The day I got hit by lightning was swelteringly tropical hot, my brain slowly stewing inside my overheated skull. When it gets like this even breathing seems like such hard work. Downstairs, in the shared swimming pool, I still sweat from the heat.
I share the pool with a few hundred residents, in theory at least. Less than a dozen use it regularly. I am one of them. I swim most days in a vain attempt to curb the inversion of the triangular torso of my youth. I’m fighting a losing battle against the combined effects of gravity, middle age and rich Malaysian food. When the rain comes the security guards come too. Nice chaps, all Nepali. I spent a few months in their country once and know enough words to make them smile. I argue that I am wet already and rainfall won’t make me wetter. They point fingers to the dark clouds. Fingers that make descending zigzags. Very dangerous, they say. I laugh, but get out to humour them and towel myself dry.
The day of the lightening strike my sweat soaked shirt stuck to my skin. I pack a bag and drive an overheated hour to a waterfall near Rawang.
Fully clothed children splash in the little stream, floating improvised Styrofoam boats fashioned from discarded takeaway boxes. One even has a satay-stick mast and a pink plastic bag sail. It all ends up downstream anyway. The shade is cooler under the trees. The sunlight never hits the forest floor. If there were more trees in my neighbourhood it would be cooler too. Instead the concrete soaks up the sunlight and seeps it back late into the night. If there were more trees and more shade in the city then my car might be less like an oven. I’m a pink-faced slow-cooked pot-roast.
I follow the trail under the trees and reach the waterfall at last. I put my bag down on the rocks. Local teenagers with motorbike helmets are taking an illicit break from school. They eat fishy smelling rice from more Styrofoam. They straw-sip lurid coloured liquids from tied up plastic bags. They share hand-cupped cigarettes and try hard not to cough. I sarong slip into my swimming shorts.
In the pool below the waterfall are a few smiling young men. Dark-skinned big-boned fellows sitting waist deep in the water. Their big hands clutch small glasses. A bottle of whiskey on the rocks. The water is cold at first, but my body quickly adapts. The young men offer me a drink. I politely refuse. They are local boys, Malaysians, but call themselves Indian.
I float on my back and see clouds coming. The blue soon fades to grey, and greyer still. I surface dive in the deepest part. I hold a rock and hold my breath, half bobbing with my eyes closed in the quiet dark coolness. When I resurface it is raining. Raindrops dimple and pockmark the surface of the pool. Concentric circle ripples spread. I lift my face to the sky and let the rain run down my face. Irish rain is soft, but cold. Tropical rain falls in warm heavy drops. The rain gets heavier, agitates the water even more. Thunder rumbles, like a heavy laden truck. I like a good storm. It clears and cools the air.The hissing rainfall whitenoise, the electrical buzz in the air, make my mind sharp and alert and calm.
Forked lightning flash-bangs nearby. My heart leaps. Adrenaline surges through my body. The school kids are gone. The Indian men clamber unsteadily from the pool. I let the strongest part of the waterfall beat down upon my shoulders. I swim to the pool’s edge and then I get out too.
The water turns yellow-brown from washed off soil upstream. I join the Indians in the shelter of a small open hut. The downpour batters a frenetic beat upon the sloped tin roof. We are wet and standing in a puddle, waiting for the rain to stop. The men’s eyes are bloodshot, their grins lopsided now. The whiskey bottle lies empty. They clink glasses for last round. They clink glasses and thunder cracks. Loud, just overhead. We all jump and laugh surprised at the conjunction of clink and thunderclap. For a moment they are Olympian gods. Then just drunk young men.
Lightning flashes with a simultaneous bang. Loud like an explosion. We all jump and howl. Massive electric shock. I’ve tripped the mains before, but nothing near like this. 220 volts is a finger flick against this knockout punch. I’m blinded for a moment then vision returns. I check to see if my feet are still there. They feel as though they’ve been ripped off. My mind panics and my heart is sore. I remind myself to breathe and climb up on the concrete bench. Little baby Marc wants to cry. The Indians are quiet too. Shocked into sobriety, they look close to tears as well. We bite our lips and rub our legs and avoid each other’s eyes.
The rain begins to ease off to a gentle soothing hiss. The water dimples fade and there’s sunlight once again. I say goodbye to my companions. Shaken hands and shoulder slaps. We are bound by electricity. I pull a towel over my head and hobble to the car. Frightened, but rejoicing I turn my face up to the sky. I let the storm’s last raindrops wash away my tears. When death comes that close it reminds you how this fragile life is sweet.