We will make it
‘Over here!’ Michael whispered from behind the thick bush, nursing a deep cut in his lower abdomen.
I scampered towards the bush, gasping with both hunger and thirst, not to mention the agonizing pain of cramp in my shoulder. Back packs hung from my paralyzed back, bruises covered the whole of my body, and worst of all, I was in the midst of nowhere on a dark Saturday night.
There was one light in the tunnel of disappointment though, I was not alone. I had Michael with me. But right then, he was not the Michael I knew. He was bruised, tired and the lines on his forehead remained crippled due to the growing sense of panic we were in.
I took out a towel from my back pack and placed it on Michael’s wound, which was now bleeding at the rate of knots. The cut was deep, and its impression on Michael’s face was intense too. I tried to wonder what would be our plans for survival if his injury got too fatal, but I preferred to keep my mind away from words like ‘injury’, ‘fatal’ and ‘survival’ for the time being. All I had in mind was to have Michael back on his feet and limp with me to the other end of the woods, where we could hopefully arrange for some transport assurance to the nearest town.
‘How did we even reach here,’ I kept asking myself.
Who would have thought a vacation to Waterbury would be scheduled to have such an unfortunate stop in the middle of no-man’s land. Few hours back in the day, all we thought of were the evening walks along the Naugatuck River and a bottle of beer in a Hotel Elton suite, but right then, the irrepressible flow of blood from Michael’s wound made the idea of an evening walk quite impossible.
I took out the last bottle of water from my bag and poured it gently over Michael’s bruise, afraid that the broken iron piece was still somewhere inside his exterminated flesh.
‘How could you not see an iron rod with a torch in your hand,’ I cursed, silently dabbing the towel over the wound.
‘How could I? I was too busy saving your ass from stepping on a sleeping snake,’ said Michael, sarcastically, but cheerfully.
I smiled at him, and saw him smiling back in the dim light of the torch.
‘How is it,’ I asked, not at all expecting a positive answer from what I could make out.
‘Its healing, but the cut’s quite deep. I almost felt the iron wire saying hello to my intestines,’ he said, still smiling.
‘Hey, could you a take a look around this place, see if it can be a good refuge for sometime?’
‘Are you planning to have a nap in here?’ I asked, flabbergasted by the tone of casualty in his voice.
‘Yes, or I can wait till you make me a bed out of the trees and heather, your choice,’ he said, hands resting on his head, his sly eyes waiting to condemn my panicked reply.
Michael was always the guy with a good sense of humor. He knew how to smile in every adversity. I hadn’t seen him change a bit since we first met in the games room of our school. Being best buddies with him had always been a treat, except for the very moment that brought blood gushing out of his wound after every five minutes. I took a closer look at his stomach, desperately hoping that the rusted iron piece hadn’t spread an infection.
‘Be right here, I’ll see if we are any closer to the stream,’ I said, throwing a jacket around me and walking towards the light from the torch.
I started walking, forcing my way past broken branches and dead leaves, startled every now and then by a distant hoot of an owl. The dense canopy looked denser as the night grew dark, as if filming a perfect horror scene. I had not a slight idea of our coordinates and the cell phones had become dormant due to the unavailability of a detectable network. All I could tell was that we were about 5 miles from the Highway Motel in Connecticut, the place where we left from before we had the most unfortunate car accident of our lives.
It all flashed in front of my eyes as I walked deeper into the woods. It had been so long since we planned this vacation, just the two of us, just like old times, times when we had plenty of moments to spare, times when all we did was to enjoy each other’s unselfish company, times when the world pointed at us to exemplify a successful friendship, times which were now long lost, but were there once.
I jumped over another hanging branch and landed on a heap of dry twigs with a loud screech. I kept walking.
I thought of the day when the telephone at my office desk rang a few days back and I heard Michael on the other end. It was so refreshing to hear his cheerful voice in the cacophony of a thousand professional orders I took everyday. After exchanging a myriad number of calls, we planned what sounded like the most awaited trip of our lives, Connecticut to Waterbury.
We did not take the trouble to invite friends or family, it just had to be me and Michael. The very next thing we did was to pack as little luggage as possible and set off in my Opel, exploring the euphoric countryside as much as we could. We were ecstatic, anything to take our screwed minds off the soporific office schedule.
The forest grew thicker with each step now.
