It was a dry season. The water was clear.
We were familiar with murky muddy water which can be any darker during rainy season. Yet it was just clear then, almost greenish. The river was shallow, as high as a teen's thigh.
You can see the river beds full of slippery stones. You can even walk slowly along the water without being pushed too much. You just have to test the stones before stepping on them, or find a space in between. But walking along the river is no joy for boys. You will swim.
On the left side of the river was a wide range of green rice fields to some extent. It was dry, but green are the rice fields. On the right were huge dying thorny trees, dadap and waru, lined up at the edges of higher lands. Unlike the rice fields, these uncultivated trees seemed to inherit the season spirits better, hardly green, mostly yellowish withering leaves.
We were swimming following the flow so that we didn't have to fight back the river. We were just abiding by the river energy happily.
I was born in a city, Bandung. I moved to a small town Garut at 5. My childhood memories were split into two places. I grew up in a village named Kaumlebak (the valley people) located within a wide valley around 5 meters or more below the surface of regular town streets. It is at the feet of mountain Cikuray. Rice fields were spanning from the back and side of my house to the feet of mountains surrounding my village, split by a long and winding ancient river Cimanuk (Ci means light or glitter at the surface of water. Manuk means bird/ cock, the servant or loyalist of sun). The river I was swimming in now. One of my mountain Papandayan, the little sister of Cikuray, is known to be the source of Cimanuk. I embraced the top of Papandayan a few years later, and other mountains Cikuray, and Guntur at my late teenage.
There were only two dominant colors at my village at daylight. If not green, then it must be golden — a ripening spread of rice fields.
I was a fairly good swimmer before 13, like most boys at village. Yet we hardly traveled far from our regular swimming places.
After some swimming hiatus, I swam along the river again. This time I swam far enough. This would be my last river swimming.
We were four topless friends swimming and frenzied with the fresh water.
I felt the river begin to be pushy and deeper. I couldn't stand on the river beds anymore. The water had been deeper than my entire body. And I was carried away into a whirl. I knew it later it was a spooky place at my old village.
My hands helplessly reached river edges, but my legs were weak against the whirl. My good friends tried to grab my hand and pull me out of the whirl. But the sucking water was stronger. They lost my hand. The biggest friend who tried to help me kicked me in the chest due to strong swallowing whirl. He was afraid of being dragged into the whirl, too.
I could manage my consciousness.
At my last gasps I remembered I said two things in my mind thinking I was about to die: syahadat and "Aku masih ingin berjihad di jalanMu" (I still want to fight for the highest good in Your way). I grew up around pious people, a few of them were mujahid. Jihad had entered my mind since early teenage. That was why I could say that sacred line, and it still rings in my ears. Later I knew jihad had always been narrowed down and associated with terrorism, al Qaeda, ISIS, suicidal bombing or death bride which they call solemnly as amaliyah (good deed).
When my friends were busy reaching me and tried their last attempts to help me, from under the water I saw a man as tall as my-elbow-to-fingertip hand with a long dark green bamboo at a distance. He walked towards us along the left side of the river.
I almost lost my consciousness by then. I sensed a bamboo edge entering the water near my head. I remembered faintly I grabbed his bamboo some time later.
Some things went blank from my memory here on.
Probably after some quick recovery, I remembered I noticed myself standing by the river side, and watched the whirl that almost sucked me in. Not a big whirl, but wide enough for a small boy, probably less than 3 or 4 meters wide as the river is not really wide — the closer to its source, the narrower is the river. I saw a small dark eye at the center of it. The eye was concave around 60cm deeper than its surrounding whirling circle of water. The whirl was like a modern pool when it was being drained out into a drainage hole at its center.
I never met this mystery man before and again since then.
A question remains a mystery to me. Who is this bamboo man? He got a bamboo at the exact moment when I needed it. I didn't see bamboos along the river as far as I remembered. Maybe there were bamboos somewhere far, but not around the scene.
Some things went blank again from my memory here on. What I regretted now I didn't search for the man afterwards, nor did I try once when I grew bigger. I seemed to have forgotten and neglected this very important man in my life. I tried to remember his face, but nothing came up. I didn't remember if I thanked him officially at that time. I thank him whenever I remember.
I still followed regular swimming classes at school, but hardly as naturally confident as when I was before 13. I consider myself a lousy swimmer now as I never practice it anymore.
School days made me get over it. I moved back to my big city a few years later to study at FSRD (Arts and Design Faculty) ITB.
Some wise man says every day is a second chance. I consider my life has been the second chance which I have been grateful profoundly for whenever I remember since then.
I owed a wished jihad in my life. How much bounding are about-to-die wishes pledged by a 13-year-old boy?
Perhaps my bamboo man was the so-called guardian angle? I believe in spiritual guides, but the concept of guardian angles is not in my believe realm. Or perhaps he was my godsend? This one seems easier to discern by my belief.
Do you believe in guardian angles? Did you have a second chance, I meant the one which feels more profound than daily second chance, in your life? Did you have an about-to-die wish? Did you succeed to meet those wishes? Did you ever deviate from such original wishes? How did you feel when you can not fully meet your own original and obligatory wishes in this life? Are you feeling tortured everyday, or just ignorant, when you failed meeting them?