I stepped inside gingerly, my feet creating ripples in the calm, clean, chlorine water. I entered the pool from the shallow end, my hand gripping the steel rod in a reflex. I took a deep breath and chastised myself for doing that.
“Every time! Stop it! What happened was ages ago, and you need not be afraid anymore. Drop the memory like a bag of rocks and let it sink!”
Leaving my soliloquies submerged in the shallow end, I reluctantly let go of the rod and walked towards the other side.
As my body immersed itself, inch by inch, in the translucent water, memories emerged on my mind’s surface. I must have been nine. It was the summer holidays. The residents’ welfare association had started a new swimming pool facility; they even hired a coach. Excitement coursed like electricity through our veins as we chatted animatedly about the new pool and showed off the strokes we knew to each other. Exhilarated, I could barely sleep that night.
The next day, armed in goggles, costume, and a cap, all of which were to be my armour, I stepped into the pool. Holding my arm floaties like a talisman, I splashed in the pool, giggling and waving to my mother, who sat outside, reading a book.
I was swashing around in the shallow end when someone pulled my feet from underneath the water. I toppled, falling face down into the water. After a few frantic kicks, I came up, gasping for breath. Red-faced, I saw two portly boys in my proximity, stifling giggles with hands over their mouths. Before I could holler and tattletale the coach on them, they came and rammed me, head-down underwater. They held me by the neck and, with great force, kept me hostage. I pulled and pushed, thumped and thrashed, all in vain. My screams were muffled, and my puny limbs were on the verge of collapse. My lungs begged to breathe; my vision was blurred by the blue walls of the pool.
Slowly, the waters seem to be shushing me, singing a sweet lullaby. The light was dying, and the shores felt a light years afar.
Suddenly, I felt strong arms lifting me, bringing me back to light. The coach lay me flat on the ground and pressed my chest in quick, repetitive motions. As I blinked my eyes open, blinded by the bright sky, he asked,
“Are you okay?”
I coughed out a few ounces of chlorine water in response.
I was wrapped in a towel and sent home.
I could barely sleep that night. I was troubled by nightmares, and I dreamed that I was drowning in deep, dark waters, being sucked into oblivion by forces stronger than me.
I would have given my left arm to not go to the pool the next day. My mother, however, donned me in my swimmer’s armour and sent me to battle my fear. But that day, I kept standing in a corner, afraid to adhere to the call of those callous waters. Noticing this, the coach beckoned me towards the deep end. I shook my head. He started swimming towards me; I lept out of the pool and ran towards the gate, stumbling on the slippery ground. Coach chased me around; the gate which led outside the pool was locked, so I hung on to the latch. He grabbed me by the waist, and there I was, hanging in mid-air. Shards of loose iron were jutting out from the rusted latch; they pierced my palms, and they bled; I whimpered but didn’t let go of my iron grip.
“ If you are in a pool, you have to swim”, he thundered.
Choked by sobs, I stuttered, “ I can’t! Please, I can’t. I am terrified. And I am terrible at this!.”
And then he said something I remember to this very day.
“You have to cut through fear, like you cut through water. If you let fear paralyse you and give up, the water is going to drag you down. But if trust the process, lie on your back with your face towards the sky and surrender, the same water is gonna let you float. It will take you with it, slowly but surely. You can neither swim in a pool nor through life if you let things scare you. You cannot let fear win!”
With an air of finality, he pulled me away from the gate and threw me into the pool.
I struggled like a fish out of water. Water entered my nose and made my insides burn. Then, a wise voice in my head rang,
“You have two choices: sink or swim.” The clouds of self-doubt dispersed, instinct kicked in, and I swam. I kicked with all my might and put my head underwater. Reaching the other end, I looked back at the distance I had covered. I had done it! I had swum all the way to the other end!
This had happened six years ago, but that incident is still alive in me like it was yesterday. That day, I let go of fear. A wave of pride sailed through me at the thought, and I let the pool waters envelop me in an embrace.