I opened my eyes to oblivion. What I thought had been my last breath was not my last breath – I had been wrong about that. For a few seconds, I was as calm as music, but then my body pedalled and thrashed; it didn’t want to drown. This wasn’t a new-found desire, after all, to live. This was about air. Oxygen. And my lack of it. My lungs, each of my muscles, hung suspended, seized in pain. I kicked until my head broke the surface, and in that moment I saw the bridge passing above me. I sucked a breath of sweet air before I went under again and wheeled my arms, looking for something solid to hold as I was carried downriver. My suffocating limbs became blocks of stone.
Eventually my body gave up fighting and began to sink and, beyond my control, my throat drew water. Water and river silt entered my trachea, my lungs. Something popped deep inside my ear. I vomited and, with a violent rush, more water, silt and leaves filled the evacuated space inside me. At last, a tingling started in my fingertips. It was remote, pleasant. I opened my eyes (though they may have been open all along) and there was something pale and dead floating very close to my face. My hand. And then darkness surrounded me, like steam from a hot bath clouding a mirror, and a feeling grew too; it was as if I’d been handed the universe in a glass jar. All I had to do was open it. Just as my heart was pumping its last beats, I was hooked at the waistband by a pole and lifted on to the hard deck of a grain barge. And this is where I died.