From Vishnu Dreams, copyright © Ven Begamudré, 2008, and reproduced with the permission of Gaspereau Press, Printers & Publishers.
Here you are at the end of the board, your toes gripping the edge—please don’t let me slip—and the Old Man’s high and dry on the pool deck. His paunch sags over his belt. “Dive,” he yells. “Can’t you simply dive?” Not yet. Here you are, knees bent, body bent in half, arms above your head, chin tucked, right hand over left, ready to launch yourself forwards and out and down into—what? It’s only water. Waiting to cushion your fall. No, it won’t. It will suck you down that tiny drain. Slurp. Suck. Gone. No wonder he never learned to swim.
You take a chance. Swivel your head to the left, look past your upper arm. The underside of an arm so pale, you must be turning white. Just what you need: brown boy turns white on diving board. Turns yellow. No, not that, you’re just not ready. But look at that face. The Old Man’s face is one big snarl. Silent words bubble out to fill a cartoon balloon: Can’t you do anything right? Not that he would ever say such a thing—a high class Brahmin, a gentleman. Durga says so. Says he wasn’t like this once. He was loving and kind. Proud when you were born. That, she must have heard from Ma.
Durga’s frozen like you, hasn’t said a word. You can’t see her, but she’s sitting on the pool deck, off to the right, waiting to save you. Not like the kids on the other side of the fence, their fingers curled through chain links. Duncan McArthur, grade four. His kid sister, Flora. Her best friend, Kate Holloway. Tommy Jones, grade five. No one from your class, thank God. Not one kid from grade six to watch you sweat and shiver, your nose wrinkled from chlorine. Even if you shut your eyes, you know they will sting.
“Don’t look at me,” the Old Man says. You’re not, and he can’t see the others, way behind him. “Keep your eyes on the water!” If only he knew. Duncan and Flora, Tommy and Kate—all their eyes on him. Look behind you, Pa. See the cartoon balloon. Poor Subhas, they’re thinking. His old man’s crazy. Cripes, an Indian sicko. “Eyes on the water!” he yells.
Okay, okay. Only it’s not even water any more. Can’t he see it’s not water? Can’t anyone? Durga can. She must. She sees everything. It’s not water now. It’s glass.
Last week in science, a film. Oh, goodie. “The Making of Glass.” You’re safe in the dark during films.
Float glass—that was your favourite. Sand and soda, lime and cullet. That’s scrap glass broken into teeny, tiny bits. Mixed in a mixer, poured in a furnace. Goes all gooey like hot honey treacle—this cherry red molten glass. Slowly cools in a lehr. You looked it up, l-e-h-r. Next, all the things you can do with glass: blow it, draw it, press it, cast it, roll it, float it. That’s the best: floating. A new way of working with glass, less than ten years old. “Developed in 1959,” the voice on the film said, “by Sir Alastair Pilkington.” Smart man. You looked him up too. Bet he never screamed at anyone.
Now the Old Man’s taking a bird. He’s shaking his fists. “Dive, I say! Dive!”
Awoo-gah, woo-gah, battlestations. Oof—
In mid-air, there’s nothing to hold you up, you’re not flying, this is no dream. You fall. You’re a brown, stone boy shattering the water. But stone can’t be hurt. Not like flesh. Fangs of glass scrape the flesh from your ribs. And down you go. Down, while the water closes in like you’re not even there. You are, though. You’ll never make it to the top. Ever. The chlorine stings your eyes. Stop that flailing. You’re losing your breath. Can’t cram it back in your lungs, your squishy balloon lungs letting out Morse code bubbles, S-O-S, they spell. Mayday. May—