We were nineteen when we climbed the dam. It was just before our last summer holiday, and I remember we were standing on the edge, the three of us in a line, the lake at our backs, a black wound in the crust of the earth. No touching, I thought. One of us might lose their balance and fall. Always better to fall alone, there’d be people left to tell the story.
Such was the silence that night, I could hear every thought of death forming behind my temples. Grains of sand grinding under my feet. I was terrified.
There was a village at the bottom of the lake, C had said. Earlier, before any of us had even considered stepping up onto the ledge of the world. I was eating an apple by the kitchen window when I saw the car pull over by the gate. Wings fluttered. I swallowed a badly chewed bite and felt it leaving a painful mark going down my throat. Then I ran out.
In the back seat, I wiped my hands on the front of my t-shirt. It was hot and dusty and we were very close to each other. The clutch and a couple of breaths of air were the only things keeping their skins apart and the thought of that made me shiver.
I remember everything.
Random cars passing by, M’s hands on the wheel, his fingers drumming to a rhythm only he could hear. The back of his head, the end of each hair. His eyes in the mirror. The white space between his eyebrows, wide enough for my thumbprint to fit on. C had turned back to face me and was telling us the story of the drowned village. How they’d been building the dam around it and people still wouldn’t leave their homes, how they stayed until hours before the waters came, living their lives like they’d seen a thousands floods come and go. Then ran for the hills and looked on for hours, as the waters slowly swallowed everything. Praying for a crack in the dam.
“I love you guys.” – C whispered. The mountains echoed it a million times, turning it into a hissing I found disturbing. And I hated the word. Love. It was so unlike him, unlike us, to randomly throw such words at one another, these cheesy, meaningless words they built soap operas on. I was glad the proximity of danger didn’t bring out the mushy romantic in me. That I’d managed to keep my cool, and not confess to things I’d regret later, in the light of day, safe from the edge of the precipice.
Instead, I was thinking about the village at the bottom. Picturing the church’s spire still standing high, algae and blue plastic bags tangled around the arms of the cross. Ghosts of the drowned dragging their feet down the narrow streets, killer boulders still in their pockets.
I guess when you’re nineteen, you believe there will be many people you’ll connect with. I’d be climbing atop a hundred other dams, I must have thought. What dams, I’d be strolling along The Great Wall of China, I would. Among people who would read my mind and finish my sentences. I’d be happy and not miss a thing. I’d have no regrets. For several years, I’d built a life for myself based on all that. Little houses, little streets, little people who told me their most intimate little secrets. And then, life. We never saw it coming.