I thought of the long and hot driving hours from Connecticut and towards the highway, the loud music of the stereo rung in my ears like it was still playing somewhere. Life was easy, with the soft breeze blowing and Michael’s hilarious jokes, not to mention the sortilege of road-trip bonding, which tied the many loose ends of our friendship. All was good until we started playing this stupid game of zilch dog. The rules went like every time you saw a dog, you had to shout ‘zilch dog’. The player with the highest score won. It was Michael’s idea, and though it sounded very stupid to me, I gave in, curious to invade the diversion of stupidity. But I didn’t know how soon I was to regret it.
My feet hit wet ground, engulfing some part of my shoes into it. I lifted my legs carefully, afraid not to step on a puddle of mud. The trees had started to give way, and I could already see an open space a few meters away. I kept walking.
Hadn’t there been an old couple with a spaniel at the sideline of the road, none of this would have ever happened. But destiny had it all planned for us.
The evening got boring with nothing else to do but keep driving. It had been an hour or two since we saw a dog and apparently, Michael had forgotten all about the game. But I hadn’t. I saw a tiny spaniel crouching underneath the skirts of an old lady, who walked along with her husband on the footpath. I shouted ‘zilch dog’ at the top of my voice, shaking Michael’s hand out of the steering wheel in excitement. He lost control and the car took a steep turn towards the left. The wheels skidded along the road and hit a stationary line-runner on the other side. The car didn’t stop till it hit the sidebars with an agonizing momentum and rolled down the slope deep into the woods. It halted after hitting the heart of a tree trunk, damaging the engine cabinet completely. Wounded and partly unconscious, I somehow managed to get Michael and the back-packs out of the wreck and slumped on the ground like a dead corpse. The sun went deeper into the horizon and the blinding darkness bigoted any and all chances of finding our way back to the highway. And there we were since then, running around in the darkness like two affrighted rabbits. The attempt of walking towards the highway had led us deeper into the woods. Waterbury was far, far away. For the moment, we only hoped to make it through the night.
I came out of the wide opening in the thick mesh of branches and the overlaying sight ran a tickle of hope inside me. There was a river, flowing to the other side of the thick forest. The dim light of the moon shone on the surface of water, giving it the appearance of illuminated silk. I could see very little and only hear the rush of flowing water, but my recitation told me that if we somehow managed to swim to the other end, we could probably get to the nearest village and call for help.
I ceaselessly wanted to slide down and have a little splash in the cool river water, but the thought of Michael whimpering in pain constrained my venture for the night. I had come too far, recollecting my memories of the evening, and the fear of consequences had started to haunt me like a phantom of doom. I needed to get back to my best friend, not because he needed me, but because I needed him to be around me, ease away the occasional scourges in my heart with a bulwark of his words.
I walked back through the thick plexus of branches, strictly following the straight line which I traced during my advent. It seemed like ages, walking back to the place where Michael lay, wounded and unconscious; his eyes drooping with the dizziness of abscess. I hurried the last few steps and slouched beside him, removing the towel gently to examine his wound.
It didn’t look good, not to me. He kept losing excessive amounts of blood; the cut was too wide to restrain the blood flow. We had run out of water and taking Michael down to the river seemed like an impossible task, with him having a dysfunctional body. I sat blank and pondered over the weird scenes I made up of having to stay in that forest forever. I desperately hoped for a Discovery Channel crew to find us during one of their nature shoots and drop us home safely, maybe after making a short documentary on or adventurous stay on the forest. Extraordinary times demanded extraordinary measures but this was one such time which engendered no possible measures of survival. I tried to shut my mind to the string of our recent disappointments and lay beside Michael, my eyes fixed to the small opening through the leaves overhead.
‘You took a long time to look around. For a moment, I thought you were actually gonna make me a bed out of the leaves,’ chuckled the idiot, quite unable to conceal the inevitable feeling of pain in his body.
‘I did, but the woodpecker destroyed its base, so I didn’t bring it along,’ I said, proud to have conjured a humorous thought in a dead hour.
‘Aha! Little Tommy cracks jokes now,’ said Michael, tilting his head towards me, ‘took a leaf out of my page, did you Tommy,’ he laughed, tilting his head back to where it was.
