The jagged cliff stood tall as a block of flats above the crystal blue lagoon that had been our own private swimming pool all afternoon. From up there, I could see the shadow of the mainland spread on the horizon across the sea. It provided the sense of seclusion I always relished. I peered over the edge to see George hit the water with a dull thump immediately followed by an explosion of water which rained down with a soft tinkling. He emerged through the froth after a few seconds and swam confidently to the rest of our friends who were floating in a semi-circle at a safe viewing distance. It was just me and Ivan to go.
I was exhilarated. The reality that I would soon plunge from that impossible height and survive sent waves of energy shivering through my body. I was pumped; cocked, locked and ready to drop. I turned to Ivan in the hopes of sharing my excitement, but my grin instantly dissipated at the sight of him. He was quivering on the spot, not with excitement, but with the mortal terror that had gripped him. The deep tan he had proudly developed over the last ten days had been bleached by fear, and his eyes were strained so far open I half-worried they might pop out of his head and plop into the water below. He opened his mouth, but his voice stuck in his throat. He gave a clearing stutter.
“I can’t do it, man. It’s too high.”
“Come on, dude,” I said, lightly touching his shoulder, “it’s gonna be fine. It’s really not as high as it looks from up here.”
Ivan wrenched his gaze from the plummet and turned it to me, his expression morphed from terror to something resembling sorrow. It felt like puberty had been stripped from him and now, all that was left was a scared child. He turned back to the drop.
“Well, mate,” I said, feeling a little impatient, “you’ve got two choices; either climb back down the way we came and risk slipping and falling onto those sharp rocks, or, just jump.”
Ivan shook his head almost imperceivably.
“I promise you’ll be fine, all the others have done it and look, they’re fine! Now it’s our turn.”
Ivan leaned over the edge and looked down. He took a few deep breaths then stood up straight.
“Alright,” he said in a distant, quavering voice, “I’ll jump.”
“Nice, dude,” my grin returned, “I’ll count you in, OK? On three, you just do it, don’t even think, just go.”
He nodded and prepared himself at the edge.
“OK, here we go! One, two, three!”
Ivan bent to jump forward, but his trembling legs melted beneath him and reduced his leap to a stumble. I watched in agonising slow motion as he tumbled from the perch and thudded into the outcropping of razor-sharp rock which stuck out a couple of meters below the edge. He bounced off it and the momentum span him like a boneless circus clown performing cartwheel after grotesque cartwheel, out of control, hurtling towards the crowd. The eternal silence was broken by a hideous crack as his body slammed into the surface of the water.
Paralysed by horror, I watched the scene play out below me. I think I could hear shouting or screaming as the others tore towards the widening patch of purple in which Ivan drifted. They reached him and floated with him for a while in a frantic commotion. Then, like a squad of soldiers rescuing a fallen comrade from the battlefield, they took turns dragging him back to shore.
I just stood there and watched, a light numbness breathing over me.
They were like little toy people down there on the beach, hurrying about and gesturing wildly at each other. One was running up the path we had come down to the idyllic location, one was talking into his hand which was pressed against his face, the others were surrounding the one laying down, the only one not moving. It was kind of funny, like a little play put on just for me. One of the characters stepped forward and broke the fourth wall, he was calling my name.
Reality hit me like the end of a forty-foot drop and I snapped back into the situation. A wave of nausea displaced the pleasant numb feeling. I had to get down. I looked around and considered my options for descension. With a pitiful shame lodged in my throat, I decided to pick my way carefully back down the way we had come up. I didn’t slip.