To Breathe Water
The air today made Nika anxious. By now he knew that breathing in water raises the heartbeat.
He learned, from being spry and sun-stroked, held undersea by unrelenting sets of cavernous waves.
He learned, from being a boy and hanging out with boys.
As his heart began to rush, he closed his eyes and breathed slowly through his nose. His head drooped and a memory began to rise.
The crown of Nika’s head and his bare shoulders pressed firmly into spongy white sand. His soft cotton tee tightly covered his entire face, so the harsh blue sunlight filtered through as a creamy white.
Paki, Han, and Newell kneeled around him, giggling. As they breathed their ribcages jutted and contracted, exhausted from battling waves and sun, and being strewn about in the whitewash. Han stretched Nika’s tee firmly over his face, pinning the corners to the sand, one hand on opposite corners. With his index and middle finger, Newell scanned over the tee, scanning the contours of Nika’s face. When he found the space between his lips, Newell pressed firmly, pushing the cotton down into Nika’s mouth, opening up a well.
“You ready?” Paki barked. He held an old plastic water bottle, spilling and overflowing with warm seawater.
Nika closed his eyes and started to breathe in.
Saltwater immediately flooded his mouth, his esophagus, and lungs. The salt stung his throat. Nika’s heartbeat sputtered. He flailed his spindly, brown arms and ripped the shirt off of his face. He lurched his body upright, coughing and clutching his abdomen. The saltwater burned his throat lining once more as he spat it out.
The boys started clutching their abdomens too, shrieking with laughter.
Nika’s head jostled upright. He noticed his temples were wet. He felt as if all those years ago, there were droplets of seawater his reflects couldn’t eject, that got stuck somewhere between his lungs and his gut, vibrating with the sticky moisture in the air.
Image: Mexican Beach Boys by Wayne Thiebaud. 1961. Oil on Canvas.