Yes. My name was Tom, Tom Avalon Reid. But for Michael, I had always been Tommy, or so he loved to call me. Surprisingly, it did not bother me in the least, because every time he called me by that name, it was a cut-and-dried signal from him that he wanted me to be around. It was his way of letting me know that he was depressed and hurt, trying to suppress an inexorable fear deep down in his heart. And at that moment, I could sense that he was both hurt and terrified, intimidated by the thought of not being able to hold himself up for long. I turned on my side, still looking at the blood stained towel on his stomach.
‘Hey buddy, you’re gonna be all right,’ I said, wondering how little comfort my words were gonna bring to him.
Michael turned towards me and let out a sigh. I could see the corners of his eyes shine in the moonlight as a tiny drop of tear trickled down his cheek. He was clearly in a lot of pain, and the worst part for me, was I could do nothing at all. Was he gonna die? I kept thinking. Could a deep cut be so fatal so as to take my best friend’s life? Maybe it couldn’t. But I somehow knew that if Michael lost any more blood through that pixilated cut on his stomach, I would never ever hear the name Tommy again. I wished I was not a financial broker, but a doctor by profession. At least I could’ve known what lied ahead of the night for both of us. I was all messed up in my head; Michael lost his blood, and I seemed to lose all sense of apprehension. I left it to fate and tried to make conversation. But before I could open my mouth to say something cheerful, Michael asked me the one question I always dreaded to answer.
‘Where were you all these days?’ he asked, with a sudden change in his tone from surmise to demand.
His question clutched the side of my ribs with an immutable grasp. I impetuously hoped not to encounter this topic with Michael, but here it was, beaming at me like a vexatious infant. I had been on the run since the last five years of my life, but there was no escaping now. I had to confront it, I had to answer his question.
‘I was busy,’ I said, trying to sound as modest as possible.
‘Busy making money,’ he retaliated back, his eyes purposely fixed to the sky,
Was I? Did I sabotage my relations with hundreds of my friends and went on to live in seclusion just to make money? Was I selfish enough to have pulled off such a surmising travail for five long years? Perhaps not. I had my reasons and to a certain point, I had my compulsions too. But it was difficult for Michael to understand them, nor that I expected him to understand my grounds either. But I had to explain them to someone. I wanted to. So many years of emotional confinement had deposited a stubborn impediment in my conscience. I had to get it out, share it with someone who would understand the intricacies of my feelings, and who else could it be, except for my best friend, whom I missed exceedingly during the years of my demise, and who was very unlikely to share the next day of my life with me. I embraced myself for the toughest confession of my life.
‘My parents got themselves a divorce. It’s been four years now,’ I said, keeping my eyes closed as I spoke.
‘And you’re telling me this now? You didn’t for a second consider reaching out to me after what happened?’ Michael asked, apparently stupefied by the content of my confession.
‘No, I didn’t. I spent the last five years running from every last person I was acquainted to,’ I said.
‘Why?’ Michael asked with the same tone of resentment in his voice.
‘Because I felt ashamed of having parents who could not hold a marriage together,’ I shouted, tears rolling down both my eyes.
‘Not once in the last few years did I see them sit at peace and enjoy each other’s company. How would you like it if your parents brought the whole place down with their garish voices everyday? How would you like it if you had to eat a cold supper alone at a 4-seater dining table? How would you like it if the people you love start having a clash of opinions at every single topic in the world? You won’t. And so didn’t I. All these years, I haven’t been working to make money, but to keep myself occupied, to keep myself away from the unfortunate feeling of abandonment. I could not take a single day of the melodramatic routine that my life had arrogated for me. So I ran, ran from anyone and everyone who reminded me of my how unfortunate I was. I had lost the audacity to face people; I had lost my freedom, and in the process, lost a part of myself too.’
I finished with a huge sigh, tears now flooding my eyes like a venial tsunami. I turned to face Michael, who sat upright, supporting his fragile body with his palms on the ground. He looked as if he was given the breaking news of dinosaur evolution in 2011, his face as expressionless as a pumpkin. Blood gushed out of his wound due to the awkward position he was in, and he was down on his back in no time, but his eyes didn’t move an inch. He probably thought that I wasn’t finished yet, or maybe he was completely taken aback by the feminine side of me. He remained quiet.
