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It was one of those hot and humid summer days, the kind that makes your t-shirt stick to your back, and perspiration trickle down your forehead. Everybody on the small island was feeling lazy, and lethargic, and if you weren’t unfortunate enough to be working one of the tourist shops, then you were exploring one of the island’s many beaches. An outsider would have considered me one of the luckier ones for I was sprawled indolently over a beach towel, clad in a bathing suite, as grainy sand squished beneath my body. Indeed, I was carefree, but far from happy.
“Dad, can I go swimming now?” I asked my father slightly annoyed as I tossed a rock, watching it as it sailed through the air, landing just where the water started.
“Not now,” my dad responded absentmindedly as he turned a page in his paperback book. “The tide is much too high right now. It’ll swallow you whole if you go in now.”
I turned towards the ocean, seeing the immense waves rise and fall. I could almost see myself being lost amongst it all, chocking and drowning beneath the water. I shuddered as I hastily erased the thought from my mind.
“Yeah,” I replied a little disappointed. “I guess you’re right.”
Mournfully, I studied the ocean, the greenish water beckoning me. I could almost feel the coolness of the water, the gentle rocking of the waves. What I wanted most, though, was relief from the oppressive heat that lay over my body, heavier than a polar bear’s winter coat
“Hey,” my dad called to my as he saw my long face, marking his page with his finger. “Why don’t you go see if somebody wants to build a sandcastle with you, or something?”
Looking around the beach, I spotted only a few people scattered randomly on the sand. There was a young man, perhaps eighteen or so, digging through the sand in search of seashells, an elderly couple basking in the sun, and a group of kids, perhaps around my age, trying to build a sand castle. I built up my courage and walked over to the kids.
“Can I help you build your sandcastle?” I asked shyly as I approached them.
To my relief, they nodded, accepting me as I bent down to help them dig a moat around their giant sandcastle. It wasn’t long before we were all done, and now all we needed was a bucket of water for the moat.
“I’ll get it,” I volunteered as a boy held up a bucket. He handed it to me, and I began to walk to the water.
It wasn’t long at all before I found myself at the water’s edge, the waves licking at my ankles. The bliss that overtook my body as the chilly ocean cooled it down was incomparable to any other sensation that I had ever experienced. At that moment in time, I forgot everything: the sand castle, my dad… even my own common sense abandoned me. I dropped the bucket, and I continued my descent into the water. I shuddered again, this time in delight, as the water rose swiftly around my body. First, it was around my knees, and then my waist.
When the water reached my chest, I kicked up feet up, and began to swim. I started out on a backstroke, but then I quickly changed my maneuver to a breaststroke to better manipulate the water. It wasn’t long, though, before I began to tire. Slowly, I brought my legs down, trying to find the sandy, ocean floor.
At first, the ground evaded me, and I moved around slightly to see if I had only found myself in a slight indention of the sand. As I swam around, though I realized that that was not the case. I had gone out too far, to where I could no longer touch the ground.
I didn’t lose my composure there. I simply started to swim to shore, which now seemed a lot farther a way than I first realized. Once again, I kicked up my feet, performing another breaststroke as I tried to fight my way back to the beach. Only a little time past before I realized that I couldn’t. The more I tried to swim to shore, the father away I seemed to get.
I was getting tired fast, and fear seeped through my body. The beach was much too small to have its own lifeguard, and since I had failed to tell anybody about my rash decision to go swimming, nobody was looking for me.
“Help!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “Anybody please! Please help!”
I could hear my voice travel only a short distance before trailing off, perhaps no sound at all reaching the shore.
I closed my eyes, trying to keep my cool as the waves continued to carry me farther and farther away. I had learned about the ocean at school, and tried to recall some of the information from the back of my mind. I remembered that sometimes there currents called riptides in some oceans near the shore that prevented you from swimming inland. I tried to remember what to do incase I ever found myself in one, but my memory failed me.
“Help!” I called once more, but it was in vain. Nothing stirred on the shore, which was now so far away that my dad looked small enough to be an ant.
I could feel the adrenaline wearing off, and the desperation setting in. It was the end of my life, I was sure. The water rose over my head. I struggled for one last breath, but instead, I got a mouth full of salty, ocean water. I opened my eyes, ignoring the sting of the salt in my tender corneas, staring up at the pool of light that represented air and freedom. I tried to swim to it, but by now, my arms and legs ached with tiredness. I gave up, and allowed myself to sink to the bottom. And then, as my lungs screamed for the oxygen they could not have, everything went black.
All of a sudden, I felt my head break the surface of the water. Immediately, I started to breathe again, water streaming from my mouth and nose. I felt strong hands lift my body out of the water. Opening my eyes, I realized that it was the young man that I had spotted on the beach. He heaved me onto his back, so that my head was resting on his shoulder, and he grasped my hands with his, kicking with his feet.
It was awkward swimming like that, and I was still too weak to help him. Somehow, though, he managed to get us back to the shore, me gasping for breath. When we reached the area where the waves broke, the young man picked me up, and carried me until we reached the dry part of the beach, where he then set me down. For the first time, my dad realized something was wrong. He came to my side, closely followed by the elderly couple.
“Stand aside,” I could hear the elderly man say, for my eyes were closed. “I’m a doctor.”
As the old man grasped my wrist, checking for a pulse, I opened my eyes, and coughed, water sputtering out of my mouth. My dad breathed a sigh of relief, as did the old man and his wife.
“Where… did… he… go?” I breathed between coughs. I looked for the young man, so I could properly thank him, but he had disappeared. A trial of wet footprints in the sand was the only clue to where he could have gone.
“What happened?” My dad asked as I began to sit up. “Are you all right?”
I didn’t answer. I was preoccupied thinking about the young man. He had saved my life, coming just in the knick of time. If he hadn’t come… well, it scared me to think of the alternative.
It was a weird feeling as I sat there on the beach, that a person would risk his own life to save that of a stranger’s. I didn’t know anything about him… his name, where he lived… nothing. Yet, he was a hero, one in the true definition of the word. Only a hero could put everything else aside in a selfless act, could give up absolutely everything for the good of another person. He could have just as easily been swept up in the riptide, and both of us would have drowned.
I smiled to myself as I caught sight of the young man standing in the far off bushes. As he caught my eye, he smiled back at me, the small grin saying everything. He gave me one last swift nod, disappearing into the tall beach grass.