Dark Waters

As I gazed out over the still waters below, I felt the characteristic sensation of my knees beginning to knock.

It was supposedly heaven, this location. Soaring archipelagos rocketing from eerily still azure waters, a sky so blue it was practically bruised, a wooden boat, bobbing gently in the balmy breeze.

But it was hell, staring down at those waters. Staring from the high upper ledge of the boat, clinging to the side like a limpet clasping for dear life in a sea storm, and those knees knocking rhythmically; knock. Knock. Knock.

My husband eyed me in confusion, still clutching my hand, asking me silently, was I ready? Was I ready to let go? I shook my head, but my neck was frozen, eyes still fixed to beyond my rigid, curled up toes. No! I cried out in my head, but he didn't hear. He leant back, smiling, twinkling, pressing my hand firmly into the air in a pre-celebratory pose.

Then, without a backward glance, he was gone. Flying through the air, like a coiled, pale pink scarf, flailing, yelping, until he hit the surface with a smack. The cheers echoed off the rocks like thunderclaps and all eyes lurched upwards to me, still clutching, still trembling.

With a short, puffed out breath, I let go. All at once, the bottom fell out of my world. I screamed as the air screeched past my ears, tugging my hair, grabbing at my limbs like a child seizing a rag doll in a temper. I think I screamed, especially as I saw the side of the boat, impossibly close, barely inches from my bulging eyes. I think I died, briefly, flying through the skies like a plummeting acorn from a tree. All breath left me and I closed my eyes, dreaming briefly of a lifetime of experiences.

Then, rebirth. My body slammed into the darkness of the water, and I opened my mouth in wordless horror. The water flew in, I spat it out. Then surfaced, blinking, as the sun hit my forehead like a slap.

'You could have died!' my husband exclaimed, swimming beside me calmly, livid, yet amused. 'what were you doing? Why didn't you jump properly?'

I couldn't answer, not straight away. Instead, I laughed, quietly at first, then with growing hysteria. It was fear, but fear seemed suddenly so absurd, here in heaven. 'But I'm fine, aren't I?' I replied with bravado, clinging to his neck, clutching his stomach. 'I survived!'

In heaven, it is impossible to die, surely. But then I studied the rocks, those dark, brooding rocks, and thought, no. Even in heaven, there is death. Even in Halong Bay.

My smile faded.

L Banks

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