‘Are you expecting me to throw some more light on the distastefully atrocious life I have or are you still in doubt with my deliberately engineered plans of not being in touch with you?’ I barked, sarcasm overflowing from my voice like a teenage sex hormone.
Michael stared at me with an admirable sense of discernment. He was already in a lot of pain and I was afraid that I might trigger a sense of guilt in him of asking the question he wished he had never asked. He still did not speak.
My tears subsided in a matter of time and with them, subsided the vainglorious lump of encumbrance inside me. I wished Michael to say something, the silence was killing me. And then finally, he spoke.
‘I am sorry,’ he said, fumbling for bigger words.
‘Its fine, those times are far gone now. I haven’t seen my parents since the fall of summer in 2006 and strangely, I don’t miss them enough. They don’t deserve it anyway. And now, we are stuck in this alien land at the middle of the night with a furiously bleeding stomach, and an acute shortage of ideas!’ I said, hands on my head and eyes on Michael’s belly.
‘We’ll make it, I know we will,’ said Michael, arduously succeeding in forcing a smile on his face.
I smiled back at him and lay down again, feeling surprisingly light.
I wondered whether I was able to explain my reasons effectively; five years of dissolution from Michael had stirred the urges of a life long reunion in me. I did not want to lose him anymore, now that the loose ends were tied and all erroneous beliefs forgiven. My imagination took me a little ways down the road, to the magical days of me and Michael reviving our unparalleled bond of friendship, to a place where there were only friends and no feuds. The unremitting string of thoughts lulled me into a light slumber, with the cool night breeze ruffling up my hair gently. But my comfort was short lived; I was awakened by a detestable cry of pain from Michael, who rolled on the ground tardily, clutching the side of his stomach in a tight clasp of his hands.
Something was terribly wrong with him, and it took me no time to guess the cause of his sudden innervations. I rushed up to him and removed the towel from his wound, expecting to see the most devious sight of the night, and sure enough, it was as worse as it could get. I shone the torchlight on the affected part of his stomach to have a closer look and my heart sank. The wound had opened up further due to the infection and it launched an avalanche of blood through the opening, flooding the ground with the thick red fluid. Michael trembled with the sudden infliction of pain; his breaths grew irregular with each passing moment.
I grabbed hold of the ends of his mangled skin and tried to hold them together, but the blood knew no barriers. It kept flowing with a promise of emptying every ounce on the ground. I could tell Michael was expecting me to produce a miracle out of somewhere, but what? I was not a phoenix whose tears healed all wounds. Frustration glided over me with the interstices of vanity. I was about to see my best friend cross over to oblivion in my arms and could do nothing about it. It seemed like an eternity of flurry and regret before one of us finally spoke, and it was Michael’s voice.
‘Did you see the pieces of dry grass strewn near the iron bars we crossed?’ he spoke hurriedly, trying to hold his words from falling apart.
I tried to trace the road of our adventure in my mind, focusing hard on every detail that we came across in our way.
Yes, I remembered. I did see the broken bits of grass in the light of my torch. They must have dried up in the scorching sun for days to a perfect pale yellow semblance. But what on earth did Michael want them for?
‘Get them for me. Hurry!’ shouted Michael, adamant not to spare me a minute to figure out what his ingenious plan was.
I didn’t stop to think either. I picked up the torch and ran, as if for my own life. Luckily, I didn’t have to expedite for long to find what I was looking for. I grabbed a handful of dry grass and scampered back, carefully avoiding the rusted iron bars that stuck out of an abandoned telephone tower.
Michael had grown a shade paler when I returned to him; even the tears had dried up from his vexed eyes.
‘What do you want me to do to with this?’ I asked, still very surprised to take a few pieces of grass as a life saving drug.
‘I want you to stitch my stomach with it,’ said Michael with an unexpected air of indifference.
‘What?’ I exclaimed, taking in 3 gallons of air each time I opened my mouth to breathe. Either Michael had a lot of faith in me, I thought, or perhaps he was tired of the unbearable pain and preferred an early death. Either of the possibilities made me equally and pathetically nervous.
‘You’re not serious, are you?’ I asked again, hoping that he had a better idea than to make me a murderer.
‘Tie the ends of the grasses to make a long string. There’s a scissor in the left pocket of my back pack. Pierce some holes on both sides of the torn skin with the sharp edge of the scissor, and force the string through the holes. Quick!’ spoke Michael bossily, as if giving instructions to knit a fancy button on the collar of his favorite shirt.
