They didn’t argue, the fun had left their faces. As they all ceased moving the water stilled too, like it knew to dance would be inappropriate. The girls looked younger in their doubt but he was more intimidated by them now than ever, he could feel the milling in their heads as they wished for him to leave. It was all he could do, so he did.
He gave them a sad half smile. ‘It was nice talking to you.’ He turned and lifted himself out of the pool to stand, water rushing off him but the sound of it hitting the ground was too loud so he started walking immediately. Surprisingly, Dreadlocks called out, ‘Hey, what’s your name? I forgot.’ He looked back, brow narrowed in puzzlement. ‘What does it matter? It’s the least important thing to know about someone.’
‘But it’s your name’, returned Blue, ‘You carry it your entire life, it’s part of what defines you, eventually it encompasses your experiences. People who know you see memories when they hear your name.’
He shook his head. ‘It’s a label like any other. It’s doesn’t say where I’ve been, where I’m going. It doesn’t tell you what’s inside of me right now.’
The extra distance had opened them back up, and they seemed interested in him again.
‘What’s inside of you?’ asked Dreadlocks.
His mind was made up now though. ‘I’m not sure. That’s why I have to go. I need to find out.’
He commenced his track up the hill again, hurrying to his bike. He clipped his helmet and was quickly on the seat, pedalling once again. With little resistance he moved through the comfortable night air. A voice followed, one of the girls’, asking him to wait but it was too late.
The next sea pool along the coast waited in dead silence as he arrived. A children’s playground on the headland above was nothing but geometric shadows. It held no meaning without the bodies to traverse it. Settled in the calm night, the water of the pool looked bottomless. Normally when he rode he would have music in his ears and everything would take on some kind of significance. The music would show him that all the things he saw were important somehow; there was purpose to them, dignity within them, emotion to be found amongst them. Without it, the view appeared lifeless.
As before, he set his bike down and took the steps to the pool’s edge. Shirt off and tossed aside he sat down to put his feet in. Looking hard, he tried to make out the bottom but he couldn’t, just another unknown. For a long time, he did nothing except stare into the water, trying to process his thoughts. He was confused about a lot of things and no matter how hard he contemplated, no matter how long he remained unmoving his feelings would not be simplified. If he was being honest, he knew it would come to this all along. For a brief moment he thought the girls might change his path, but ultimately the presence inside was too strong. It was time to see what the future held. Nudging himself forward he slipped into the water, exhaling the air from his lungs as he did so.
Mostly he was hoping the first sign of struggle from his body would convince him to resurface.
For the entirety of his formative years he had been trying to figure out if the world had a place for him, or if he wanted one. At times he felt so alive it was like he was a part of the earth, occasionally he felt like he came close to understanding it all, the minds of the trees, the characters of the animals, the motivations of the weather. Other times, he just felt all the sadness in the world crush down on him. The helplessness and hopelessness of millions of people in every corner of every country seemed pointlessly cruel. And sometimes he simply felt lonely, even amidst a warm embrace.
Knowing what could be ahead of him if he found a way to get back up to the air, he was surprised when he didn’t start climbing. Instead he started to feel peaceful. Oxygen was in high demand but all he could think about was how quiet it was, how still, and how simple. There was nothing here to hurt, and nothing to be hurt. He guessed it was like the time before birth, when everything was out of his control. It seemed somewhat of a solution. Suspended there, eyes closed, he could have been in space.
Just as he was ready to let go, a thought nagged at him. He wasn’t in space or the womb or any other place of isolation. He was drowning to death in an ocean pool, and in death he wouldn’t be blissfully alone either. He’d be another number without the ability to do anything. He could help no one, like the millions of helpless souls he’d be joining. Alive, he could at least have the chance to change. Perspective is one thing that can always be altered.
Up there somewhere were people who hadn’t been born yet that could be his family, up there were places of natural beauty that he could visit, up there were songs he could hear, stories he could read and watch, food he could taste, textures he could feel.
He forced his eyes open but was struggling to make his arms and legs move. Starving desperately for air, he had no idea how long he’d been under. No, everything was hurting. The pain in his chest was excruciating, he couldn’t think straight, his brain was bursting trying to make him breathe in, but that would be the end. No, no, just like most other choices he’d made this one was a mistake but he couldn’t fight it off now. He let the real darkness come just as commotion roiled the water above him.
He woke up coughing violently, water coming out of his mouth. He could feel grass under his back and unintelligible voices talking to him. Collapsing his head back to the ground he slowly allowed his vision to clear as his chest heaved. There was a light, from a phone or a torch, moving around. Soon, he could see Dreadlocks and Blue knelt either side of him, concerned. Something was still keeping him from interpreting them properly and he noticed another figure. Next to Dreadlocks stood a black Labrador. This time though it didn’t scare him, he didn’t want to run away. He lifted his hand, noting the animals kind eyes, and the dog bent and gave it a lick. Then it turned and wandered off, perhaps back home.
He finally managed to focus his gaze on Dreadlocks and Blue and smiled self-consciously. A boy embarrassed in the company of beautiful women.