By Carlington Black
The kooshie of keys slipped from Haiden’s fingertips, and rattled once on the steel grate before jumbling into the drain.
He dropped his knees into the damp gutter, in the middle of the supermarket carpark, closing time. Tilting his head, Haiden could only make out the faint glimmer of still water.
“Shit. Shit. Shit.”
Adjusting his head allowed weak overhead LED light into the cavity, but it was still gloomy. Haiden could only make out more water. He couldn’t see keys.
His eyes adjusted, and a shape resolved into focus. A shape in the surface of the water. The shape of a human face.
Haiden recoiled in fright, heart banging paused lungs. He twisted around warily. Fluorescent light arced wanly outwards from a single pole. A couple of cars bunched near the supermarket doors in pattering rain. The lit windows of the curry place were misted.
He needed those keys. So he steadied himself, and squinted through the gaps from a distance.
Yes, it was a face. Definitely a face. An adult male. Youngish, but heavily creased with lines of pain. Eyes crunched closed. A face vaguely recognised. God, who was it?
Haiden squished fingers through the grade and tried to wrest it upwards. It didn’t budge.
He pushed his face against the grate again.
The man was bearded, which along with his lips and teeth, were peppered with grit. Long hair stranded his face, tangled with sticks and plastic.
The man’s facial folds crinkled slightly. The eyes blinked once.
“Hey, are you alright?”
The mouth changed shape, very slightly from downturn to straight. He was alive.
“Mate, can you hear me?”
“What happened? Are you okay?”
“Hey, wait there, I’ll get help.”
“Yes, just wait. We’ll get you out.”
“What? Who are you?
“In a drain?”
“What are you doing?”
“I thought you were dead.
“I mean, just now. Someone dead, just now.”
“Eh? Hey, it’s okay mate. Take it easy. We’ll get you some help. Is there someone I should call?”
“Eh? That’s a little weird. Just chill. I’ll be right back.
“Who are you, really.”
The water circled past the man’s temples. He lifted his head a little out of the water. “What?”
“Who are you… really?”
“In a drain? In a supermarket carpark? In Naenae?”
“Can you name another place?”
“Somewhere I don’t live. Shit, look, this is stupid. You’re not Jesus. He died like thousands of years ago.
“The Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”
“You got me there. But you’re not him. You’re someone else. A guy. In a drain. In a closing supermarket. In the rain. With my fucken car keys. Did you see them?”
The bearded man rolled his eyes. “Yes. They hit my face.”
“Um. Sorry about that.”
“Are they there. Can you get them?
“No. Arms are pinned. And my feet.”
“Well, can you look around, where did they go?”
“I heard them tumbling in the current.”
“Which way did they go?”
“Eh? Which way is that?”
The bearded man’s eyes rolled upwards. “Toward Buddha.”
“Okay. Thata way. Look. Wait there. I’ll get help.”
Haiden ran at a crouch, following the direction of Jesus’s eyes, and a vague line indented in the tarseal. He reached another drainage grate and scooped to peer into it.
Looking straight back at him from under the grate was a slightly pudgy Asian man with eyes the colour of overwashed denim.
“Is there something you need?” the man said.
“My keys? They might have washed down here.”
“Is Jesus tomfooling again?”
“Was that really Jesus?”
“I see no point in disputing it.”
“And who are you then – Buddha?”
“Never heard of you.”
“Fame is insignificant.”
“I’m looking for my keys – I’ve lost them.
“You only lose what you cling to.”
“I wish I’d clung onto the bloody things tighter. Is the water rising quickly. Are you okay?
“Water does not wet the lilly.
“It does if it rains. Look, you didn’t answer. Are you okay?
“I rest among the tumult like the giant tree.”
Haiden was lit by soft halogen of car lights. His eyes crinched into them.
He rose off his knees and crouched nonchalantly on his haunches until the car passed.
He sank to his knees again and peered at Buddha.
“You’re beginning to piss me off. All these fucking sayings.”
“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”
“Right, fuck you then.”
Haiden spotted a gutter at right angles to the Buddha grate and rushed along it.
The gutter ended in the furthest corner of the carpark. Black sediment had accrued along its length. A dead blackbird flattened against the grey concrete. The last few metres of gutter were cracked and uneven, and disappeared into a large puddle accumulating in the rain.
A line of dying shrubs lapsed along the supermarket wall, which itself seemed to curve down into the corner.
Haiden waded into the cold black water up to his ankles. He sifted through the muck blindly with his feet. The soles rasped over a ribbed form – a grate.
He couldn’t see anything in the gloom of rain, dark and deep muddy water. He bent over drawing nearer to the water’s surface – though his mother had said always to bend at the knees.
He didn’t bother to pull up a wet sleeve. He pushed his arm into the water and fingered around where his feet had been. They touched the raspy surface of rusted iron. He slipped his fingers into the grate slits and pulled upwards. The grate came up with his hand heavily, but easily. Haiden heaved it clumsily at the dead bushes.
He stabbed his hand into the drain hole. It was filled with what felt like loose slimy mud, gravel and plastic. He swept his hand through the fetid debris, feeling with his fingers for something that could be his keys.
The action freed up a blockage, and the large puddle began to rush into the drain.
A thin suckle pitched upwards from the hole.
Haiden heard a clink; the very particular frequency of his five keys and plastic fob.
He dove into the wide concrete well, flailing in the water, frantically scratching at the mud trying to reveal his keys.
From his grate, Buddha howled: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
From his grate, Jesus howled: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of my brethren you did it to me.
Haiden’s body was now deep in the drain. The soured heavens ran over his face, clattering over his lips and curling into his nose.
Water flagellated his cheeks with cigarette butts, broken glass, rusty nails and engine nuts.
The damp keys started Haidens’s car first time. Jesus drove. Buddha navigated.
Jesus smirked “Why is it that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?”
Buddha pointed for Jesus to turn west and sighed. “Life is dukkha.”
Jesus whooped and whacked the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. “But at least you’re the fun kind of arsehole.”