Water Under The Bridge

By Martina Kontos

The water, slick as oil, lay stagnant beneath me, not even tempted to breathe. Bordered by smog and dim shore lights, it was trapped nourishing a city built on unease. Some believed the river slept at night, that it needed time to rest from being our source of life, but I knew it better than them.

I understood the river because I didn’t understand myself.

My knees weren’t shaking as I stood on the edge of the bridge, looking down at the black body of water, but my hands were. I knew the river and I both had overworked limbs, but I still felt guilty about my weariness. Fatigue had seeped into my blood, anesthetizing my muscles, my bones, my soul, and yet this numbness hadn’t reached my overactive brain.

The river could tell I was in pain.

But its words weren’t of blind compassion to me.

As the wind drifted over the river, the water whispered in a language only we could understand. Its voice, carried by the wasted breaths of people who didn’t care for it, tried to tell me that I had reason to be scared.

No one who went down into its stomach ever came up again.

I clenched the bridge, its rusted metal cold in my callused hands. Hands which were used to doing what others commanded, but not as I ever wanted. My youth had been washed away by pleasing others, succumbing to their whims. And even though I dreamed of rebelling, I had always given in.

Just once, I wanted to give in to myself.

But I knew the river never lied.

The wind picked up, carrying the water’s voice, its warnings trickling in my ears. And then out again, without being heard.

My mind, paralysed by fear, knew I needed a hopeful friend. But what could I do when the only one who understood could also end my pain for good?

I imagined my body falling into the river’s mouth and left in its stomach to bloat. I knew no one would ever find me, and maybe, no one would care. Would father even cry? Would mother’s ghost rise from her grave to grieve my decision?

I cried, my unwelcome tears like oil against my face’s watery smile. They dripped into the river and floated, sparkling in the iridescent moonlight. The river didn’t hold my tears; it didn’t take them in. I knew it felt sadness’ plague more than I could comprehend.

How many people had decided to give themselves to the river, unasked?

How could I pretend I knew the river’s pain when it needed rest from its flowing mask?

Night after night, I had watched people go to the river for relief. They would always hesitate before making their irreversible leap. I knew they were searching for more than a reason to live, more than a way to make their pain end.

I knew they needed more than that.

They needed belief.

Not everything that could be made with hands would ever be seen. Not every sound was to be heard; not every voice would speak.

I couldn’t pretend I understood the river’s perpetual grief. Day after day, it swallowed our pain so our darkness could momentarily decrease.

And what is a moment, but a slice of life, lived or wasted?

What is an early death but a new-born spark of hope, now faded?

The river looked up at me, and I squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn’t look into its face; I couldn’t show I wanted to give up.

The river groaned, and I tentatively opened my eyes. It flowed along the banks, showing me what was deep inside its belly: dreams disintegrated, breakthroughs almost made, love lost to nihilistic reasoning.

If I committed the act, I would be no more than a statistic others would reason over.

The river sped up, washing bones out of the way to make room for mine. It let me know it wouldn’t stop me; I had to make the decision myself.

Was I going to give in to the most deceptive part of my hell?

I let go of the bridge.

And I stood back, my footing cautious, but becoming surer with each step. I let myself cry fresh tears of my almost permanent regret.

I spoke, and the wind carried my message of gratitude to the selfless guide, my saviour.

The river stopped flowing again with a nod, and absorbed my tears like oil on paper.

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