I followed his instructions with a feeling of complete dismay. How was I ever gonna pull it off? I tied the grasses one by one, doubtful whether or not they had the strength to hold a human skin together. My heart raced with the fear of chagrin, my hands had already started to tremble. To attempt a live surgery on a mortal was a distant dream for a financial broker like me, at least I deserved a dead frog for a start, I thought.
I took the string of grass in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other and leaned down to my patient, who was all set to face the most critical medical operation of his life. I looked at the wound, all covered in a thick stratum of blood, already starting to feel giddy.
‘I’m waiting, and so is my death. Will you please hurry up?’ said Michael politely, looking into my eyes with a warm reflection of encouragement.
Old Michael! It was amazing how he always knew what was in my mind.
‘We’ll make it, I promise you,’ he added, forcing a weak smile on his sordid face.
Michael’s last words fuelled the sense of determination in me. I focused all my attention to his wound and started piercing a hole in the right side of the cut. Blood soared out of the hole as soon as the tip of the scissor hurtled into his skin. Michael’s deafening scream shook my determination like the epicenter of an earthquake. I sat there, with the blood stained scissor in my hand, staring blankly at the stream of blood gushing out of the hole I just punched into him.
‘Don’t listen to me, JUST DO IT!’ screamed Michael at the top of his voice. I was glad to discover his presence in the situation, but the bedlam of unbarred misapprehension stopped my hands to venture any further into his frail skin. Nevertheless, I went on.
I drove the scissor an inch below the first hole, allowing some more blood to flow out. It took me not more than ten minutes to punch the required number of holes in his stomach. Michael’s screams had subsided to a considerably low volume; perhaps the multiple incisions had paralyzed the intolerable feeling of pain in his body.
I hurriedly inserted one end of the grass string into one of the holes and tried to pass it through the adjacent hole, keeping a tight grip on the string, fearing that it might lose its strength. I glanced anxiously at Michael every now and then, ensuring that he was still conscious. He turned his head on the ground from left to right, in pain but not ready to surrender. I drove the dried grass chain carefully across the holes, pulling each end to bring the separated layers of skin together. I was doing quite well, until at the last hole, when the grass slipped out of my hand and tucked into his bare flesh. Michael led out a soft whimper, troubled by the scratchy end of the grass.
Only the last knot had to be tied and the flow of blood had slowed down considerably, but the grass wobbled deep inside the skin and I could not find out a way of pulling it back up. We had come a long way; I did not want to jeopardize my best friend’s life due to a careless mistake. I wondered what to do, when Michael answered my disarray, just like every other time.
‘Just pull the damn thing out, you moron!’ he shouted, raising his voice alarmingly.
I hesitated to insert my finger into the small gap in the flesh, afraid that the grass might give in to the sudden application of stress. Apparently, I had a better idea. I slid the scissor gently through the opening and used its tip to pull the grass out, causing very little damage to the already ‘stitched’ skin.
I finished tying the final knot with the two ends of the grass string as Michael felt his wound gently with his hands. It looked quite good, considering the decrepit expertise of the surgeon, except for the little gaps between the skins here and there. The pain was there, but the surgery managed to barrage the incessant flow of blood for the time being. We had just enough time to swim across the river to the other end and get Michael to a hospital. But how would Michael be able to swim a 50-meter wide river with a 5-inch deep cut in his stomach?
Night crawled in like a vicious serpent, as the hour hand struck 12. Michael sat upright, moving his muscles as little as possible, while I fastened our back packs on my back, stacking them on top of each other.
We had to get to the edge of the river within an hour, and then think of a way to get both of us across it.
Michael stood up slowly; he was weak, but equally delighted with the status of his wound.
‘Let’s go. We haven’t got much time,’ I said, lighting the torch and taking the lead.
‘Hey Tommy,’ called out Michael as I marched ahead of him. ‘You saved my life, I owe you,’ he said, his cheerful smile back on his handsome face.
‘We have to make it, remember?’ I said, pointing towards the way ahead, hiding a tiny drop of tear that had just fallen on my lips.
Michael dragged himself up to me and put an arm around my shoulder.
‘We will make it,’ he said, nodding his head like a mettlesome infant.
