Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I’m swimming laps, back and forth, back and forth. I stop sometimes to adjust my goggles, stretch, catch my breath and lean against the far side of the pool. I see a man and a boy about twelve enter the pool area. From the way they walk, their shoulders close together, heads turned in, I know they’re in this alone. They are foreigners.

The man walks his boy to the edge. The boy, keeping his eyes down, gets in using the ladder (I half expected a cannonball). We end up sharing the lane. He’s small and skinny and ultra careful not to graze me as we cross paths again and again. He’s a good, disciplined swimmer, has nice, even strokes. He doesn’t play with the stream of bubbles his body makes as it cuts through the water, nor does he do summersaults or back flips between laps. His body language seems too clipped – un-expansive - to belong to someone so small.

A (very) pregnant woman arrives, adjusts her swim cap, pulls at the bathing suit already tugging tight across her belly, studies the people who now populate every lane. Despite my superpower mental message (not here not here not here not here) she leans over and asks if she can share our lane. I make an effort to sound inviting because she’s going to come in anyway, so why make her feel uncomfortable?

“We can swim in circles,” she suggests. Her tone is easy. “It’s three of us, so back and forth is not going to work”. I nod and reach the boy. I touch him lightly on the shoulder. He stops, whips up, looks at me with wide eyes. “Let’s swim in circles -” I start. He stares. I realize he does not understand me.

His father swims up beside him. “Yes? Can I help you?” his accent is heavy, but his English is crisp. He speaks it well.

“We need to swim in circles so she - ” I point, “can join us”.

The man turns to the boy. “Swim in circles” he says to his son. But he does not switch to their language, does not even signal with his arms. He continues, still in English, arms at his sides. “Don’t swim back and forth on the same lane”. He swims away.

I look at the boy. The boy does not look at me. I want to help, but I don’t know how. I swim, making the circles as wide as I can, willing him to catch on.

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