by Hristo Boev
The man stood up and looked straight ahead. The sea lay behind the figures of the few men and women who had preferred the early morning beach to a late rise that day. He was aiming for the far buoy, which marked the boundary of the bay, but telling this to his wife was going to be no easy matter. She was afraid that something bad could happen to him if he ventured swimming farther out. The timing, however, was nearly perfect: there were just a few people in the water, it was nine o’clock in the morning, which meant that the water was going to be cold and he would be able to swim faster, but first and foremost, the motorboat had not started its daily cruising in a dangerously close vicinity to the buoy, yet.
“Where are you going?” she asked and looked up from her book “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers.
“I’m going for a swim,” he said, “I might go just a bit out as the motorboat hasn't left yet.”
“Please don’t,” she said, her face entreating him to stay.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. I won’t be going far.”
“You won’t be long, will you?” she asked looking him straight in the eyes.
“Everything will be fine… I’m telling you.”
“Think about us, Mariya and me” she said, her eyes pleading with him.
What nonsense, he thought, I’m always thinking of them. Couldn’t they understand that a bit out didn’t mean a kilometer out, it was just going to be to the edge of the bay.
Fearing she could stop him if he stayed any longer, he turned his back to her and rushed for the water. He was wasting precious time. The motorboat could be starting any time now with the influx of new people on the beach. Indeed, he had to hurry up. He ran to the breaking waves on the beach covering a mosaic of broken clam shells. He carefully waded into the cold water as he wanted to avoid cutting himself on them. The water felt a bit colder than he had expected but this was only normal after last night’s storm had wreaked havoc on the small sea resort. The only way to enter such water is with full submersion of the body. The sudden cold can be dealt with within seconds. With these thoughts in mind he put on his goggles, took a deep breath and plunged forward. Cold waves instantly enwrapped his entire body covering it with goose bumps, his face feeling instant pain from the sharp coldness of the sea.
Once in the water, a green forest of seaweed instantly unfolded before his eyes undulating slowly with the stately motion of the waves. He glided over them feeling as though he was on a plane cutting low on the green forest. He had decided to swim only breaststroke to the buoy. He was going to be able to keep his strength that way and would be able to enjoy the panorama below him. Having passed the forest, he realized he had not seen the common dwellers of such habitats. The little fish might be a little farther out. A couple of strokes more and he found himself next to the first buoy. The depth there was around a meter and a half and he knew that very well. Wasting no time he went on as there was still a long way to the distant buoy. Also, he would have to listen to the nerve-wrecking constant buzz of the motorboat. If it went out he would have to come back immediately. He breathed in and slid forward, breathing out under the water, the only sound he could hear being that of the bubbles coming out of his mouth. The motorboat was apparently still waiting for clients and that gave him good chances for success.
The next moment he saw them. The small fish. They blinded him momentarily reflecting the sunlight of the strong July sun like a huge piece of mica and darted sideways so he could pass. He smiled to himself appreciating their courtesy and made more powerful strokes forward. Gradually the seaweed disappeared; bigger fish began to be seen, goby most likely, as far as he could tell and the sand underneath turned into miniature dunes formed by the perpetual motion of the waves back and forth. He swam ever onward with a steady relatively fast pace and soon felt that his left leg seemed to be slightly cramped. That was normal, too. It might be that he pushed harder with it. For an instant he thought that even if one of his legs got cramped, he should have no problems making it back to the shore. As he newly came up the surface he looked at his goal. It called him ever so distant and he put all his might into the forward motion to it. Suddenly he remembered what his wife had said on the beach and smiled to himself again. He really should speed it up or she might be worried and that was the last thing he wanted her to feel.
He could still see the sand bottom ever so clearly although where he was it was probably three meters deep. It crossed his mind that the sea was incredibly clean so far down south. As he swam, though, he suddenly felt a colder layer of water cut through him like a knife. Last night’s storm had done its work well shuffling the water layers in an unpredictable way. He worked harder with his arms and legs, the sea massaging his body and giving him new strength. Up and down, up and down, with each complete stroke he could feel he was gaining distance to the coveted spot.
