Sue Drommand folded the letter neatly back into the windowed envelope. The divorce notice had been expected but a sudden wave of sadness swept over her as she drained the last of her suddenly cold coffee. One final signature would be all it would take and it would be as if the last twenty years had never happened.
Bibi had been her faithful companion for the last twelve months. She never asked questions but always listened. She was never demanding but always loyal. The little ball of fur sat curled, devoted at her mistress’ feet. The animal shelter had described her as a Maltese Shitsu cross-breed, but a white cloud would have been a more accurate description.
As if sensing her owner’s thoughts, Bibi suddenly stood to attention. Her eyes followed Sue as she stood and crossed the hall of their small apartment to reach for the lead. Her tail wagged and her ears pricked up.
Minutes later the inseparable two arrived at Brighton pier. Sue was wrapped in a heavy coat and Bibi scampered by her side. The winter sun was bright and Sue smelled the sea air and felt the crisp wind that blew back her short cropped grey hair. Bibi strained at the lead, eager and energized.
The wind was strong. It whipped up the rough waters around Melbourne bay. Distant trees bent to the force of the gusts and Sue raised the collar of her coat. With the next fierce gust, Sue felt the dog lead slip from her grasp. She grabbed for it but it was too late. The dog’s nails scratched the boards as she tried to gain control but was swept away. The dog disappeared beyond the railings and out of view. Bibi had been hurled into the churning waters below.
Sue reached the edge of the pier and dropped to her knees. Her head emerged from the metal railings as she held on tight. The wind battered her face. Crouching low and clinging to the bars, she scanned the choppy waters desperately for signs of Bibi. For a full sickening minute, there was nothing but spray and rolling water. Sue strained to see.
Then, like a glorious white seal, a small head emerged. The dog swayed up and down with the waves. Her slick white fur was matted to her small frame, making her look tiny and vulnerable. Bibi fought the current and kept her head raised above the moving water. She held her black nose high and her front paws paddled fiercely. Her body dipped and bobbed below the rolling swell as she made a ferocious effort to stay afloat.
The current was powerful that day, threatening even the most experienced swimmer. Little Bibi fought the colliding waters that tried to overwhelm her. The vast ocean stretched beyond the bay and despair came over Sue like the thundering waves that threatened to swallow up Bibi.
The dog was in danger of becoming a tiny speck as she was tossed around Melbourne bay. She was carried further away from her mistress who called out her name frantically. Sue’s voice was snatched by the wind.
Bibi battled closer to the pier, her sleek face like that of a drowning rat. Sue’s heart was racing. Despite the murmur of a crowd that had now gathered, there was silence in her mind. Will I make it back to shore with a struggling dog? Am I strong enough to jump?
Raden Soemawinata put his arm around his mother as the small group dressed in black huddled close together on Brighton pier. The wind had whipped up and his father was worried about scattering the ashes of Raden’s grandmother. His young nephew was wrapped up warm in his buggy which protected him from the cold air.
The family members bowed their heads to pay their final respects. Raden tried hard to concentrate on his father’s words as his uncle unscrewed the ornate canister lid. He pushed aside the worries that had been worming through his stomach all morning.
His solemn thoughts were interrupted by a faint cry. He turned his head in the direction of the distress calls and observed a thin woman. She was bent over the lower railings at the water’s edge. Her face was contorted and she was calling desperately. A small but determined dog strained to stay above the water and paddled helplessly.
As the dog’s head bobbed up it revealed a pink collar. The sunlight glinted on the metallic name tag, giving hope to the gathering crowd. Onlookers held their breath and pointed in the direction of the bay. Joggers stopped in their tracks. The creature was growing more and more tired and the waves were unrelenting.
Raden abandoned his group and fled in the woman’s direction. Without hesitation, he knew what he must do. Stripping down to his white shirt, underwear and socks, he discarded the black jacket and trousers on the wooden slats and climbed over the railings. His tanned and athletic body manoeuvred over the bars and he lowered himself down into the icy waters below.
The cold shock hit his chest as the sea enveloped him and carried him outwards. After a couple of powerful strokes, he reached the terrified dog and cradled him under his muscular arm. He used the other arm to battle his way back to the railings. His dark short hair was slicked back; his white shirt was transparent and clung to his chest. Soon, he promised the dog, you will be returned to the safety of your owner’s arms.
The woman reached over the edge and hoisted the dog to safety and Raden struggled back onto the pier. He watched the distressed owner grasp the dripping dog and saw the relief sweep over her face. The two strangers embraced, the woman thanking him over and over, while maintaining a tight grip on the dog’s collar. Her own clothes were damp but she was oblivious.