I had the most brilliant experience in water today. After 20 years of swimming, I managed to conquer one of the most fundamental aspects of human-water relationships – getting in. This experience is so special to me, it has coloured everything about my day including today’s story. So today, I give you U is for Underwater for the A to Z Challenge.
U is for Underwater
There was something lying on the floor. Laisha grimaced. The movement opened her lips a fraction at the corner and a bit of water went in. She blew out, the bubbles escaping thunderously past her ear. She surfaced. After she caught her breath, she looked around.
Some boys were fooling around near the diving board, which was at the other end. It was hard to tell how old they were, given they were all wearing swimming caps. But from their smooth chests and lean bodies, Laisha thought they must be in their early teens. One of them dashed down the length of the diving board, flipped himself through the air and hit the water with a terrific splash. The others laughed and shouted jeering comments. One boy stood by the side of the pool, smiling but silent. Then he walked onto the diving board. To Laisha’s surprise, he didn’t try and compete with the earlier diver. He walked cautiously to the edge of the board. Then he slid off smoothly, cutting the water in a sharp stroke. The others barely noticed when he joined them, they were still busy making fun of the first showoff.
Laisha swam to the pool ladder closest to her and sat on the top rung. The sun was tossing sparkles over the rippling water, deceptively pretty. But the upper half of her body that was outside the water scorched within a few seconds. She splashed some water on her upper arms and watched the boys.
She envied them, their unfettered energy, their uninhibited antics. Everything was just so much fun, fun, fun with them. Even as she sat, she was conscious of all the voices knocking about inside her head. She had to careful about the angles she swum at and sat around, so the inevitable tanning would happen evenly. It was just too much having to deal with the unkind remarks and obnoxious salesgirls trying to ‘cure’ her tan, otherwise. She constantly worried about her suit riding up or her pads floating away or her neckline dipping too much. She had to keep one eye on the giant clock on the wall to make sure she was out and back in time. And then there were the number of laps and time she took on each one – how else to justify taking on the problems that swimming brought on, otherwise?
The boys were doing silly dives now, superhero poses while they jumped. It made Laisha smile. It was the boy’s ‘Up, up and away’ pose that did it. She stepped out of the pool and went to the edge. A sheet of bright blue lay before her, white sunlight highlights here and there. It was so big.
Some of the boys in the water turned to look at her. Conscious at once, she jumped off, the water hitting her inner thighs ungraciously. When she surfaced, the Superman boy was on the diving board again, this time jumping as if he were on a trampoline. Fun, again, so much fun.
Laisha smiled. 20 years of swimming and she had never learnt to dive. She floated on her back daydreaming. She was a good swimmer, this she knew. But entering the water had always been hard for her. She stopped paddling and swung herself out of the water again. This time, she decided not to look in the direction of the boys. Eyes downcast, she focused on the water near her feet. It looked foreboding, dark, inviting but not safe. She stepped away from the water, as if it might grab her by the ankle and drag her down. Her breath caught in her throat as she looked up. The boys were looking at her but they turned away when they saw she wasn’t going to dive.
Laisha squinted up, looking at the higher diving board that needed one to climb a staircase, to reach. It didn’t seem very high. But she remembered going up it, excited but tentative. And when she stood on the board, the world had seemed so far away. She had felt tiny and the swimming pool, like a huge mouth that was going to swallow her up. She had pushed back and climbed down the scary staircase, in tears. That was 20 years ago and she had never gone back up that staircase.
She gave herself a little shake and forced herself to the edge of the pool and stepped off. Once again, the water bit her inner thighs and she surfaced with the sensitive skin on them, burning. When she caught her breath, she took off her swimming goggles and wiped the fog from inside the lenses. Then she put them on again and put her head down into the water.
This was never as pleasant as one thought. Everything was clear, too crystal clear. Even from this distance, she could make out the shapes of the boys legs underwater. Streams of bubbles rose in seemingly random intervals around the pool. And on the floor, oh the floor! She surfaced violently. She never liked to look at swimming pool floors. Swimming pools looked wonderfully inviting because of their blue floors. But up close, you could see they were just cheap, broken tiles of a nasty shade of blue. And they were never pristine. There was always stuff lying around on the bottom.
She pulled herself out of the water and sat on the edge. A swimmer cut the water in a clean stroke, a silver cap leading the way. When a head surfaced, she realized it was the same boy who had executed an unseen, perfect dive earlier. He grasped the rail and hung on to it, drifting a bit.
“Why don’t you dive?”
Laisha turned, startled. Swimmers rarely spoke to each other in the pool they shared, especially if weren’t in the same activity leagues of divers, racers, learners etc. It was unwritten swimmers’ code. She smiled, nodding her head. But his eyes remained fixed on her.
