You feel strangely calm, even though you are about to drown.
You do not think about how it will feel when, in a few moments, the cold South Atlantic waters can no longer be stopped from pressing through your nose, mouth, into your lungs; – the inevitability of the breathing reflex is remarkable, even when there’s nothing to breathe but heavy sub-Arctic seawater. You will experience that in a moment.
But in this second and the next and what feels like two eternities in between you don’t think much at all. It is not possible. Greater forces have taken over, frozen your mind, and, in some perverse way, reduced you to a spectator to your own drowning; at the same time sensing yourself to be very far away from – and very much inside – your body, as you are being sucked down into the deep dark currents that swirl around the sinking ship.
Until a few moments ago, it had your ship. Your second-in-command. Your pride – just as it had been everybody’s pride. In that feeling of pride of the power and strength of your ship, seamen and officers had been equals. Now you are just a man – dying, like like every other man will – later for most … sooner for some: Officers and seamen alike – in death you have also become equals.
Around you ghostly shapes flutter in the water, like dead leaves being whirled around by indifferent wind: Hundreds of your men are drowning, too – like you …Some freeze to death before they drown, many are just being pulled down along with the biggest ghostly shape of all – the lifeless steel-body of your armored cruiser which has been torn apart by dozens and dozens of heavy caliber shells from the enemy.
A War started only a few months ago. You all knew you only had only the slimmest of chances to survive on oceans dominated by the mighty Enemy Navy, to get home. You had gambled on that chance – and lost.
For you were Commander of this ship; and for you and your men … all is over now.
Yet … why is it taking so long?
What do you feel as the waves close over you? As you sink deeper and deeper into Darkness – about to die? Is it a certain strange sadness that you can’t even hear the screams of your men, your friends and comrades until moments ago – now reduced to mere shadows, already fading into nothingness? If their screams had not been impossible, already so deep down in the water, … would it have been better?
Is it, in a way, better that lives are allowed to end with a scream, because that is how life began and the ability to make yourself heard is what ultimately makes you human – known – living … even to the end? That is a strange thought … but that is … somehow … what you were taught:
You must never be like those leaves that are always just swept away by stronger winds of history. You must be strong and stand on your own – and you must show it. So even the act of screaming for your life is better than … just being silenced by the darkness of the ocean. Because it shows the world that you are still fighting, still struggling. No matter how little, no matter how much in vain. You can still show your self.
But … the ocean just waits until your fighting is over. Then it makes you part of its eternal shadow, so close, just beneath the waves.
In a perverse way you may even have wished for it, without knowing what you wished for. The whole expansion to the East of your fleet, you leaving home to be a part of the squadron there, being part of a show of power to the world. It was an act of schizophrenia.
So you looked death straight in the eye, thought about it, talked about it, joked about it, you even seriously considered that you could win … and all the time you knew the cold facts:
That the Fleet of the Enemy would always be stronger than yours. You could never hope to match it. But … you always allowed yourself to imagine that it could be different. That you could find a way to cheat the Enemy … somehow.
Why is it taking so long to drown?
You have been sinking below the waves for an eternity. You should be in eternity now – dead. But somehow you know you are not.
Then something reaches through … the night of the ocean.
You feel a strong grip – all of your body heaved up … Confusion … Light and darkness blend painfully into one in your vision – but the light wins. A smack in your face. One more. You gasp, throw up seawater and … everything else inside you – you keep throwing up an gasping for so long you feel raw inside, hollow. But then …something is coming back into you:
“‘ey mate, you all right? You all right?”
“Reckon ‘e doesn’t speak English, eh chaps?”
“Maybe you should smack him again, Lionel?”‘
“Nah – he’s coming too … “
You’re in a boat. A … life boat. The darkness … it wasn’t the ocean that kept growing darker. You weren’t sinking. The updraft was … lifting you to the surface. But … something in you thought it was different.
Then you are assaulted by your senses once again: The rawness in your throat. The cold wind that stings like needles. The rough blankets that clasp against your wet, stiff and tattered uniform. There are more claps on the shoulder. More voices. English voices …
“I … speak English,” you manage to cough out … “I .. speak … “
“Yeah, we got it, mate. Just sit still. Be calm. It’s all over now.”
It’s a big broad English sailor, strained smile but still clapping you – on the shoulder. As if that would make a difference somehow.
” – You got a name, mate?” he asks.
“I … Pochhammer. Commander Hans Pochhammer.”
“A Commander, eh? Well, you be prisoner of Her Majesty’s Navy now, I’m afraid.”
You nod, slowly, painfully:
“I … can live with that.”