How long can a man hold his breath underwater?
He no longer knows how long it has been. The count in his head gives way to a more immediate agenda - the struggle not to breathe. The air he holds inside him is a kind of integrity, an assertion of the self that he must keep unspilled. Against the suffocation pressing in on him his will clenches like a fist.
He opens his eyes, expecting the water to drown his vision. Instead there is a little sting, then everything is surprisingly clear. The world around him seems denser, more subdued. Everything moves in slow motion. The sunlight diffuses through the water, like a stain seeping down from the surface; lines of electric white dance on the waves. The blank, almost anesthetic smell of the sea fills his nostrils, tempting him. The sound of the ocean fills his ears - a roaring absence, a silence made loud.
It is time to go. Reluctantly, he rises up from the depths, his legs jacknifing. He feels no panic now, only sadness, its blue, sodden weight like a gravity he dare not hold on to. He has no choice but to leave - he cannot stay here, would not survive. Yet as his head breaks through the surface - lungs gasping hungrily at the air, ears rediscovering the familiar noise of the world - what he feels is not relief but a sense of parting. As though he had betrayed something. As though he had left something behind.