Raw yellow and white, the sun beat down hard and impossibly bright onto the city. Michael regretted not digging out his sunglasses as the five lads padded along the Strand in shorts, T-shirts and trainers, no socks.
This was the perfect day for it. It was Saturday, summer, 2008 too. Albert Dock was loaded with tourists. The Duck Tours vehicle bounced along the road past the group, its assortment of visitors gawping, Beatles songs blaring out.
The boys jostled each other as they went along, pulling tops and slapping arms till they reached the bridge filled with people streaming in both directions. A few tourists had stopped to gaze at the vista of the waterfront, sweating, squinting into slick digital cameras, looking for the perfect angle. Michael, smiling, eyed some of them menacingly and they cast their gaze away from him uneasily.
Leaning with his back to the dull, black bridge-side, arms outstretched along the railing, Leon quipped: “Who’ll be the first brave man to step up eh?”
Michael grinned widely at Leon, his dimples nearly reaching his narrow, brown eyes. Without speaking, he pulled off his washed-out grey t-shirt detailing some long-forgotten event, then stepped forward and mounted the wide ledge of the bridge in one movement.
He stood legs wide apart on the edge of the bridge and looked around him. Some passers-by were already stopping, shielding their eyes with their hands to look up at him standing in the sun. On the ledge he caught the wind blowing in cold and strong, straight from the river. It hit the sweat that covered his body, encasing him in a strange coolness as the moisture froze on him. He felt everything with renewed, innocent, strength. He was proud of his gym-enhanced body. They were watching him. He had power. He squeezed his toes around the edge of the hot metal bridge, feeling the sun harsh on his face and the beads of sweat sliding down slowly from his close-cropped hair to his crack.
Looking down, the water remained uninviting, a thick, slopping, miserable, green-brown. He turned around again, slower. More people had stopped.
“Stop posin Mike and fucking jump,” Evo said quickly.
He faced the river again, feeling now nothing more than the overwhelming heat of the day and the desire to escape it. He put his hands forward and leaped.
In an instant he was blinded by the full shock of the sun’s glare and screwed his eyes tight. Air rushed around him, but before he could recover his sight he was enveloped by the water. The cold sliced through him instantly. Sinking in the dark liquid, his eyes, ears and nose filled. The power he had only a few seconds previously vanished.
He carried on plummeting downwards through the drink, eventually slowing in his descent till he felt his whole body turning, cradled in the water. The darkness was total. Sounds surged in his ears and then slowly began to fade. There was nothing outside of him, nothing past or present, only the water and the cold.
Sensing danger, he struggled with his arms, thrusting forwards to what he thought was the surface in sheer panic. But he found no respite from the total darkness that overwhelmed his senses. His every movement was heavy and laboured and drained his resources further. Whichever way he turned seemed to bring him no closer to any light. He tried to speak and a pained roar flew out in bubbles.
Michael felt the slow ebbing away of his energy and began to cease in all thought and function.
As his movement became ever slower, weakened by the pressure, he felt himself begin to disappear into the blackness and accepted his fate. He knew it was right.
Then with a rush he was dragged rapidly back. Shooting towards the glare, he pierced the top of the water and coughed up half the Mersey as he broke the surface.
Through stinging eyes he looked up to see the boys cheering and tourists clapping. Feeling the sun once again attacking the back of his neck, he swam towards the old metal ladder, his vision blurred, his head pounding. He was back. He was powerful.
But he already missed the cold.