You never swam well, but you still gathered the courage to go for a swim a couple of times. Nobody really knew where the bottom was, because the mud was so thick it was unidentifiable. It didn’t matter, most of the time you would just balance on the narrow pier, or go to the beach and pick up stones, hunting for tiny crabs that had got stuck there since the last tide. At times you would dip your feet in the ice-cold water, or even just your toes. Usually in the springtime, feeling the very first rays of sun on your skin. The temptation was simply too big.
Sometimes you would get up at five in the morning to go fishing. The yellow boat was too small to use when the sea wasn’t still, and it would always get windy and wavy by noon. There wasn’t much fish, but from time to time you would get a cod or a sole that came with a great portion of pride.
You had a lot of respect for the water. Usually, you spent the whole boat ride staring down into it, counting jellyfish, or hoping to see something even more exciting. Nothing was better than when it got clear, and you could spot the seaweed down there, getting a glimpse of a whole other world.
The first couple of islands were inhabited by birds, and the swans that reigned there would swim to shore in large groups every time you called them, always torn between their wildness and their appetite for bread. Further out was the main island, the one you used to walk around only to see the huge crack in the middle of the rocky ground. It always made you feel like an adventurer. Beyond that were the black islands that consisted of lava rocks that looked uncomfortable to step on, although you never went onshore. Even the farthest islands were easy to find as long as you followed the dug out canals, marked with fragile-looking sticks. You always thought they stayed year after year, mysteriously surviving the brutal autumn storms that occasionally broke off pieces of the cement pier as if it were a piece of cardboard. You were way beyond adult when you found out that they were changed every year.
During the rainy season when there were no cobwebs between the trees, there was the forest. At first, you would just follow the main paths, but as you got older they didn’t seem so long anymore and you drifted off and found your own routes. Through the woods, half climbing up the rocks, past the one that looked like a whale, and up to where it felt like no one had ever been. It didn’t matter that you were alone, you would listen to classical music and pretend to live the life of someone else. You found a cliff that was so steep it looked like someone had cut it with a knife, and a gigantic old oak tree with branches so heavy you could almost walk up upon them from the ground. It was collected in the storage room of your imagination, saved up for the stories of the future.
At night you would curl up on the couch, listening to radio novels while having orange juice and chocolate. A mouse or a beetle would sometimes scoot by, peacefully sharing your home while living their own lives. It was pitch black outside and it always seemed threatening, but inside it was safe and warm.
It was a miracle that you never fell while running up the steep stairs; a child’s optimism can make one immortal. Tucked in under the blankets you studied the flowers in the wallpaper for years, before they finally replaced it with wood panels. But you could still see it in the crack behind the door, although you couldn’t see the patterns you used to.
In the morning you woke up to the sound of newly hatched swallow chicks from the nests under the gables. If you stuck your head out far enough, they would peek over the edge and meet your gaze with curious pearly eyes.
In the final years, you crashed your head into everything, – your brain still adjusted the body like it had done during all those years. The old birthday cards had been taken down from the wall above the bed, and you knew you no longer could crawl through the small window beside the wooden chest. Although you didn’t jump from rock to rock in the garden anymore, you still knew each one of them, where they were round and where they were pointy; you still knew exactly where to put your feet. Now they were just a small step apart from each other.
You knew the crabs had to be fished by new little hands. You hated abandoned houses, there was nothing in the world that made you sadder, and you had promised yourself a long time ago not to let that happen. So you visited the oak tree one last time, and you saw your own face imprinted in the bark. And you let go.