We smiled at each other and set off to accomplish the most challenging task of our lives. I had to get Michael to the other side in one piece. Night had fallen in completely and the tide was down, if we had to do it, we had to do it then. I flung Michael’s hand over my neck and headed towards the straight path which led to the river. We could not afford a brisk pace, because Michael whined at every step we took. He cautiously kept glancing at his stomach after every few seconds, and the look on his face told me we didn’t have much time. It was not easy for me either. Two heavy bags on my shoulder rendered me almost immovable, not to mention the additional load of Michael’s body. I had the torch in one hand, and used the other to detract the occasional protrusions of branches here and there.
We kept walking until I could see the wide opening in the branches, which led to the river. It took us more than an hour with all the limping and bickering, before we finally saw it. Michael struggled to the bank seeing in the torchlight and dipped his head in the cold running water, as I tried to look in the distance to figure out a way of crossing the river without having to swim it. My eyes scanned the entire panorama in the dim light of the moon, hoping to construe a possible and easier way of getting across. It was very difficult to figure out the constructive details of the place in the dark, with the moonlight reflecting on the thick glass of my spectacles. I looked for a terrestrial way which would take us to the other side, so that Michael could avoid any contact with water. The grass which held his skin together had the strength to do so because of being dry. Once it got wet, we would run out of cards, and lose the game, and that night, losing the game meant losing our lives. We had to be very careful.
And then, just as I was about to give up my search for a suitable mode of escape, my eyes fell on the most beautiful creation of nature. There was a small cliff about a hundred meters away from where we stood, most appropriately being the starting point of a series of rocks that led to the other end. If we could somehow get to the top of that cliff, we could probably find our way through the rocks and be out of there by dawn, I thought. My eyes lit with a sudden beam of hope, my heart pumped with the sudden rush of adrenaline. I knew we had to do it, and do it right. The countdown had begun. The next one hour was going to decide our fates, and I couldn’t wait to see it.
I once again supported Michael on my shoulder and started walking towards the cliff. Though the road was bumpy with the comportment of a thousand irregular rocks, it didn’t take us long to reach the top of the cliff. The sudden enrichment of ideas had fuelled our energies positively. We stood on top of the cliff and calculated the amount of risks we had to take to get to our destination. It looked easy, except for one big problem standing firmly at the end of the stream. There was a slightly bigger boulder just at the edge of the river and it had an awkwardly steep slope. But if we could somehow manage to climb up the boulder, we could jump on the solid ground in the other side.
I looked at Michael, who also had his eyes fixed to the elusive barrier at the far end.
‘You think you can do it?’ I asked, with a hint of concern.
‘Absolutely,’ replied Michael, adjusting the towel over his maltreated wound.
‘Great, let’s go,’ I said, taking my first jump on the adjacent rock. I skidded with my landing, but managed to keep my balance intact. The constantly flowing water had deposited a thick layer of moss on the rocks, which told me it wasn’t going to be as easy as it looked from above the cliff.
‘Careful Michael, the surface is too slippery,’ I warned as I lent my hand to help him down. Michael slithered down the cliff and clutched on to my sleeve for support, but was up on his feet soon. So far so good.
We reached the middle of the stream, tumbling and fidgeting with the troubling moss on the rocks. The weight of the backpacks was killing my shoulders, and Michael’s wound was killing him slowly. The grass string had begun to give in, which meant we had very little time to get Michael to the nearest hospital. We didn’t stop.
I looked at my watch; it was two-thirty in the morning. Dawn hadn’t broken out yet, but I could hear the birds chirping around in a chorus. I crawled on to the next rock with the same level of precaution, Michael right behind me. We went on until we reached the last rock and stopped dead in our paths. There it was, the huge boulder, the way of whose collapse was not known to us. It seemed as if the rock stood in the way of two friends and the beautiful life they would have if they brought it down.
I had no time to think. Michael’s wound had started to open up again, ejecting excessive amounts of blood in every stretch of his muscles. The boulder was high, but not high enough to stop me from jumping across. The problem was Michael. There was no way he could jump a fair four meters, no matter how confident he felt about it.
I climbed to the top of the boulder to look for an alternative, and I did find one. There was a battered raft on the side of the river, probably abandoned by a bunch of adventure freaks. It was busted to the point of desolation, with pieces of wood sticking out of it in a haphazard pattern. But the whole raft was not what I needed. I only needed a firm wooden plank, wide enough for Michael to walk over to the bank.
