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He takes off his shirt and pants with his wallet and passport in the pockets, and his sneakers, and rolls ‘em up tight and gives them to Elim.

“You toss ‘em to me.”

Elim takes the bundle, reluctantly.

In his briefs and T-shirt Rategan leaps the ten feet and is sobered by the hit on the water, and then embalmed by its warm depths.

One reason to thank God, or Jah, the Caribbean Sea.What a blessed ting, mon.He treads water and turns towards the ship.It looks close enough.Back in Southern Africa, he was a strong swimmer, a record-breaker at the Highlands School Gala at the age of 11.Huh.

He waves at Elim, catches the bundle before it hits the water, and, holding it above him, starts count-swimming.He will count to 150 before looking up.When he does he sees that he is halfway between the sea wall and the boat, whose stern is pointing towards him.He does it again.150 strokes with one arm, face into the water, mouth opening for air every three strokes, holding the bundle aloft, and dry with his left.

He stops, looks, but the boat is no closer. It has swung on its anchor with the shifting current and is now at least another 150 strokes further out.Just at that moment he swallows a huge lungful of seawater.His raised left arm now is beginning to cramp at the shoulder, the muscles behind his knees burning.He treads water furiously, looking back to see if he should head back to the seawall.Nope; that’s too far.

The drunken confidence has worn off.He is officially freaked.Not for the first time, he thinks of his death at 19, a death his family back in South Africa and England would find unfathomable.One of those weird stubs in the paper.

Rategan Edwardes, schoolboy cricket prospect drowned…(wait for it).. off the island of Dominica in the Antilles Islands of the Eastern Caribbean. No foul play suspected. Body not recovered. Memorial service, St Martins-in-the-Fields. 3 pm. Saturday.

He can see his private school associates wrenching their faces with incomprehension.

“Where the hell is Domenica…and what the hell was he doing there???”

“Must have gone Native.”

“Good riddance, I say”

What a waste.His mother would weep a deluge, would be destroyed.She had never wanted him to go off like he had, though it was her frustrated wanderlust, her loathing of how she had become trapped as a colonial engineer’s wife, that propelled him out of doomed South Africa.

Another wavelet elbows him in the back of the head, and so he takes the deepest breath he can muster.He is now swimming underwater with his left hand just above the surface, still trying to keep the damn bundle dry.
The strangest thought comes to him.

I am not going to die a Virgin.

I am going to know a woman.

I am not going to die a Virgin.

After what seems like an eternity he breaks the surface, heaving and gasping, his whole body wracked with exhaustion, and there, like a sweetly smiling granny rocking on her stoep lies the good ship Mars, right above him.

He grasps the anchor chain and kisses it, as he regains breath.He has dodged death twice in one night.And he has never felt so alive.

More vitally, he has had a glimpse into what is really important to him.

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