I had a very bad day. Very bad.
I might possibly have ruined my life. No, not in the inappropriate-boyfriend-physical-relations-single-teenaged-mother way. No, actually I haven’t ruined my life. My stupidity might have made me do the best thing I could have done ever. But at the moment, my stupidity looms large in front of my face, and it will be a while before I say yeah, okay, everything turns out for the best. And kindly do not do a ‘what happened?’ routine in the comments section. Stress on ‘Kindly’.
Anyway, after the aforementioned life-ruining act of mine, I tried to make myself feel better by cooking a nice elaborate meal for myself. It turned out good. I didn’t feel much better.
So well, there’s one thing that never fails to get me up. Water. Of the swimming-pool sort.
Ten minutes later, I found myself at the Rec Center pool, doing breadths. There weren’t many others near where I was. There were two gossipy undergrads, a quiet-looking girl who did only Butterfly, a couple whose strokes were all in perfect synchronization, and this guy whose sheer height increased his swimming speed.
Turns out, my bad day had affected the way I swim as well. For the first time in what seems like years, I was swallowing mouthfuls of water, tired easily, got water into my ears each time I turned to take a breath during freestyle, and got water splashing on my face with each backstroke. Give yourself a break, I told myself.
Soon the Butterfly girl left, and I took the pull-buoy she was using… I really needed to get back to not splashing while I did a backstroke. Just then, this efficient-looking fiftyish lady dove in. ‘Are you using this lane?’ she asked me. Er… lane? What lane? I had been swimming all over the place. On an ordinary day, I’d’ve grinned and said something but today I just nodded. She took the lane next to mine, muttered something about people who swim out of lane. God, I hadn’t met any old lady like her since I entered this country… most I’d met were these old dears who needed help crossing the street, but steadfastly refused when you offered to take help. Either that, or they giggled and talked. Maybe about psychology, maybe about the current state of the economy, or maybe my ‘ethnic-looking earrings’. But never was one curt.
I was still examining the pull-buoy and contemplating distractedly, when this lady took off. One lap. Then another. Then another. No pauses, unlike me. I wanted to see if I could match her speed. I took off at about the same time she did, and didn’t float for a while like I normally did to see how far my lungs would take me, crawled in short, efficient strokes, and came up every fourth stroke for a breath. I reached at the same time she did, fully spent. While I tried to get water out of my ears, she had already somersaulted underwater and turned the other way. My, I used to be able to do that! I tried, and only ended up with more water in my ears.
I watched her swim away, in swift, smooth strokes. She had seemed pretty sharp and efficient and seemed like she ‘meant business’, but her swimming was anything but. She swam with the smoothness of a dolphin, her kicking didn’t cause any splashing, nor did her crawl. She came up for breath oh so regularly, unlike me, who surfaced only when I felt out of oxygen.
I wanted to ask her for tips, but ohmigod, she swam without a pause. I would have been all admiration, if it hadn’t been for her curt tone when she spoke to me. I vaguely thought of her as one of those old women so bursting with energy that no one in her house survived beyond age thirty, because she stole all their youth and vigour. And so much need for efficiency that no one really wanted to.
I concentrated on getting my backstroke right for the next half an hour, and paid scarce attention to her, except to notice her stop once or twice.
And then two laps of backstroke without splashing. Yay.
And then there she was, starting on her backstroke, when I was beginning freestyle. Let’s race, granny. I gave her a few seconds’ headstart and then I took after her. This time I got there first. She turned, switching to freestyle again, and I struggled hard to keep up with her. She seemed to slack a little in the middle and I surged ahead, but just as we were getting near the edge, I was losing energy, and she came at full speed. And she wasn’t even trying, like me. I just about made it. Because I tried.
And then she paused.
“Come here often?” I asked. ‘Actually, I’ve been very ill lately. I stopped swimming for a month. I’m recuperating now”, she said. “Ohh, feeling better now, I hope?”, I asked.
“Yeah…. though, I seem to have lost my stamina, and my swimming is much slower now. Much slower”.