11. The man who fell from the sky

This post is the eleventh in a series which starts HERE.

(June 1997)

The normally taut rope between the boat and the parasail goes slack and a heavy Englishman plummets out of the sky. He crashes onto a wooden parasol then hits the sand with a thud and a yell.


Samir, Gilben and I race to see if he’s okay. Hussain is standing in the now stationary boat, about 40 meters out at sea, waving his arms and pointing at the outboard motor. A piece of heavy-duty plastic, one of many that float around the Med, has become snarled in the propeller. This happens regularly and is unavoidable, but normally the customer falls slowly into the sea behind the boat. It’s still an unpleasant experience, because the parasail will land on their head, but they are wearing a life jacket and Hussain hauls them out pretty quickly. Such are the hazards of parasailing (there are also the giant stinging jellyfish, but more on them another time). [*footnote]

In addition to the boat stopping, this man had three pieces of additional bad luck. He was over the sun loungers heading for the landing zone on the beach when it happened; the wind that was helping to keep the parasail aloft dropped at that moment and he was an exceedingly rotund gentleman. We should not have accepted him as a customer but it’s tricky to turn someone down because they’re too fat. Lesson learnt.

A crowd gathers around the man on the ground. He’s conscious at least. I push towards him and ask everyone to stand back. I’m ignored. There’s much chattering in many languages as tourists and Tunisians discuss the man’s predicament.

‘Can you get up?’ I ask him.

‘Don’t move him!’ someone shouts. ‘He might have broken his back.’

I feel panic; I don’t know any first aid. ‘Go and organise an ambulance,’ I say to Samir and he disappears towards the hotel.

The man grasps my hand. ‘I’m okay. I think I can stand up.’

‘Don’t move!’ shouts a German woman, who kneels beside him. ‘Wait for the ambulance.’

‘Surely if he can get up himself, then he’s okay?’ I ask.

‘He mustn’t move,’ she insisted.

‘Where’s my wife? he asks and I see her sitting on a lounger not far away, three young children beside her.

I approach her. ‘I’m so sorry about this.’

She shrugs. ‘I told him not to go up in that stupid thing. Now I’m stuck on my own with the kids. I can’t come to the hospital – will you let me know what happens to him?’ She told me the name of the hotel and her room number and left without speaking to her husband.

It takes a whole hour for the ambulance to arrive. The crowd has dispersed; it became boring listening to the man saying he was fine and the German woman telling him to stay put. He’s eventually stretchered off the beach and taken to a private clinic. Jenny (the Scottish lady who was renting me the base for the season) has arrived and we follow the ambulance, then hang around the hospital for over an hour while they fuss about insurance and identity – the poor man is in his swimming trunks and has no paperwork.

Phone calls are made and a travel rep appears to vouch for him. X-rays and examinations are undertaken and the conclusion is there’s nothing wrong with him except being stiff from lying on his back on the beach for over an hour…

But the man’s ordeal is not over yet; the police have arrived and want a statement.  They want to know if he plans to take action against the base (me). Great. The man says he just wants to get back to his hotel but they insist on taking him – still in his swimming trunks – to the police station to make a statement. Jenny and I are told to follow, or else.

It’s chilly inside the station, and the man is shivering, so Jenny gives him a towel to put round his shoulders. The poor guy doesn’t even have shoes on and he’s getting pretty annoyed with the police so, thankfully, they give up trying to persuade him to sue.

Jenny and I drive him back to his hotel and apologise profusely for all the trouble. The sound of young children wailing is audible when his angry wife opens the hotel door; his troubles are not over yet I suspect.

What a day! I’ve missed lunch and it’s almost dinner time. Samir and I go to a tiny local restaurant with rickety aluminium chairs and tables to discuss the dangers of the parasail. In retrospect this conversation haunts me because falling from the parasail is what will kill Samir in less than three years’ time.

But the future is still a hazy unknown as we tuck into Tunisia’s most popular meal: spicy lamb with couscous. The man who runs the restaurant cooks one dish per day to feed men who are working away from home. Sometimes the dishes make me boggle in horror – half a sheep’s head on a plate was the most startling – but they’re mainly delicious, and I’ve been learning to cook some of them.


Next: The day I skinned a rabbit

[*] these days parasails mostly take off from and land on a platform out at sea, with a mechanised winch to reel them back in again.

If you enjoy these blog posts, you might want to consider my debut novel, Daughter, Disappeared, a hard-hitting ‘women in jeopardy’ thriller, set in Tunisia. Please read the reviews on Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2eCnZRf. Or to purchase on Amazon.com, for those in USA/Canada: http://amzn.to/2ozbGe8.Bespoke book cover art example from coverness.com

There’s also my facebook page: Fiona MacBain – Writer – thank you!

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