I lived this story with a friend of mine from a past life. I still think about this memory a lot, about how fickle we were. But hey, I guess that's youth.
Two young boys.
My mother had finally caved and bought me the latest edition Etnies which I had been obsessing over for the past month. This was not a common occurrence; my mother purchasing me anything brand new. Being the smaller of two brothers, I mostly lived out of castaways and hand-me-downs. I didn’t mind it, truly, because my brother had far superior taste than I so it wasn’t like I was inheriting decrepit rags or anything.
These Etnies were the kind of sneakers that would put me on the map at school. I couldn’t wait to show them off come Monday. They glistened bright with a gloss white overcoat. Thin black stripes hugged the sole of the shoe, and the only semblance of colour resonated outwards of the brand’s iconic letter ‘E’ that rested crooked on the shoe’s lip. They were perfect, just perfect. As much as I had wanted to place them in a vacuum sealed display box, never to be dishonoured by shoe christening or ruined by unprecedented terrain, I knew that they were destined for exploration.
It was actually my best friend Ian who had suggested that we take them out for a spin. A voyage, of sorts, to debut them in a way that set promise for their future. So we took off into the wetlands that cuddled up alongside our coastal community.
We wandered far enough from our houses that their rooftops blurred on the horizon. The wetlands was shire-groomed up til this point, where no one could see it from their calcified windows. No one cared for what they couldn’t see. Festering puddles of foul water dotted the field, much like the acne that had blossomed on my adolescent face. Colourless bushes acted as fences for these hazardous mines of water, protecting unsuspecting visitors from falling in. We walked further into this abyss and stumbled upon a junkyard of illegally discarded items. Shredded plastic bags bled an assortment of castaway toys and deteriorating Tupperware containers. Broken up pallets threw nails and timber shards into the sand and smashed up whitegoods had spewed out metal shavings and oddities as far as our eyes could see. We perused the rejected items; the waste. Shattered roof tiles. Blown out tyres. A busted microwave. A lousy and hopeless mattress.
A lousy mattress.
Ian’s eyebrows shot up and he swivelled around to gauge my expression.
A mattress: lousy to many, but not to two young lads like us. This was what Ian had in mind when he proposed an adventure.
We had walked past many sizeable puddles on our journey to this spot, so we knew that this mattress was destined for a far greater burial than it had been so far given. Together we heaved the mattress to one side and picked up two termite ridden planks of wood. Our idea was simple, we were going to use the mattress as a raft and sail across the many bodies of water that this deserted wetland had to offer. Conquering territory like the many great sailors and explorers we had learned about this year at school. Our names were to be written in the stars with such esteemed explores like Janszoon and Cook.
Our inspection of the mattress was simple. It involved a series of prods and pokes, followed by a rigorous jumping test. Neither of us knew exactly the criterion of this test, but it broadened our smiles and filled our diaphragms with laughter. So the test, in our eyes at least, had worked just fine.
‘It’s passed with flying colours,’ Ian cackled.
‘Mate, the only colour I see is an off yellow, and I’m guessing that’s piss.’
We laughed some more.
The mattress was toughened by time and hardened by its stint out in the harsh South-Western sun. As we dragged it across the sand, strips of fabric ran in the opposite direction. It peeled off the mattress like sun-burnt skin.
We eventually reached the bank of the largest body of water in the wetlands, a true vision.
A diving sun.
A stiffened mattress.
We plonked our raft into the water and climbed aboard. The bodies of two ten-year old’s hardly exhausted the enormous space this queen size raft had to offer. We pushed off and began our venture across the bank. We knew better than to sail into the middle of this giant water hole. We were naïve but not stupid. At least we thought so.
I took the left side, Ian took the right. I paddled away, and so did he. For a while. Until he cursed, ‘Bugger!’
The distinct sound of an object’s final breaths before being submerged completely in water answered my question. I whipped around and just caught Ian’s paddle sinking to the bottom of the bank. Had I heard it earlier, I would have stopped paddling, but for now I had in-avertedly steered the ship towards the middle of this wetland expanse. The mattress gained momentum and shot forward with great speed. Using the paddle to try and backpedal, the corner of our ship fell victim to the water’s bite. Ian jumped and flailed near the sinking side. I dropped the paddle to keep him from becoming the water’s next victim. The water bellowed and cursed at me for denying it this human. It swallowed my withered paddle in response. Out of spite. As if to say, “Give in. Give up.”
We recoiled into the un-sunken corner as the fear continued its totalitarian rise in the both of us. We could only watch as the water slowly gulped down the mattress. Like an anaconda, feasting on its prey, the water engulfed our raft bit by bit. Bite by bite. In a matter of minutes, the final corner’s time had come. We knew that the water was going to take us now, whether we liked it or not.
‘Can you swim?’
‘I think so, can you?’
‘I guess I’m gonna have to.’ Either the adrenaline or fear was causing me to doubt this claim. For some reason I could only think of one swimming stroke – survival back stroke. All else escaped me.
Ian counted us down and we jumped in.
I laid on my back, the weight of my fully clothed body tried hard to fight my natural buoyancy. I flailed and swiped and pushed my way through the water. I didn’t have the opportunity to check on Ian, my own safety was barely assured at this point. Fortunately, Ian was ten times the swimmer I was.
After minutes of sweeping at the water semi-competently, my mind began to race from thoughts of drowning to wilder thoughts of what monsters could reside below. The water was thick and fell black an inch in. My heartrate increased again, and I swept at the water wildly. More wildly now that I ever had before and I would ever swipe again.
Something scratched at my back and ran its way down to my tailbone. I yelped and flailed in the shallows fiercely, in hope of intimidating this unknown, unseen beast away. In my flailing, I scooped a handful of sand and understood I had finally reached the shore. Safety. So too had my dear friend, Ian. We were saved. By the grace of whichever higher power was looking over us. We had survived.
I took to my feet and inspected my sopping clothes. My withering sanity fell into the earth in large droplets. I looked back to the water. Both the mattress and my pride were now gone, likely resting on the bottom of this hellish pit by now.
‘Not about that,’ I gestured to the water, our once ally turned enemy, ‘my shoe.’
Ian looked down to my feet, and then back up at me. He laughed because he did not know my mum like I did. He laughed too because he knew, my clever friend knew, that this was something that we would remember. That it was something so incredulously stupid, yet wildly entertaining, that it would stick in our minds and burden any thoughts we had of being intelligent beings. And we were safe. He laughed because we were safe. And then, the laughter rose in me too. It matched Ian’s, and we laughed for what felt like an eternity, the wetlands our stand-up comic.
And there we stood.
Two pairs of socks.
And only three shoes.
‘My mum is going to kill me.’ I choked through hearty laughter.
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