‘Can you pull this off?’ asked Michael, scared for my life more than his.
‘Trust me,’ I said, and jumped off.
Beautiful scenes flashed in front of my eyes as I experienced the cool morning breeze blow past me. It seemed like time had dilated to thousand seconds in a minute, and I saw an entire album of euphoric pictures, pictures of me and Michael clicked in a good time ahead in the future, with our lovely wives and kids. Pictures where I didn’t have back packs burdening my shoulders and Michael didn’t have a towel underneath his shirt. Now that the weeds of misunderstanding were removed and the two best friends were unified, I could see an entire life of happiness, with a thousand splendid suns shining down on them everyday. All of this could be feasible if only I timed my jump well enough to hit the ground. But did I?
My feet did hit something, but it was not solid ground. I fell about an inch short and landed headlong in the water, groping for a firm pedestal with my legs underneath. The intemperate weight of the backpacks pulled me deep inside the water, but I somehow managed to grasp a protruded piece of rock on the edge. And there I was, neck-deep inside water, immovable and helpless, and a half-dead companion waiting behind, expecting me to save his life. We were screwed. It was only a matter of time before my hand lost its grip and the ravaging speed of water banged my head on a rock in its way. I lost all hope and waited for my time, when something very unusual happened.
Michael shouted something like a “hang on” and jumped from the boulder. I could not hear his words due to the loud splashing of water near my ears, but I could clearly see his figure moving overhead in mid air, risking his life for my rescue.
‘Michael, no!’ I screamed, aghast at the idea of him hitting the ground with a deadly wound.
Michael landed a few inches ahead of the rocky edge, rolling on the ground like a pound ball. His heavy body flipped over the rocks, until he landed on a sharp rock which stashed his torn flesh like a piece of chicken. Blood streamed out of his wound like an unleashed bull and this time, a surgery was not a possibility. But Michael did not lie dead as I expected him to be. He summoned all his strength and crawled towards me, while his face had started to lose its tinge already.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me up with the minimal strength he had left in him. Apparently, the force of the back packs outdid his receding potency, but I did not give up either. I somehow unstrapped the belts of our backpacks and kicked the bank, generating enough up thrust to exit the unbendable hold of water. I fell headlong on the cluster of rocks beside Michael, where he lay deplorable, forcing in the breaths with considerable difficulty. He was dying, rendering all our efforts and all our sacrifices in vain.
I raised Michael’s head and placed it on my lap, washing his wound desperately with the flowing water.
‘Why did you do that,’ I demanded, angry at the showcase of such stupidity in a crucial hour.
Michael smiled politely, and said as softly as only for me to hear.
‘I owed you, remember.’
‘Michael, hold on, please don’t go,’ I begged, unable to speak with the lump of pain in my throat.
‘Tommy,’ squeaked Michael, clutching my hand in a tight grip, ‘you’re a terrible jumper,’ he finished with a small hiccup.
I could see the white matter inside his stomach, almost dry by the immutable sledding of blood for the past four hours. He was clearly not in a state to utter his last words to me. Every time he opened his mouth to speak, he only managed to let out a shriek of pain. I was filled with a mixed sensation of loss and anguish, remembering Michael’s promise of seeing it through together. The sun had already peeped out of the horizon and I sat with a heavy heart in my chest and a heavy head on my lap, when Michael broke into my reverie.
‘Goodbye Tommy,’ he said, reaching out his hand to stroke my hair.
‘But you said we’ll make it!’ I yelled at the top of my voice, my words falling apart due to the waterspout of tears in my eyes.
Michael said nothing. Maybe he had no answer to my question or he regretted promising me the unachievable goal throughout the evening. But I wasn’t going to take silence for an answer.
‘Answer me,’ I shouted, loud enough for even a dead man to hear.
‘I never said we'll make it alive...." he said with a weak smile, and closed his eyes, not to open them ever again. His breaths subsided, his heart stopped beating. He departed, endowing me with the gift of tears for the rest of my life, but the ghost of his last laugh remained etched on to his face like a stoned impression. Michael was dead. He departed for the heaven which no mortal could reach, and left behind a hell which engulfed me in a wrath of eternal forlorn.
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