Buoyancy

Finalist in the 'The Inside Story 2020' competition

The water was crystal blue, fish shimmered amongst the sand. The beach was blanketed in warmth, sunlight seeped through the water’s surface creating a fizzling mist. For mere seconds ignorance lingered in the air as friends lay back in the water, diving under, laughing and floating about. People stood up their feet sinking into the soft sand as the water lapped at their thighs. At first only a few saw it. His head was down, then up and then down again. His limp limbs splayed out by his sides, he lay face down, drifting with the current. Then everyone saw, people pointed, wailed and ran as he continued to sink. People frantically swarmed, as they held onto one another, clambering out of the water.

Only moments before he had been blissfully swimming in the ocean. Underneath the water he opened his eyes, his vision clouded by salt. He could hear the muffled echoes of children shrieking and laughing. At first he felt his chest straining, and then it grew as if bluebottles had wrapped themselves around his heart. The pain consumed him and panic flooded him like a burst gushing pipe, dread weighing him down. Out of control he furiously tried to wave his arms and legs yet he was solidified like a statue. Unable to tell whether he was breathing in or out, he took a breath. The water filled his mouth, then his lungs and then his head was filled with black. Submerged for the final time, he had been swallowed by the sea.

For seconds which dragged on for years, everyone looked on motionless and speechless. The sun’s glare stung everyone's eyes and tightened their skin. Four men stood around the body, each a construction pillar holding together a crumbling building. Their hearts throbbed and rose up their throats. He was moved up the beach, the men kneeling by his side as they drained the water from his lungs and took turns to compress on his chest. Above a helicopter circled, emitting a grumbling hum over the scene like a fly hovering over a corpse. The paramedics arrived swiftly moving around the man, untangling tubes and listening for beeps. His skin had turned grey, and it felt as if the sky had as well. As he was lifted onto a stretcher an oxygen mask was sealed over his lips. The men trudged away from the scene, every stride of confidence replaced with despondency. As the ambulance drove away people huddled like penguins, their eyes turning puffy and their cheeks red.

Kids with pudgy cheeks and sticky fingers retreated back behind their parents sand coated legs. Wool had surrounded all the people in the water and on the sand like a scarf in summer. The beach was suffocating, all vibrancy, innocence and optimism obliviated. Regret and repeating questions weighed as heavily as shipwrecked anchors. Yet the haunting buzz of summer cicadas continued, accompanied by the gentle rhythm of the reliable, rippling waves.

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