Girl in snorkeling mask dive underwater with coral reef fishes

The girl in the plastic mask
by Maria Nestorides

The plastic strap snaps into place onto the back of my head and I adjust the tension, so it fits comfortably. The glass on the front of the mask is a little hazy but the thought barely registers because my heart hammers, and I’m not sure whether it’s from exhilaration or fear. I adjust the snorkel so it’s pointing straight up like I’ve been taught, and survey the shimmering surface of the ocean, the water lapping around me in a welcoming caress. The slight scent of rubber and the pressure of the mask on my nose and around my eyes are new and strange.

I take my time and slowly submerge myself, then push downwards towards the seabed. Sunlight leaks through the ocean’s surface. I kick the water with my feet once, twice, propelling myself forward and, just like that, I find myself in a surreal, silent kingdom that hustles and bustles like a busy high street, one without any sound, like an old silent movie. The only thing I can hear is the amplified sound of my rhythmic breathing through the snorkel. Vibrant, brightly coloured marine creatures swim by, oblivious to my presence. I’m a visitor in their world but they allow me to witness their everydayness like I’m a part of it. Schools of yellow- and blue-striped fish move languorously through brightly coloured corals, and shadowy, slithering, sinister-looking eels slink by.

My flippers guide me through every nook and cranny of this underwater paradise, and I don’t leave until the skin on my fingertips has wrinkled like prunes and the mask has left an angry red mark around my eyes and nose. As I slosh through the shallow water towards the shore I look back wistfully. I promise myself I will be back. I will be back soon.

Photo by dmosreg (

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I was about twelve and living in Khor Fakkan (in the United Arab Emirates), a friend of the family offered to teach my sister and me to snorkel. This short piece is my first attempt to describe how that felt.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maria Nestorides lives in sunny Cyprus with her husband. She has two adult children. She received an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in 2011. Her short stories have appeared on The Story Shack, Inkitt, Red Fez, and Silver Birch Press. She also contributed a six-word memoir to the book Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure, by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser (Jan 6, 2009). Find her on Facebook and Twitter.