on borrowed grace, pirouetting in the water like the ballerinas we could never be, swimming among snippets of fish and diving down towards grimacing underwater caves. Alex silently shows us a starfish on the ocean bed, his orange shorts luminous in the clear water.
An hour later we clamber back aboard, ungainly in flippers and snot. Alex has removed her aviators and is smoking, her make-up smudged eyes squinting at a point just above our heads. Our skin dries and becomes salt tight. Alex smiles his bright smile at the shy boy, asking him gently if he enjoyed his snorkelling. The boy nods, his hair sticking out and eyes shining, grinning widely at Alex, then his mother, then the rest of us.
Alex takes the helm once again and we launch back towards the horizon and the promise of more coves, and a rest stop in a leafy taverna for orange juice, cake and glass jugs of black coffee. The afternoon stretches in front of us with the relaxed resilience of youth. Alex closes her eyes, leaning back on the boat, face tilted towards the high sun. When she opens them again they catch on Alex’s green gaze.
As the afternoon begins to fade we take our places back on the sides of the boat, casually now, wearing our afternoon of experience easily. We dangle arms and legs into the water as we begin to speed and it begins to froth. We approach the beach, slow, then stop. Swimmers in the shallows turn to watch us anchor and slide one by one into the surf, holding our bags over our heads as we walk towards the shore and the hotel.
Later, after showers and goodbyes, the two of us sip large beers in the hotel beach bar. The day’s sun is trapped beneath our skin. The sea and sky shine metallic turquoise and luminous pink.
Over my beer I look out onto the mirror sea, and search out our boat, anchored and still. Two figures, one in a pair of orange shorts, the other with gleaming hair, are climbing aboard. They stand face to face, the setting sun barely squeezing through the gap between their bodies. They sit down, one in front of the other, at the steering wheel. I don’t hear the engine, but the water parts as the boat slides forwards. They pick up speed and soon the sea is churning in their wake as they circle the bay once and glide off around the curve of the headland.
Back at the bar the music pulses. Men with folded faces and lifelong tans stand in Speedos, sharing watermelon from a washing up tub. A tiny child dances a naked jig on the sand, and the sun slips into the sea.