SHORT STORY: Marooned in the endless open sea

Thursday September 02 2021

At least now she was unafraid of her immediate future; she’d survived drowning, so for now, she was okay. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


The rustle of the leaves on the tall coconut trees was louder and more prominent than the blue and green and grey sea beyond. Their soothing rustle in the strong wind was all Lishu could hear as she stood in soft powdery white sand and watched waves crash in splashes of white foam all along the beach; one that stretched for miles until it melted into the horizon.

She was a little tired, but fatigue was the least of her worries. At least now she was unafraid of her immediate future; she’d survived drowning, so for now, she was okay. Well, relatively okay. She was still on a seemingly deserted island miles out to sea, with nothing but the clothes on her back.

Only a few hours before, Lishu had been on a boat with around 30 other people, on a short day cruise around a series of uninhabited islands within a marine reserve, to snorkel and swim and make merry. They’d spent most of their day diving into cool rock pools with surfaces so clear you could see rainbow-coloured coral and tiny darting fish within, those more adventurous leapt off large boulders into the warm blue sea while others laid out on the deck of the boat, icy cocktails in hand. That was until a storm had cut their tour short.

Lishu could still remember their captain's voice and how it shook as he addressed them after they'd been called back onto the boat, from where they had been admiring clusters of fat glistening starfish.

"...we've had a report of incoming bad weather and unfortunately, we need to go back now," his voice had audibly cracked at this point, "No one will be allowed on deck on the return journey, as we expect...very rough seas," another tremor of his voice pushed it a few octaves higher, "Please... stay below until we dock."


Lishu hadn't felt any fear then, not many in the group had. They'd just spent a day under azure, clear blue skies and inside a deliciously warm, calm sea. It was only until they left the safety of the reefs surrounding the marine reserve and were out in the open ocean heading back to the mainland when Lishu looked out of a small porthole and saw a mass of dark purple and grey clouds looming in the distance; sitting so low and heavy they looked to be touching the sea.

She'd felt her heart drop into her stomach then, but she'd averted her eyes and her mind, telling herself it was just another storm. Their captain had probably faced others before. But when it hit them, or rather when they sailed headfirst into it, there was no one on board who didn't feel a panic that quickly morphed into mortal fear. Lishu couldn't remember when they'd capsized, only that she'd been thrown suddenly and violently across the boat into another passenger's lap before everything went dark.

She was the only lucky one. Waking, she found herself half lying on a wide plank of wood, a piece of the boat that had been smashed to pieces against waves that were later estimated to have been seventy feet high. Drifting all around her were life jackets, pieces of the boat, luggage...but no people. She had been listless for a while, allowing herself to drift slowly, a fear so deep it made her almost apathetic, then like a mirage in the distance, she'd seen it.

The island she now stood on, and with the last of her energies, kicked and paddled until the waves breaking on the shore could sweep her up and do the rest. On the soft sand, baking in the heat, she was thankful she was no longer in the deep, discomfiting ocean, but it was not long before hunger set in, and with it, despair. Where was she? Would they look for her if they assumed no one had survived?

The hot sun was sinking lower in the sky. Lishu knew she didn't have many options. She could lay there and give up, or she could fight.

So she got unsteadily to her feet and began walking slowly along the beach, looking for fallen coconuts, shaking each one she found. After a series of disappointments that made her cry out in frustration, she landed on one that was perfectly ripe and dashed it desperately against a rock. The sweet drink revived her body and spirit so much so that Lishu began to think that maybe, just maybe, she would truly be alright.

The sand was toasty and crunched satisfyingly under her feet as she continued down the beach. The sun was kissing the horizon, throwing up colours the like which she had never seen and now, she needed to find somewhere to sleep.

Fear gnawed on the periphery of all her thoughts, but she refused to even acknowledge it; she knew it was a hole she would be unable to extricate herself from.

So she strode determinedly, keeping her eyes peeled for anything she could use as shelter, and just as the first stars began to dot the sky, she came across a small, shallow cave carved into a rocky outcrop by the waves.

Peering carefully inside, Lishu ascertained there were no crabs hiding in the dark corners before she hurried in. Hugging her knees, she cradled her head between them and closed her eyes.

She’d sleep and tomorrow, well tomorrow would take care of itself.