Our little tour boat chugged to a stop near a wicked-looking reef.
We were in the Red Sea, off the coast of Sudan, passing above an oyster bed. An eager-looking young man approached me, telling me the pearls in this area were especially choice and he would be happy to work for me as a diver.
I was about to shake him off, but his expression became so earnest I didn’t have the heart to say no. Pulling a large bill out of my pocket, I asked him if that would be enough.
Immediately, his eyes grew wide. He told me he would dive many times for such a princely sum, and surely harvest a giant pearl! Then he spoke some words to the captain, and, without donning any special gear, dove into the sea.
He was down a long time—prompting me to ask a crewman just how deep the water was. The old sailor shook his head and guessed perhaps ninety-five or a hundred feet. The waves started rising, crashing dangerously onto the nearby reef.
I expressed concern about the weather being too dangerous for a dive.
The sailor nodded, shooting me a scornful look, as if I alone had been responsible for encouraging the young man’s recklessness.
When the pearl diver finally broke the surface, sputtering and tossing his head, I shouted for him to stop, but he shook his head to convey no, I had paid for many dives and he would show me something soon. Gasping for air only briefly, he descended again.
A minute passed, and I grew increasingly anxious. The tropical storm was moving in, and our vessel needed to find calmer seas. Certainly, no amount of money could justify a stranger risking his life for me.
When the young man finally resurfaced, again empty-handed, we cheered. His head was now just visible, bobbing up and down on the waves. A crewman tossed a life ring in his general direction—but unbelievably, the man again shook off any assistance, preparing to dive again. Before anyone could reason with him, he plunged.
This time the captain shouted orders to raise anchor and prepare to leave, with or without the unlucky diver.
One minute passed—then two—two and a half—three. Several of us leaned farther over the guardrail, hoping against odds for any sign of life. Until the captain decided we could afford to wait no longer.
We left the man there.
M.V. Montgomery is a professor at Life University in Atlanta. He is currently at work on a speculative fiction collection. You can visit him on the web at mvmontgomery.wordpress.com.