The two jogger’s shoes made a slapping sound upon the wet paved path, which echoed as they entered and departed the underpass. As the sun continued to embellish his surroundings, the man saw the words he had overheard perform an elaborate dance before him. It hadn’t always been this way, if only someone would look at him as though he still retained a sliver of humanity, he would be satisfied. Perhaps the ties that bound him to the spot would relinquish. Perhaps the image of the child would no longer be branded behind his eyes. Perhaps he would die, and then he would be free.
As he adjusted his mound to reach for his bottle of greyish water, he caught a glimpse of a young boy stood quietly by the canal-side. He wiped the grime from his eyes and focussed completely upon the child, thrusting himself into the past.
He remembered. At the exact spot, a child of the same age stood, examining the ducks in the reeds of the green canal. He was only by the canal because the main road was being resurfaced – no entry. As he walked in his black suit he kept to the wall; his fear of water, of which his father called ‘irrational’, was still as present as ever, and he knew he would never go home, as he could never cross water again. His mind buzzed with the fragmented recollections of the water attempting to stifle his lungs, and extinguish his breath. He then took in a large gasp; as he reassured himself he was above water; and could still breathe. In, out, slow and steady, the voice of his counsellor rang judiciously in his ears. As his heart thumped in his mouth, and his eyes were cast upon his brown suede shoes, slowly lifting and pushing against thick air. Then a small shriek perforated the air, as a heavy splash echoed around the underpass. Immediately, the man looked up, and saw the small boy flailing in pure panic, causing the algae to form a circle around him; he clearly couldn’t swim. Sweat began to peel profusely from the man’s skin. Time seemed to slow, as if caught in a dreadful molasses dream. His mind screamed at him to move and to help, to do something.
But his body was completely debilitated. He felt as though it were his lungs filling up with the stale water, slowly turning his pulsing life to the edges of his body. He could feel the water streaming out of his eyes and into his mouth. The boy’s small head was now completely submerged. His young screams reverberated through the air into the bystander’s core.
“What the hell man! Do something! Are you f**king blind?”
What is this freak doing? Thought Jack as he swiftly kicked off his converse and dived fluidly into the water in a single movement. He reached out beneath the water and felt the saturated jumper of the child. He pulled him up to the surface, his body already swollen from gulping in the fetid canal. He kicked hard onto the bank, and pulled the small boy with him.
As soon as the blond young man hit the water, the older man seemed to thaw. His muscles loosened and his gripping fear abated. He pulled out his mobile telephone and called the emergency services.
“Hallo? Yes, I’m down by the canal next to Canary Flight, a small boy has fallen in the canal, and I don’t think he’s conscious. Yes, okay. No there’s a young man who is pulling him out. He’s grey.”
He then dropped the phone and ran down to where the small boy lay, pallid and inert. Blood pulsated in his ears, and his skin prickled as the blonde youth with dirty feet pumped the boy’s chest; over and over, then took in a large breath, attempting to transfer life back into the child. He lay still, his eyes closed, which were ringed with black, making him look disturbingly like a skeleton. The moments seemed to expand, and a lifetime seemed to pass before the paramedic arrived, and announced what the young man and the old man already knew.