Sophie van der Stap (1983) is a Du tch wri ter. She recei ved i nternational acc l aim for her book The Gi rl Wi th Ni ne Wigs. The book was adapted i nto a movie and Al ibaba is in the process of maki ng a Chi nese remake. Origi nal ly a novel i s t , she is cur rent ly fi nal i zi ng her fi r s t chi ldren’s book, Shark Heroes . The Gi rl And The Shark is the f i r st story in a series of booklet s abou t endangered sea animal s , and the threats they are faci ng . Col l aborati ng wi th Sea Shepherd , an i nternational , non -prof i t mari ne conser vation organi z ation , hal f of the proceeds are donated to thei r cause .


Beneath the surface she swims around in silence. There are no words, no chatter or banter, but you’d be wrong to think that the ocean doesn’t speak. It does speak, in a language of bangs and echoes. Beneath the surface she’s free: she has no weight, no age, no name. Her body is reduced to a mass of functions. It breathes, it sees, it touches, it floats. When she achieves perfect buoyancy, there’s no gravity and no judgment, and somehow the two seem related. The caves do not speak. The caves swallow. They swallow everything around her, they swallow and swallow and swallow, until there’s nothing left but her and an immense silence, daunting in its immensity, sated in its hunger. Enveloped in stillness, her past sinks into oblivion as she floats in a timeless embrace. She does not know if she’s the one who forgets or if it’s the caves who do. The first time, the silence choked her. But when she resurfaced, she felt replenished. Ever since, she has gravitated to the caves time and again. As a trained diver she’s used to diving alone. Above the surface, together is better than alone, but beneath the surface alone is better than together: on her own she can dissolve in the world around her, and be nothing, or everything. In the cave she sits down on the seafloor. A shark appears. She does not move. He circles her several times, then swims towards her and lies down next to her in the sand. She rests her hand on his head, pets him. Far away, above the surface, her life floats on the mirror of

the sea’s surface, waiting for her to return. Up there, they say that she’s strong, that she has shark skin. But they don’t know that words are so much sharper than teeth. A red wooden box sits on a bookshelf somewhere above the surface, its lid open. It’s overflowing with hooks, some big, some small, all rusty. Every hook is a life saved, a life she knows. The box is so chock-full that she can hardly wedge any new ones in there. She adds her latest find to the collection and gets in the shower. The shower primarily serves as a transition between ocean and land. It’s not about washing off the sea so much as immersing herself in water for one last time before falling asleep. The hook was jammed deep inside the shark’s mouth. It was the third time she had to remove a hook from the shark she named Foggy Eye. The first time Foggy Eye had come to her was two days af ter she had removed a hook from the mouth of Grandma, one of the first sharks she got to know. Foggy Eye had appeared together with Grandma, as if Grandma was leading Foggy Eye to her. When she swam past the new shark, she looked right into its foggy eye. The shark’s mouth and lef t-side gills were covered in a nasty infection. That hook must have been stuck in there for a long time. The girl went to work immediately. She fed the other

sharks and studied the new shark’s behavior. She wasn’t eating and she lay in the sand, only a few feet away. The girl sat next to her in the sand, petted her, stayed with her. Then, in a quick movement she reached her arm into the shark’s mouth and felt the hook. It was large and had a fishing lure, a little yellow fish, attached to it. She pulled once. The shark with the foggy eye pulled back and swam away. She checked her air and waited, some of her sharks still circling her, drawing wider and wider circles, until finally they vanished out of sight. The new shark stayed with her and put her head in her lap. She reached into her mouth a second time but again was unable to remove the hook. The shark with the foggy eye disappeared into the dark. A shark’s eye is like the surface of the ocean: endless and unfathomable. Foggy Eye kept on returning, putting her head in the girl’s lap, until one day, the girl successfully removed the hook that was jammed deep into the shark’s flesh. Now sometimes when she raises herself up from the seafloor, the shark will lift up with her, resting between the girl’s hands. A small eternity passes. She doesn’t know whether it’s the shark who decides on this unexpected embrace or whether it is her. It doesn’t matter: in a world where words are absent, they seem fundamentally unnecessary. They all have a face and

a name: Grandma, Stompy, Steph, Hook, Crook, Elvis. – and Foggy Eye. They’ve all been named af ter their distinguishing physical features and character traits. Grandma is her first shark, her first hook. She’s always the first shark to appear. But today she’s nowhere to be seen. The girl is surprised and looks around trying to find her. Back on the boat she takes off the chainmail suit she wears on top of her wetsuit while feeding her sharks, and lies down on the deck. She spends her surface interval with her feet dangling in the water and her face warmed by the sun. When she goes back in with a new tank she swims to Ben’s Cave. She swims through shoals of little black fish, hearing echoes of howling whales in the distance. She’s a young woman who spends most of her days out at sea. Some days she dives four, five times. The time spent on the rocking boat is to get ready, wait out surface intervals, get some sustenance. She only heads back to shore as a way of guaranteeing her return to the ocean. On land people call her the Shark Girl. Some use fancier descriptions like Shark Dancer or Shark Whisperer. To her it’s all the same. It tells her what she already knew: that the sharks know her and the people don’t. The people talk about her with the fearful looks of

Cri s tina Zenato A profes sional di ver si nce 1994, Cri s ti na is an ocean and cave ex plorer, shark behaviori s t , photographer, speaker, wri ter and conser vationi s t, known for her speci al rel ationship wi th a group of local Caribbean Reef sharks and for her pas sion promoti ng the protec tion of all sharks in the wor ld . Cri s ti na was induc ted in the Women Di vers Hall of Fame, The Explorer s Cl ub and the Ocean Ar ti s ts Societ y and is a recipient of numerous awards and accol ades . AUTH The G fasci my p a lang and m But I supp the li hers. Nor c the l open It’s m great heart Soph May 2

HOR’ S NOTE Girl And The Shark is a work of fiction. It was born of my ination with the silent depths of the sea, its creatures, and passion for language. In this story I have tried to verbalize nguage that has no words, that lies behind the eyes, solemn mysterious. I could not have written this story without the generous port of Cristina Zenato, a girl who does exist, and who saved lives of many sharks. The red wooden box in this story is s. The sharks described, including their names, are hers. could I have written this story without the existence of larger community of shark conservationists whose work, nness and intelligence I’ve come to admire so much. my hope that this little story will help contribute to their at cause, which truly should be one that is close to all of our rts, as our very existence depends on it. hie van der Stap 2019

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