I could see my toes gripping the sparse soil fragments spread in little pockets over the ragged cliff edge. As I stared down, my toes were at the edge of my field of vision, like little spectators’ heads popping out over the fronds of boulders; beyond them were the jagged edges protruding from the cliff face, which careened down into the deep black of the sea below. I stared at the black body, beckoning to me with foamy white snarls, thrashing against the cliff face in a bid to shake the earth, to send me tumbling down eighty feet into the abyss. I could feel Tom breathing beside me, it was a tense and slow series of gasps, so slow, as if trying to halt time with the rhythm of his breath. I could feel the gaze of the group behind us, silently waiting in anticipation.
The nine of us had rented a boat to the uninhabited island for a three day camping trip, uninhabited save for a hotel nestled behind a clump of trees leading down to a coved beach washed by brilliant turquoise waters, that contrasted heavily with the open waters beyond its invisible boundary. The camping site was on the other side of the bay, and the beach was one of only two spots on the island where the waters were sheltered from the black open sea, it was also one of the only points where the land descended, making it possible to swim and berth the boat. The rest of the island was a fortress of high rock towering out of the treacherous sea, where rolling waves kept guard on the frontier.
That first night we had set up camp and wandered off in twos and threes to look for brambles, wood and anything else we could collect for a bonfire. Tom was a close friend and we were often testing each other, most of the time it was a game of bluff and mockery combined, to see who would cave first, and over the years it was one of the instruments we used to learn about each other’s limits and vulnerabilities. We were all close friends actually, a tightly knit group brought closer by the geographical limits of our tiny island home.
The bonfire was burning high and we sat around it as it sent short licks of flame, seductively teasing our feet with its warmth. We passed numerous bottles of red wine around the circle, the battered stereo playing Dylan in the background, and we watched as slivers of green and lilac coloured the flames as they brewed the paint off a plank of wood.
Tom turned on his side toward me, nodded at me and said,‘Ha, ha – you were pissing yourself on the boat. Did you see that guys? When we hit that wave he almost turned green.’ ‘Bullshit, you were the one who was scared, I was laughing at you – don’t forget I used to own a boat’, I retorted back.
He grimaced, took a swig of wine, rolled it methodically in his mouth, then looked back and said, ‘Come on man, we all know you get jittery easily – you don’t think you’re going to fool any of us?’
‘Jittery? Me? HA!! I’ll take you on in anything, just name it.’
We both stared at each other in silence for a moment or two; the others weren’t taking much notice, and just chatted between themselves. Tom took another swig and licked his lips. He had a mischievous look in his eye, that glint that indicated he was about to come up with something. ‘Right then, tomorrow we jump from the cliff by the cave, the one who backs out owes the other a twenty. Done?’ ‘Done’, I said and immediately regretted it.
So that’s how we found ourselves peering down the jagged cliff into the foamy mouth frothing with anticipation. I felt a slight tremble in my calves. I glanced at Tom and he glanced back in obvious trepidation. There was a cull in the wind and I jumped feet first, my head pushed up and my mouth wide open expelling air as I descended for what seemed like an eternity. I felt the pressure build in my chest and the soles of my feet, and the air cut past the outer parts of my arms, then the quick splash as I torpedoed through the black cold, and water enveloped me. There was an instant calm, and I felt the pressure of my slow movements, as I panicked on the inside, struggling to the surface. I emerged with a gasp, tossed by the waves and looked about me with furtive spurts of my head. There was a foamy patch from which Tom’s head burst a few moments later. We signalled to each other and let out a scream of celebration.
We swam to the cave and Tom hauled himself onto the rocks then pulled me up, and we shivered in the cold breeze as we stared out at the sea, then up at the cliff. I felt a numb pain in my chest and feet, they were bruised and lined with a pale grey, so were Tom’s. We didn’t care. We looked at each other and smiled. ‘What idiots we are’, Tom said. ‘What fools’, I said, but couldn’t help thinking how our foolish challengesjust brought us closer together each time, exposing our limits and revealing more about one another than we could otherwise dare talk about.