Holding your breath under water

The gardener at the Royal Hotel. Photo by David Lansing.

The gardener at the Royal Hotel. Photo by David Lansing.

When I woke up it was late in the afternoon. The air had been on the whole time and I was shivering. I opened up the louvered shutters and looked out. A young man in cut-offs and pink wool gloves was using a small pruning saw to cut the dead growth off a banana tree. Just beyond him was a shallow pool that looked like it was about to be taken back by the jungle. A thick wall of palms and hibiscus and ginger plants creeped right up to the edge of the water; some plants had even dipped an exploring vine into the water.

My head was thick and I had that icky feeling you get when you’ve slept too long during the day. I put on my swim suit and went outside, the tropical heat wrapping itself around me like steam from a tea kettle. There was no one around the pool. The sun was just too hot. Even in the pool, I found I had to stay in the shady section or I’d just cook. I swam for ten or fifteen minutes, trying to clear my head, and then I just walked back and forth from one end of the pool to the other (the deep end was only about four-feet), trying not to think about the pregnant woman who hung herself in my bungalow at the Holiday Resort hotel but thinking about her anyway.

I didn’t know anything about what happened, not a damn thing, but in my mind I imagined her to be a young girl, maybe 17 or 18, and in an arranged marriage, foisted on her by her parents. Maybe she was in love with someone else. Maybe she had even thought about getting off the island, getting out of her marriage, going somewhere else. But then she got pregnant. And felt there was no escape. A young girl in an arranged marriage, pregnant, with a man she didn’t love. So she hung herself.

And those holes in the walls and in the door of my room? Did she put them there? Probably not. Probably her husband. The man who drove me into town. Probably he had been the one to find her. And then, while she was still hanging from the ceiling, or maybe after he’d cut her down, he’d put his fist through the walls, the door. Were his hands scraped up? I hadn’t looked. I’d been too worried that he was going to drive us into an oncoming truck. And I still think he might have. If one had come along.

I wondered what her religion had been. Probably Hinduism. Definitely not Islam or Sikhism. Maybe Christian, but probably Hinduism. Wasn’t there a statue of Shiva in the dining room? And the elephant god, Lord Ganesha? Not good to be Hindu and commit suicide. Set her way back in her development. If you are Hindu, I think, and you commit suicide, you end up stuck on earth as some sort of a bad spirit, wandering aimlessly about until you’ve completed your allotted life span. And then you come back to earth to complete your previous karma.

So what a bummer. She’s stuck on Ovalau. For god knows how many years. And then has to come back and start her journey all over again. Perhaps marrying another man she doesn’t love, having a child she does not want. Karma.

Photo by David Lansing.

Photo by David Lansing.

I pushed off from the end of the pool and swam under the water to the other end, coming up breathless. I did this four or five times, always trying to stay under water for as long as I could but never getting much farther than a single length of the pool. I’ve read that our bodies can go without oxygen for much longer than we think. For five minutes, six minutes. A woman from Russia, Natalia Molchanova, once held her breath under water in a pool for 8 minutes and 23 seconds. She said it was like dying, only enjoyable. Rapture.

If only the young woman who hung herself in my room could have learned to hold her breath. For just a little bit longer. Or perhaps she had been holding her breath. For as long as she could. Until she couldn’t stand it any longer. And her heart burst. I’d never know. None of us would.

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1 comment

  1. Sonia’s avatar

    Wow…that was everything I was thinking…sad…makes you appreciate your freedom and life a little more. Everything that happened would have wore on my mind also. How sad he had to take you into town while still grieving.

    No smiles today….because would not be fair to her.

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