by Nina Busteed
“Found them!” I yelled, my voice bouncing across the mudflats and into the big blue sky.
“Crabs?” dad responded, his sunnies sparkling in my direction from about a hundred metres away.
There had to be thousands of them; tiny, ten-legged blurs of blue, white and yellow. Soldier crabs! Small troupes sprinted in every direction. It looked like the brown sand was shifting. What was a vast, desolate coast of mud before, was now a kaleidoscope contracting and swelling before my eyes. The previous silence, other than intermittent bird calls, became an oscillation of moist scuttering on the sand.
I gazed at their seamless synchronicity. In their bands of hundreds, the tiny ones marched no slower than the adult ones. They seemed to step at the same time as each other, and they were so weightless a species that none of them left any trace at all. I stepped cautiously so as not to injure any already beneath me. Baffled and bashful, I laughed silently within myself. I screamed silently too, up at the sun – are you seeing this? I wondered what the age difference between the big ones and the little ones was. I wondered if they wondered that about themselves.
I decided to follow them. I kept a safe distance. I concerned myself with being light-footed across the brown, squelching ground. I didn’t want to falsely alert the crabs I was a predator. Stupid girl for shouting so loud. What a dingus.
They knew I was there. All at once, their numbers shrivelled down, down, down into the mud. Any that were close to me before vanished, leaving little balls of murky mush as evidence. The more I tip-toed in one direction, the less crawlers remained there – an orchestra of determined diggers.
I chuckled at the fierceness of the larger, tougher soldier crabs. Whilst their counterparts decided to swiftly sink below the surface and hide themselves, these subjects in question rose their claws higher, as if to say, ‘fight me, human!’
I stopped moving. The mud glistened on my feet. The scuttering had stopped. The air was quiet again. Had I forgotten to breathe? How fascinating to be so small an animal and make such a sensational impact on a mere passer-by. I inhaled the moment; the salt, the sand, the sea and the short-tailed crawling crustaceans. My mind was emptied of all thoughts and worries and replaced with a gratitude for this casual magic. I was surrounded by so many little lives.
The minutes passed me by. The sun burned the back of my neck and the breeze moved around me, inviting bumps on the skin of my arms and tugging my shorts. I saw my sister and father over my right shoulder, scavenging yabbies with a silver pump, their words reaching me in broken syllables. Hundreds of metres past them was where the shallow water began. Low tide. Ephemeral bliss.
One…two…three. They were returning to the surface. Off in the distance, and closer to me too. One medium-sized crab passed right over my left foot, anointing me with fresh dollops of grainy mud. Did they know I was still here? I felt apprehensive about moving and stayed rooted to the earth. Maybe they thought I had left. I would be betraying them to suddenly generate what no-doubt feels like an earthquake to their little bodies.
There had to be thousands of them; tiny, ten-legged blurs of blue, white and yellow. If they knew I was still among them, they did not care. Armies of them began voyaging in all directions across the vast mud plains. With resolve, I endeavoured not to catch up to them, but to witness their crawling glory. I was not the protagonist of this story. I was a side character, with one or two lines perhaps, observing from afar.
How fascinating to be so small an animal and make such a sensational impact on a mere passer-by.