I wonder what it would be like to meet a blue whale.
To actually talk to one.
How would the conversation start?
Would I introduce myself first?
I think a formal introduction would be expected, after all this would be a very unusual encounter.
I’d like to think he’d have an impressive name, perhaps after a Greek God, something like Phantasos maybe. Eric or Dave wouldn’t feel right.
The incalculable size of the beast! I would think.
I thought blue whales were blue, I’d say tentatively.
‘We’re blue underwater,’ he’d reply. ‘We’re actually grey like a stormy sky.’
Then I’d realise where we were, and where we were wouldn’t be anywhere at all. After all, I’d be speaking to a blue whale and that’s not possible.
He’d tell me about his pod. I’d whip out my iPhone and show him a selfie with my family.
He would tell me about migration patterns.
He’d say he is a North Atlantic whale and currently on the way back down to the equator.
Whales like him live to eighty, sometimes longer, he’d tell me.
That’s funny, I would say, humans do too.
He’d say he was nearing thirty-three. That’s my age too!
‘Our numbers are increasing,’ he’d say. Ours are too!
‘That’s part of the problem,’ he’d say. ‘All that plastic’.
I would feel sad. And guilty. I’m sorry, I would say, thinking about my own recycling habits. I know the oceans aren’t as clean as they used to be.
Would I have the right to speak for my fellow humans?
He’d gently nudge me with his huge barnacled rubber gums.
‘Don’t despair,’ he’d say.
If it were possible to feel even smaller in front of a blue whale, then I would.
‘Your species is not a cruel one. It’s still learning,’ he’d say.
Learning? I would ask.
‘Yes, we’ve been here longer than you have. We know everything about you. We know you can still do better.’
I thought hope was the most human of qualities.
How do you know that? I’d ask.
‘We just know.’
The wise Phantasos would lower a pectoral fin, inviting me to climb aboard.
I would find a groove in that mottled skin and steady myself like a surfer. Then I’d leap on to his body which would feel like trying to climb up the back of a bouncy castle.
Suddenly I’d be that child in the NeverEnding Story.
He’d take me down to into the depths of the ocean where he feeds and show me secret things that only whales see. We’d swim against the currents and race pelicans. Colours I didn’t know existed would swirl around us like spinning orbs.
I need to go home now, I’d say.
‘Let me take you back,’ he’d say. ‘But before you go, answer this.’
I would have my legs crossed like an attentive child in assembly.
‘What would you say has been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt today?’
I would pause. Then reflect. He’d look at me with one of his basketball eyes.
I’d say: Well, Phantasos, I’ve learnt what it means to be a man.
Suddenly, I would be at my desk where there is no blue whale.
My eyes would catch a family photograph in thick silver frame. There in the centre is the frail figure of an ancient man whose contoured skin counts the decades. I notice he’s staring back at me. My grandfather always wore a gigantic smile.
Some years ago, in what now seems an impossibly pre-internet age, I was commissioned to write a guidebook to Vienna. I knew the city well,