This is a dream my main character has about a traumatic event in his childhood. I only did some very minor editing before posting.
* * *
I stand on the riverbank, staring up at the merciless sun pouring its rays down on my bare body. The air is disturbed only by the slight breeze the river carries with it and the call of a family of grebes hiding in the reeds on the far bank. My toes sink into the cool mud as I step towards the water and a small smile appears on my face.
A part of me, the part that knows this is a dream, the part that knows and fears what is about to happen, understands that I am able to enjoy the sensation because this is happening before the fire. But that portion of my mind is distant and quiet while the water is present and captivating. I continue in until the water is above waist level and allow the current to push my manhood this way and that.
I feel powerful as I stand like a mountain, unmoved by the force of the waters flowing around me. The might of hundreds and hundreds of miles of river cannot make me move – it must flow around me, bow to my superior strength. It is intoxicating and I can stay here for days, if only I was allowed.
“Haji! Get out of the water - don’t you know that the crocodiles are hungry at this time of day?”
I know that the words are not English but I understand them without effort. I turn to see my best friend, Baruti, running toward me from the direction of our village, his dark skin gleaming in the sun. Mother must have sent him after me again.
“Of course I know, teacher!” He hates when I call him that but he should blame his mother for choosing the name, not me. Who gives their last born child a name that means teacher anyway? “But I also know they will not eat me – I am too skinny for them!”
“Then what shall I tell your mother when one of them decides that your massive ego more than makes up for your meatless bones?” He is standing at the edge of the water, arms akimbo, looking at me as though the gap between us is twenty years instead of two, as though he is much older than his nine years.
“You won’t have to say anything to her,” I reply with a laugh and splash water all over my face. The water eases the warmth on my shaved head and trickles down my back in delightful streams. “For I will kill that foolish crocodile with my bare hands and then tell her the story myself!”
“You were born a fool and you will die a fool,” he calls back, shaking his head. “But not today, little pilgrim. Come, dinner will be ready soon and if we are the last to arrive there will be nothing left to eat.”
“Go ahead, I’m not hungry,” I say and it is the truth. I could go days without food and not suffer any ill effects. It wasn’t something I spent much time thinking about, I just thought everyone else had naturally bigger appetites than I did. I drop down to let the river wash over my head and open my eyes underwater but there is too much silt in this stretch of the river for me to see anything. I push back up and breathe out forcefully, spraying water in every direction, and find Baruti hasn’t moved. “I’m serious! Go eat, I want to stay here.”
“If you keep skipping meals you will become a walking skeleton! Too weak to get out of your bed and come down to play in the river!”
“Do I look like I’m wasting away to nothing?” I ask and flex my hard won biceps at him. He shakes his head in disgust and turns to walk away. I laugh but it is cut short by a sudden, crippling pain in my right leg and Baruti turns at my strangled shout. His wide eyes and half open mouth are the last things I see before I am dragged under.
I swallow two mouthfuls of river water before I’m able to close my mouth. The pain in my leg is overwhelming as the crocodile drags me along the bottom, heading for the deepest point at the middle of the river. My fingers claw at the mud and rocks beneath me but are unable to find purchase. My lungs are burning and the desire to scream is threatening to override common sense.
When we stop moving I open my eyes but there is only darkness in all directions. I’ve lost contact with the river bottom and I can’t figure out which direction is up. But I know there is a ravenous crocodile attached to my calf and I know where to find that. With the pressure of the rushing water squeezing my head, I double over and find its muscular jaws with my fingers and pull with all my might. It responds by biting down harder and shaking me from side to side like a rag doll. My knee feels like it has been dislocated.
My thoughts are slowing and I can tell there is little time left to act. I fold myself in half again and find its snout once more; but instead of testing its strength against my weakness again, I work my fingers upward until I find its eyes. I place my hands on either side of its skull, press my thumbs into its eyes, and push with all my might.
The crocodile opens its jaws only slightly but it is enough for me to pull my leg free. I push off its head with my left leg and pray that the direction I’m travelling in is either up or back towards the riverbank. When my face collides with the mud less than two seconds later I almost give up hope. With lungs bursting and mind dimming I push up as hard as I can; I am filled with dread that the crocodile will find me again before I can reach the shore.
I breach the surface at the middle of the river and float downstream on my back. There is a desire to swim to the bank but my body refuses to respond. Just before unconsciousness takes me I hear my name being screamed from far, far away.
But I am gone.
* * *
When I regain consciousness my body is caught in the middle of tall reeds and night has fallen. I stare up through the swaying brown and green stalks, turned silver and grey by the moonlight, and millions upon millions of stars stare back at me without enthusiasm. My first thought is as simple as it is true.
I float there for a while, trying to process the how and the why of it with little success. Eventually I realize that my entire body is shivering and I begin to move towards land, using the reeds to pull myself along. My legs touch bottom and I haul myself a little further until I can rest on my knees with my head safely above water. I am reluctant to go further, to see how badly my leg has been damaged, but staying there will do me no good.
“Out, out you fool,” I say and rise up on my left leg and half hop, half swim until I fall face first onto the mud. It is even colder here than in the water, so I force myself to crawl until I reach the still warm sands of my desert. I collapse there again, my head turned sideways and fear crushing my chest in its powerful grasp. With an effort I didn’t think I was still capable of I turn over onto my back and contemplate the stars once more.
It occurs to me that I can’t feel any pain where the crocodile gripped me and this only serves to deepen my fear. How can I protect my family with only one leg? How can I provide for them? How can I tell my mother that this was all my fault, that it never would have happened if I had listened to her warnings? With a long, steadying breath I prop myself up on my elbows and look down.
By the time Baruti and his father find me the next morning I have screamed my voice away.