Ana walked through the revolving door out into the busy street. She was still in her hospital gown, and some people in the lobby stared as she walked out. She didn’t notice.
She paused just outside the door. The sun was bright and beating down on her head but the air was cool. The combination left her perfectly comfortable in her scant covering.
She looked up one way of the street and down the other, watching the people going by in each direction. They were choosing where to take themselves, to one way or the other. Now that she was out, she could choose, too.
She turned to walk up the street. Eventually, probably soon, someone would realize she was gone, and then word would be given to find her. But she still had some minutes to walk freely. She would give herself a full, glorious five minutes of complete freedom before she thought of what was to come next.
She reached the corner of the block and looked up at the street signs. After so much time inside, she had to think of what the street names meant. But then she realized she was just four blocks away from the water. She smiled and turned right.
This street was shadier and less crowded, and she felt the coolness of the wind in the weaker sunlight. I’ll be cold soon, she thought. I haven’t been cold in months. Perhaps it will be a nice change.
She walked in silence and completely-satisfied calm, taking in as many details of her surroundings as she could: the deep shade of green on the trees not yet turned yellow; the lighter gray of the concrete sidewalk contrasted with the black of the asphalt street; the shrill sound of a fire truck leaving the station a couple blocks away; the deep red of the blouse of the woman walking toward her who, Ana could tell, had decided at first glance to ignore her and her hospital gown. The woman looked clean and wealthy and busy – nothing that Ana was now. But Ana was at peace and – for two more minutes – completely free, and that’s all she wanted. She did not envy the woman.
Ana walked on and soon she could see the water gleaming up ahead, bright blue and bright crystal under the sun. “It’s there!” she exclaimed happily, and then also immediately sensed that her five minutes were up. A nurse – probably Steve, her favorite one – would be notifying someone of her absence in her room. Then security would be notified downstairs, and then her doctor, who would advise that they go out into the streets to look for her at once.
She sighed and let her gaze drop from the water down to her dirty feet. They were right – she knew it – to look for her. They were right to think she still belonged in there, and she knew she could still use their help. But that was only if she had had more time. Her time was nearly up now and their help could not stretch it. That, they didn’t know.
She started moving again, picking up her pace to now run down the sidewalk. She loved the hardness of the concrete underneath her bare feet. It was sure and firm and unmoving, unlike her mind.
Each time her feet hit the ground she felt the contents of her mind crash against one another, clanging like metal bars thrown together without purpose. She wondered if all these pieces – her memories, imaginations, dreams, conscious and subconscious thoughts; the faces and voices and touch of the people she loved that she carried with her – would leave bruises on the inside of her skull as they tangled and collided as she ran.
Soon she was at the corner before the two busy streets that were her only barrier to the beach on the other side. She stopped to look across the cars and the sand to the calm water ahead. Again she was gladdened by it and she smiled. They were surely looking for her now, but she was so close to her and her mind’s freedom.
She looked up at the green stop light letting the cars stream by and block her way. She turned to look behind her and scanned the street. No one was following her, not yet, but she knew it was only a matter of time. She didn’t have time to wait for the light to turn red. She took a deep breath, looked both ways, and sprinted across the street through a sliver of an opening between the speeding cars.
She made it to the other side and slowed to a walk when she met the sand. She liked its warmness underneath her feet. Looking out across the water she felt peace blown to her from its smooth surface, as though it was welcoming her. The tumult in her mind stopped.
She had no thought of her hospital gown or the cars behind or anyone looking for her or anything at all except the water before her. She had waited for it so long, all her days inside, and now she felt that it was glad to see her.
She walked slowly over the sand, taking in each step, enjoying her short walk to the water’s edge. She soon was just a few steps away when she felt herself stop. Something inside her kept her feet from moving forward.
She had been walking hopefully and assuredly to the water, but now she hesitated before the uncontrollable expanse before her. Questions tumbled and chased each other inside her mind, like cars speeding over entwined super highways:
What would happen if she did enter the water, if she swam out as far as her body would take her? What would happen to all her treasures stored here in her mind? Would they get washed away? She had felt the water was glad to see her, but now she wondered why? Did the water love her like she loved it? Did it want to give her the freedom, comfort, and safety she had imagined she would find in it? Or was there some other reason it was pulling her towards itself? What did it want? What would she really find there, underneath it?
“Ana!” someone yelled, interrupting her questioning.
Her body tensed and her mind sprung back to awareness of what was happening around her.
They had found her.
“Ana!” the voice called again and she recognized it as Steve’s.
She turned. He was at the very edge of the beach, still by the busy streets. He had stopped, seemingly waiting to see what she would do.
What will I do? she asked herself as she turned back to the blue surface hiding black underneath. Though Steve waited, she knew he would reach her quickly if he felt he had to.
“What will I do?” she repeated aloud.
“Ana, are you coming?” Steve called.
Ana looked back to him again, squinting to make out his hopeful face that was trying to hide his readiness, his concern.
She turned to look back at the water, still expansive, still calm, still waiting.
“OK,” she said aloud to it and took two steps to meet its edge. “I’m not scared.”
And then she walked into the water, either to be taken or to be saved.
(Song: Land and Water, by Elliott)