Drifting out slowly into the ocean away from the two lilting speedboats, she looked around. A little girl on the boat cried, “Look there it is.”
Everyone turned to look in the direction of her little finger. So did Chan in the water. But there was calm in the steely blue waters. It was so still—a solid mass of tragic proportions.
Chan knew that if the girl had indeed spotted something—be it a whale or a shark or just a huge fish—she would not be able to swim back to the boat in time.
The pull of the water, the weight of the backpack and her denim jeans, any of those could sink her. Even her track shoes were on and they were not going to be of any help in swimming.
It seemed as if time had stood still. People in the boats momentarily forgot about hauling Chan back into safety. Chan, with the backpack on, swirled around, treading the cool waters, waiting.
Like a gentle emboss, the still water came to life. Wide and round. Blooming blue. Creeping.
Loud exclamations! Chan couldn’t tell what was said. She looked on. The swirl of water was in the distance. Then it seemed as if it was headed right towards her. There was no escape. No swimming away. Chan could only drift on.
A few seconds later, the blue swirl disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. A wave of relief—or disappointment—swept over the people on the boat. Calm returned. They remembered Chan in the water.
Chan knew that whatever it was that was headed in her direction could not have altered the course so fast.
In her tightly strapped backpack were clothes, a digital camera, lip-gloss, sun-block, a Visa, some pesos, a hotel keycard and a Nokia—these did not come to her mind the way they did two nights ago when she packed them carefully, taking only what she needed for this trip. She couldn’t recall how she had come to be in the water with her clothes, shoes and bag on.
Perhaps she was eager to enter the water the very minute the boat had stopped for the snorkellers to jump off. Perhaps she was tired of human beings. Perhaps she longed for another being.
In the water, she could not unstrap the backpack. She did not even contemplate wading back to the boat.
I might not return.
What happened next? Read the rest of this short story when She Never Looks Quite Back by Mallika Naguran is out.