The gentle breeze that greeted them the day before like a childhood friend’s caress had transformed overnight to an old warrior’s booming voice. The girl released the last knot from her sash as the wind picked up again, sticking the wet sarong on her legs and whipping the long hair to her face. In the grey-gold sunrise the waves below looked like mercury. Sprays of foam flew all the way up the cliff, where she was standing, landing at her feet and putting away the candles from the night before one by one.
She had stayed up with the full moon, sitting away from the others and their noisy laughing talk as the hours grew longer, the air colder and the sea wilder.
With a hysterical laugh she took a few steps forward and jumped in the water.
The water had been inky black and, even with the moon shining above, they had nearly lost the shore as they tried to swim out.
A deep breath bringing air to salt-burnt lungs. Another wave dragging her to its embrace. The current taking her by the hand, leading her in an intricate dance, now waltzing towards the ocean, the next moment back to the shore. The rapidly rising sun burning overhead, changing the water surrounding her from nearly silver to foggy grey and blue. Another large wave and then the silence –blessed silence- of the underwater. Darkness behind closed eyelids, blood pumping against eardrums, pressure building against the temples.
She had lain on the pebbled shore and named the constellations that were still visible, the stars going brighter with each breath held a little longer, until she was racing amongst them and she had to remind her body to breath, counting inhales and exhales, one-two, one-two, one-two.
Her body was left to move with the water currents, while she floated above it, flying with the wind until the need to exhale became too strong and she slammed back inside the heavy, heavy body, crawled to the shore, even as the waves pulled her legs back in like an insistent lover.
He had come to sit next to her, the touch of his hand too warm, sticking to her skin. Her breaths were heavy, doubly now that he was close, and she pushed him away violently, ignoring the surprised words from the others.
Lightheaded and giddy she let another stilted laugh escape her lips before standing on shaky legs and moving to the water again. The winds that she dreamed of never lasted enough, not hardly enough to drive the maddening pressure of people and their thoughts…
Voices disjointed as they reached her ears, too many different words crashing against one another and why can’t they just be QUIET for one moment?
…against her mind. Another deep breath and she dove under again for just one more minute of peace…one and a half…two…before the burning became painful and she burst out of the water, in front of the wave, swallowing water instead of air.
She had burnt her finger whilst lightning the candles, trying to save the battery on their phones just in case, because of course they’d remember to bring drinks but a flashlight had been too much to hope for.
This time it took longer to resurface and by the time she is on dry ground again they are all there to berate and ask and even as she coughed the last of the sea from her lungs and tried to fill them with air (when did breathing become a chore?) the ever-present pressure is back. So much noise and how can anyone understand anything, answer anything, when voices and faces blur in a mess that is not the fault of an oxygen-starved brain.
In the semi-darkness the ground had seemed so inviting, the faces, drawn with sharper lines from the yellow-orange light, friendlier somehow. It was an illusion, as much as her race with the constellations but she had allowed herself to believe it, if only for a few moments, before the noisy talk had started again.
What were you thinking? Are you alright? Do you need some water? (I just drank a wave-full, I think I’m all set.) Did you get dizzy? That wave was huge! How could you miss it? It’s too windy, we shouldn’t have stayed.
What’s wrong with you tonight? Can’t you have fun? Why were you carrying matches anyway? What else do you have in that bag? Did you bring any water bottles? We’re nearly out of drinks? Did anyone bring food? Where’s my phone? Where’s my shoes? Is that a shooting star? Quick! Make a wish!
Even as she dragged herself to her bag and picked her things from the ground her eyes kept returning longingly to the waves. She could hear them whisper invitingly, and though she followed the others back to the house, well, wouldn’t it have been better if she had stayed under, in all the peace and quiet?