“I…I’m not very good at it.”
“Try it. It’s not difficult.”
“No…I, I only like to swim.”
“Try it once. It’s easy.”
And he swung himself out of the water, in a smooth move that Laisha envied. Before she could say anything, he was bending down next to her, demonstrating how to position before a jump. But he didn’t jump. Straightening up, he sat down next to her. A few minutes passed without word. Then he slid back into the water and stroked away, without a second glance.
Laisha sighed in relief. She liked to be by herself in the swimming pool, not engaging with the lifeguards or other swimmers. Even if she was not alone. She usually avoided the more crowded areas.
The boy had reached his friends now and seamlessly drifted back into his group. Laisha looked at him, ruefully. Why had she been so abrupt? The boy hadn’t been offensive. And he was too young to be creepy.
She stood up, suddenly resolute. But when her eyes drifted back to the water, the old fear gripped her again. The water was so vast, so scary. She adjusted her suit, forcing herself to breathe normally. The boy was swimming towards her again. Panic hit her and she froze, mid-pose, with her arms outstretched in front of her, knees bent and locked. The boy reached the end, paused for but a moment before he turned and swum away again. But he tossed over his shoulder,
“Take off the glasses before you jump!”
Laisha remembered that from several different swimming episodes now. Instructors in pools, surrounded by shrieking kids, always made them take off their swimming glasses before they jumped. The glasses came off, they said. That thought was too horrible for Laisha to contemplate, that diving caused such impact as to make glasses that were tightly wrapped around the head, fly off. She was still frozen in that odd pose and her back was starting to hurt.
She stood up, stretching. Then, as the glasses’rubber dug into her hair, she yanked it off. Dropping it by the side, she took a step forward and jumped. There was a terrific splash and bubbles rushed past her ears. But she could barely see a thing. When she resurfaced in a few seconds, the world came into sudden, shocking focus. It was exhilarating.
She grasped the siderail, thinking. Then on an impulse, she swung herself out again. This time, she bent over near the edge of the pool and stretched her hands out, knees bent. Before she could think herself into fear, she tumbled in. The water hit her stomach in a loud slap and she surfaced the skin on her tummy stinging. Again, as she broke the surface, the sunlight was such welcoming exhilaration, she had to smile. She swallowed some water in the process but she didn’t care.
Paddling back to the edge, she readied for another dive. The boy was back, this time. She registered dimly that she had probably seen a shape move past her when she was rising to the surface. But it was too murky for her to see much.
“Not bad. But this time, straighten your legs out. Fly!”
“I can’t fly!”
“Yes, you can. That’s how you dive. First you fly, then you fly into the water.”
And with that sage advice, he was gone. Laisha grinned. Fly, indeed.
As she readied herself to jump, she told herself she must remember to lift her feet after she left the poolside, so her arms would hit the water first. This time, the water slapped her shoulder bones but it didn’t hurt as much as her stomach had.
One last one, she decided and heaved out of the water again. Knees bent, hands outstretched, feet ready to lift, she thought….what if I could fly? The water was lapping at her feet. It didn’t seem that scary, now that she couldn’t see what was at the bottom. She needed to pounce onto it, like it was a playful puppy, not fall like a captive trying desperately to get away. Fly, fly, she told herself.
And she curved over into the water.
Her ears erupted in pain instantly. But she was going through the water, deeper, deeper at an angle she had never seen. The water was so many shades of blue underneath and kissed with white bubbles here and there. She arched her arms downward and then smoothly upward. Now, she was rising. She straightened up in less than a second and she was shooting through the water, like an arrow.
She cut the surface, three markers away from the edge of the pool, head first and shoulders rising gracefully. Sunlight washed all around her. But it was so loud, so noisy, so much. She wanted to be back in the comforting solitude of the water again.
She swum back to the edge. It took her a few strong strokes, she since her dive had propelled her much further away from the poolside than usual. And all around was the newly wonderful shaded blue. It was the blue of underwater and it welcomed her.
It wasn’t until she had stepped out of the pool, that she realized her ears had been hurting all this while and the pain had only now started to subside. But she didn’t let herself dwell on it. One more dive followed and yet another. Her skin didn’t hurt one single time and by the third dive, her ears didn’t either.
As she swum back to the ladder, she realized that not being able to see clearly underwater had made her actually see the wonder of it. It was gorgeous. Underwater, it was just her and the bubbles and the enveloping blueness. How could it be anything but inviting?
Laisha took position again near the edge of the pool and prepared to fly.
*Image (without text) via tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net