Drowned

A short story by Mariel Brown

Illustration by Shalini SeereeramIllustration by Shalini Seereeram

The endless rain comes every day at the same time, torrential rain that pours in sheets, accompanied by claps of thunder and flashes of electric-white lightning. The garden quickly becomes a rice field and the rooms in this house turn dark, as though night has fallen in the middle of the afternoon. Sometimes the lamp next to the aqua-green couch where I lie flashes off and on, off and on, in time with the lightning. Off-on.

Last Friday, a woman in the city got washed away by the rain. She was driving through a ghetto area in her majestic silver Pajero when a torrent of water rushed down a gully like a breaker tearing across a rough sea and pushed the car away: a toy car swept by the tide on the beach.

She was the mother of two small children. At seven o’clock on Friday morning, they say she had dropped them to school. When, at a quarter to three, she hadn’t yet come for them, they would probably have been excited, thrilled even: more time for pitch-playing and chit-chatting, I would guess.

There is a leak in the roof above the aqua-coloured couch where I lie. Plump droplets of rain land with a muted smack on the corner of the couch. I watch as the dispersing water sends dark green tendrils creeping out from there.

I wonder if she knew she was going to die, if there was any inkling as the first sad drops rolled and slid slowly down the windscreen and bonnet of her car, that this would be the day she dreamt about; the day that, when she imagined it, made her heart race and sink at the same time.

I can see her turn on the windscreen wipers, intermittent speed. She turns up the volume of the music coming from the CD player, The Best of Mozart. Her CD player can hold five disks at once but she only puts three of them in. The Magic Flute.

The windscreen wipers would be halfway to full speed by now. The traffic moving forward inch by inch would have been unbearable to her. My sister always rages about people not knowing how to drive in the rain.

The sound of the rain is competing with the music. She fiddles irritably with the stereo, turning up the volume some more. Eine Kleine Nacht Musik. The windscreen is fogging up and the wipers aren’t wiping fast enough.

 

The housekeeper Sadie asks me if I don’t want to close the doors to the patio. I say no. I want to see the rain. But she is nervous: “You don’t ’fraid the lightning?” she asks, looking from me out to the garden beyond the couch. No, I am not afraid of the lightning. I am inside and the lightning is outside. No. I am not afraid. If I look too hard, I wonder if the flash will blind me. Could a clap of thunder stop the sound of rain from splashing in my ears?

She would have heard the thunder, even with her window wound up, the music on full volume and the car’s air-conditioning hissing.

But I wonder if she saw the lightning my father saw. That rod of light that split in two and stayed: one, two, three, four, five. “It was a helluva thing,” he’d said breathlessly as he got home that night. “My God! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life!” He didn’t say it, but I know he thought that he might die that afternoon, trapped on flooding streets in his little white Corolla, the rain pouring and pouring, its sound numbing his ears to anything else.  Not even the Beatles singing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds could penetrate that sound. If she saw that lighting, did she think: My God, I’ve never seen anything like this!

The water drip-dropping on the couch next to me is beginning to get on my nerves. It reminds me of nights on the boat when the incessant, irregular splashing of the rain stopped sleep from settling in. I walk over to the shuttered doors and look through the louvres to the garden. It’s not a garden anymore. It’s more like a vast fish-pond with the odd hibiscus island scattered here and there. If I were to put my feet on the grass the water would be over my ankles. It has risen to just a few inches shy of the patio step. I look up to the sky. It’s a heavy silvery white blanket that covers everything. How much longer will the rain go on like this?

I heard she turned left onto a side road . . . the one with the gully. Perhaps she thought the traffic might be a little better if she took that route.

It’s three o’clock.  Already half-an-hour late for the children.

 

She had an eight-year-old son called Alex. She probably hoped he wasn’t playing football in the rain. She would have known that her ten-year-old, Alice, was in a classroom chatting with her girlfriends. “They must be wondering where I am,” she would have thought as she realised the traffic was no better on the new route. It was worse. Bumper to bumper. Wipers on full speed. Music on full blast: the Requiem. Muddy water is racing down the road — between cars, into mufflers and dirty engines, chasing pedestrians from the pavements. A car on the other side of the road stalls. Angry drivers begin blowing their horns in frustration and fear. And it is fear. She can feel it.

I watch a news report on the television. “Catastrophic floods in India claim 206 lives.” The video footage is  unbelievable. While I watch, three people are violently swept away by the raging torrents. They will die. Nowhere to go but into the water. I expect by the time their bodies are found they will look just like the drowned man I saw at the beach: battered and bruised and bloated.

The water is spreading across the white tiles of the floor now — silent and inevitable as the coming tide. Did she panic when she saw the water rising around her? Maybe not. Perhaps she thought she was invincible in her Pajero.

One car ahead, a pick-up truck stalls coming out of the gully. She can’t turn back, the cars are jammed behind her.

Oh God. I can’t stop moving. They say you shouldn’t stop when you’re driving on a flooded road. Suppose the water gets into the muffler? Got to get out of here. Reverse turn, forward turn. Reverse turn, forward turn.

Oh God.

The rain has stopped. The skirt of the aqua couch is stained dark green. The legs of the dining tables and chairs stand in half-an-inch of water which laps gently at my toenails. But soon it will all recede.

 

They found her body on a white sandy beach beneath a pristine sky. Her clothes were tattered and torn, her skin blemished with dark purple blotches. She didn’t know she was going to die. Nowhere to go but away with the water, she didn’t know Death had arrived to claim her, so she fought it.

People say she was stupid to get out of the car. I don’t know. I suspect the thought of dying slowly inside her car while the water crept up over the gear stick, the stereo, the air-conditioning vents, the dashboard, would have scared her more than dying in a turbulent surge. But then, she didn’t think she was going to die. n