After a wet and misty morning, the cloud finally broke and bright Basque sunshine lit the coast. This was what brought people here, the vast sweeping white beaches that ran on forever. The whole of the country could be here and it would not be crowded.
We walked to the beach. Massive Atlantic waves pounded the sand, making a spectacular scene and a dangerous place. Red flags and large notices forbade bathing; only a fool would endanger their life by going into that water.
We walked a couple of miles to the south. Small knots of people were dotted here and there; enjoying the sunshine; flying kites; playing beach tennis or football or frisbee. The change in the weather had brought a mood of merriment.
As we turned back and headed north, a gathering of a dozen or so people stood at the water’s edge. Passing by, there seemed no urgency, but minutes later waving began and two young boys went running towards the distant lifeguard station; hundreds of people were now standing and watching.
“Didn’t you see? Someone was swimming; now they have disappeared”.
A few more minutes passed before a battered old pickup came down the beach carrying three lifeguards on the back. People at the water’s edge pointed to where they had last seen the swimmer. The lifeguards dived into the terrifying surf, but the man had now been under the water for so long, it seemed a grim task.
One half of the beach stood and watched; the other half continued its recreation. “Come on”, I said, “I’ve seen enough bodies in my time.”
We reached the road as vehicles with flashing blue lights arrived; fifteen minutes later, there was the dull thud of helicopter blades. By last night a cluster of police cars marked the search for a nineteen year old who had come on holiday and ignored the warnings.
The beach was dotted with evening strollers, fishermen and kite fliers. Were it not for the headline in this morning’s local paper, no-one would have known that a life had ended on that stretch of sand that afternoon. The body remained unfound according to the report.
Have we become so inured to television tragedy, to phoney deaths in phoney soaps and to real deaths on real news channels, that the pointless loss of a young man on a fine August day is not even sufficient to disrupt an afternoon’s activities?