In hot countries swimming pools are playgrounds; blue oases surrounded by terracotta tiles and hot whitewashed walls. Children dive and run and parents wear sunglasses and sip cool drinks. In colder countries swimming pools are housed in glass and the shouts and yells of children are only loud because they echo and bounce and amplify off floor to ceiling windows. Lanes are drawn with floating ropes, and the water chills instead of cools. The chlorine makes the pool smell and the water feel soapy on my skin. I would dive below the water when I was young and wrap my arms and legs around the metal ladder, and hold tight. It’s not silent underwater; you hear the water move, like holding a shell up against your ear, the sound of blood pumping like the ocean. I’d wear goggles when I dived and, holding on to the ladder steps, blow air out of my lungs in small bubbles. Underneath each silver step there was a ledge and the air bubbles would catch here, filling the space and flowing together like liquid mercury.
Now I swim in lengths, up and down, until I have to stop and gasp and grab the hard edge of the pool and get my breath back . The muscles in my shoulders are tight and swollen, my mouth is dry and my body dehydrated. I turn and rest my back against the tiled wall and kick my legs out in front of me. I watch the other swimmers going up and down. A woman splashes in a plastic swimming cap and orange nose clip. A pale white man with a bulging belly does breast stroke in the slow lane, his legs kicking up the water and his head bobbing up high with each stroke. Later on he stops next to me and takes a swig of water from a bottle he has on the side. ‘Tiring huh?’ he says, I nod and pull my goggles up and swim away, ten more lengths before a break. When I next raise my head from the water the man has gone and the woman is walking along the side of the pool, a towel wrapped around her body. The door clicks closed behind her.
I swim a while longer then stop. I breath in deeply, lie back. My lungs become a float inside my chest and I let my limbs hang limply down. My body hangs suspended. I drift.