Bongi clawed at the steep lake’s banks and caught a branch, but it broke off. He caught some strongly anchored weeds, unsure how long he could hold on. His right leg was being dragged towards the bottom by two heavy bricks, his nostrils were full of water, and his lungs ached like they would explode any minute.
The weights on his leg prevented him from scaling the brittle bank’s sides, but sliding his fingers against the sand, he felt for possible gripping points. A hard object that protruded from the bank’s sides gave him some transient hope.
A tortoise shell?
He was about to look away when his hand hit it and tiny air bubbles escaped from underneath. Grabbing the shell, he pried it from the sand and quickly turned it so the dome faced up. He stuck his face into the shell’s cavity and inhaled deeply.
There isn’t much left but maybe it’ll buy me time to think a plan through, he thought.
He exhaled, then took a second breath from the shell, estimating he had one or two breaths left.
In vain, he tried to wiggle the rope off his tied leg, hoping the knot had been done sloppily. This was strenuous. Attempting to slice the rope by scraping it against a stone stuck in the sand also proved useless. The rope slid against the stone like a slimy slug on ceramic tiles.
He took another breath from the shell. So this is how it feels from down here.
It was usually someone else doing the drowning while Bongi stood on the bank looking down, like the angel of death. The unlucky bastards he had dumped into the lake over the years were debtors for the most part. Others were snitches.
Just one time it was this guy that looked at him funny. Bongi had regrets over that kill. “I may have overdone it that day,” he would sometimes say after narrating this particular incident.
Some water forced its way through Bongi’s nose and slithered down his trachea into his lungs, dragging him away from his daydream. The muscles in his right arm began twitching uncontrollably.
He went for another breath of air and, though not very religious by nature, began to pray. “Lord, we haven’t spoken in a while,” he started. “Bad timing, I understand, but please don’t hold that against me. I am sorry. Sorry for all the bad I’ve done, all the poor people I’ve killed.”
His arm suddenly gave in from having to hold his and the two bricks’ weight. “I don’t want to die, Lord. Save me and I swear each day that I spend on this Earth shall be devoted to serving you. I will use every penny of the fortune I’ve amassed to save a person a day… I will even go to church with my mother on Sundays.”
At that moment, on the brink of death, he truly had faith. So he prayed, and believed he would be saved, for Jesus is love and all sins on this earth can be forgiven through love. Yet nothing happened.
His lungs kept filling up with the brackish waters of the river.
He kept sinking.
A severed hand floated before him. He recognized the ring on it, his ex-wife’s. That was another messed-up story. She cheated, he got angry, and one thing leading to another, she found herself being tossed into the lake. The crocodiles did the rest.
One of those crocodiles may even have been the one that, unfortunately, Bongi spotted not too far on the left. The crocodile looked at Bongi, giving him the kind of stare commonly reserved for a piece of juicy chicken on the dinner table after a long day of work.
“I’ve learned my lesson. Please, Lord.”
Right then, he woke up in sweat. He was in his bed, alone. The view of the all-wood floors in his vast open bedroom was comforting. Focusing on the dry, wooden floor and consciously taking deep breaths further calmed him down.
After a minute, his heart stopped throbbing.
“It was just a dream,” he said, lying back down to stare at the white roof. He laughed, feeling the tension that had held him quickly dissipate with each rhythmic spasm. “Whew. And here I was thinking I would need to go to church next Sunday.”
Right then, water squirted out of his mouth and he found himself back where he’d started. The crocodile stared at him with thin, blood-shot eyes. “You should really learn to keep your promises, Bongi,” the crocodile said, then stretched its jaws open.
Robertson Klaingar says: “I like to write because I like to daydream, and writing is a never-ending daydream.”