The buoy stood closer now. He paused for a second, turned around and looked at the beach. It stretched out long and distant and the parasols looked like small toy umbrellas ridiculously stuck in the sand. He felt invigorated being near his so desired goal. Very soon he was going to be there. He was savoring success, the water element was going to be conquered once more and once more he was going to prove himself to himself, mission accomplished. This was his one and only chance to do so as they were going back home the same day.
He stepped up the tempo as he inhaled and exhaled faster leaving the bottom deeper down, still as crystal clear as ever with the last grain of sand visible to the eye. There were no more than ten meters to the buoy when the sea bottom suddenly vanished from his view. He inadvertently stopped and peered through his goggles into the blackness below. What had happened? Perhaps a new swath of seaweed, or he might have reached the depth of ten meters where the bottom would not be seen even in a clear sea like this. He took a deep breath and lurched forward. Now he wanted to get to the buoy as fast as possible and go back right away. He could not figure out why the fact that he could not see the bottom had affected him in such a manner. There were hardly three meters to the buoy now when all of a sudden his heart began beating fast and strong in his chest. He stopped bewildered and tense. There was no time to think about why this was happening as his heart pounded painfully in his chest against the thick layers of sea all around him. He felt his face cramped, this being accompanied by two hands which grabbed him by the throat and held him tight. He frantically turned around and looked at the shore.
It loomed distant and hazy. The people, small as Lilliputians, crawled on it among some pins, which had to be the parasols. The sun shone hard in the sky beating down on him and there was not a single cloud there. He felt he was suffocating and his heart was beating faster and faster. If he waved for help, they would not see him. Even if they interpreted this as a call for help it would be too late for them to come to the rescue. If he cried out, they would not hear him. The distance between him and them was too big and over all lay the sea with its thousands of sounds muffling his feeble attempts to break free. He then decided to lie on his back to calm himself down, but this only resulted in his heart beating even faster and more painfully. He thought it would burst at any moment now. Suddenly it dawned on him that he was going to die there, a few meters away from his nemesis-desire on a bright sunny day and the world was going to go on in its course – indifferent and happy without him. Happy with the exception of his wife and daughter.
This thought brought him with full force back to reality. There was no one to help him but himself at this moment. He turned on his chest and made for the shore. The bottom was an unfathomable black hole, which seemed to reach out for his beating heart to suck it in and silence it for ever. He closed his eyes and slid forward again. He felt he was making a progress despite all odds and as he swam towards the shore with his eyes closed he could be bothered no more by the black hole gaping open wide for him below. He plodded onward breathing in and out at regular intervals. If nothing else, he was coming close to the shore where she was waiting for him. His will power seemed to be giving fruit now. He was shortening the distance to the shore and each wave behind him propelled him forward. His heart lessened its frantic pace but still beat strong in his chest. The shore was definitely coming near now. He looked through his goggles and saw the bottom anew, still so clear and shiny with sun shadows chasing one another. He smiled and thought: it’s not gonna be today, thanks God. There would be more life for him and he was going to be part of the bright sunny day once more.
He was going to come ashore and the mission would be almost done. Soon he came near the first buoy and the seaweed. This time he looked at them as if he were a part of them, as if they were where he belonged. And indeed, he had come from a stroll in the green forests of the sea where he might have stayed for good.
He stepped on the beach slightly reeling and feeling faint. He walked slowly to his wife who was sitting on her towel, her book put aside.
“It seems to me you went really far,” an intense look on her face.
“Yes, he said slumping on his towel. He felt weak but his heart beat strong and steady.
“Did something happen?” she asked.
“Just a little stroll a bit farther out,” he said, “I said goodbye to the sea, for now.”
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