When it rains, puddles form in the street outside my window. Some people love rain for the sound it makes on the roof as they sleep. I love it for the windows it creates into a world far beneath, and for the sight of tiny droplets, seen only upon impact, as if the sky is trying to become one with the earth. In another world, they are fish, nibbling the surface of a gigantic underground lake, only revealed when it rains.
Shutting the front door behind me, I cross the street, barefoot. It’s been raining all afternoon, and now the yellow streetlights draw lines on the dark concrete, like suns setting all around me. I hunch down at the largest pool. If I sit still and look really close, I can see myself reflected back in the eyes of my own reflection. Through those eyes, I watch myself sit motionless: a tiny mirrored me under streetlight.
The water is cold on my bare legs, legs that disappear under the water as I plunge them into the pool. The ripples caused by my entrance send tiny wrinkles of light dancing across my thighs. The impact marks of the pitter-patter rain cease to be falling drops and instead become tiny fish, gasping at the roof of the world.
I hold my breath, and as I break the surface, a world of light floods my senses, a world of azure and sunshine a million miles from the grey city I’ve left behind. I find myself swimming, quite naturally, eyes open. I trace the outlines of the world first, pushing out until cliffs block my path, dotted with caves. In two of these lurk my eyes, in two more my nostrils. My mouth is a giant outcrop, unmoving now but for the rise and fall of breathing. I dive deeper, taking in every inch, edging along the lines that I know must form my chin, and then back up, swimming in the maze that is my ear. Then I push off from the rocks and swim inwards, towards a blaze of colour that looms up at the heart of this submerged world.
I realise then that I’m swimming around my own psyche. As fish glint and shimmer and reveal hidden neon blues and underbellies of brightest red, I realise that these are my thoughts, floating idly among the coral mass of my brain.
It’s rare that I get to observe my own thoughts as though a third person. The city above requires so much of my attention that these dives are few and far between. Yet I enjoy them. It’s peaceful down here. I feel safe swimming these waters. That promotion you’re going for, those groceries you’ve got to buy; it’s all meaningless here, lost in the face of overwhelming stillness. What hour of what day it is; that too is immaterial.
Arms spread, I fly over this submarine world. A school of thought catches up with me, then passes me by, tiny black and yellow things unconcerned by my presence as I soar over them. Deep in a crevice, the protruding black spines of a sea urchin. Further on, amongst a city of skyscrapers lifting their fingers up towards the surface, a hundred or more fish, like specks of dust, mill together, before they’re scattered by a passing parrotfish that nibbles at the coral. When the fish moves on, the dust mites regroup as if they had never dispersed.
Eventually, I feel the tug of the outside world requiring my attention. My body can’t go unattended for too long. I do a final lap of the reef, taking it in for the last time, then push up and break the surface once more.
The street is still dark. The lamplight still shines. I have no idea how long I’ve been gone. It doesn’t matter. I emerge and climb from the puddle, wet as a newborn. If it’s still raining, I can’t tell. On hands and knees I survey the world: the pavements, the parked cars, the sad drip-drip trees. I stand to go inside, then turn to take a last look at the puddle. In the lamplight, a fish nibbles the surface, calling out for my return. I’ll be back, I know. But now it’s time to return to reality.
Later, lying in bed, I feel the rocking of the sea and I swear, a hundred miles or more from the coast, I can hear waves breaking on sun-baked rocks, as if coming from inside my head.