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The string of nerves stretched very thin very quickly and she knew she could not function if it kept on. Her phobia needed to be treated.
The first winner of our February 2020 Muse of the Month contest is Manisha Sahoo.
She cracked her neck from side to side, shook all her limbs and did a couple of stretches before pulling the goggles over her eyes. Within the next second, her outstretched hands had torn a chasm into the cool blue of the pool, which merged into a flourish of ripples and bubbles by the time her toes disappeared under.
Aria resurfaced moments later and gasped before dunking her head in and out of water as her arms and legs sliced through it in a synchronized rhythm. Back and forth, back and forth.
Fourteen months ago, it had not occurred to Aria to learn swimming at all. In fact, her strategy to get by life was to never go near a large body of water – and that was a goal not too difficult to follow through with, considering there were more than enough cities and towns in the world that had nothing to do with riverbeds or seashores or lakesides even.
As a fully functioning adult, she exercised each and every right to maintain her distance. Refused to go to a picnic on a dam in college. Refused seven trekking expeditions, six rafting invitations and twenty beach parties through her life.
And with Kip born, she had an easier reason to supply.
Unlike his mother though, Kip had a strong affinity for water. No sooner could he qualify to practice in the school’s swimming pool, he insisted and insisted and insisted till she gave in and handed him her permission in the form of a darned signature on the training form.
Aria accompanied him on his “super exciting” shopping expedition to get the swimming gear, listened patiently to all his imaginations of what swimming would feel like, and watched on nerves the first few classes of his, taking half day leaves from her office.
No matter how exhausted he grew from the training and the exercising, or how much his limbs and muscles ached, Kip could not have had a bigger, satisfied smile on his face.
But Aria had been firm about one thing when giving out the permission – he was not to enter any natural bodies of water ever. Only swimming pools and only when his instructors were around and watching like hawks. Kip did not mind the stipulation.
Weeks later, on a Friday, a meeting ran late and so she was late to pick up her 8 year old. There was a strange feeling nagging at the pit of her stomach and when she laid eyes on him, it became stronger.
Kip looked subdued, his chin between his knees as he sat on the lower step leading up to the closed door of the swimming pool building. The school grounds were almost empty. A couple of the security guards threw him wary looks, which they pretended not to be doing once they spotted her.
He did not greet her with “you would not believe what happened today” nor with a tired grin. He only raised his head when she called his name, nodded and walked over to her.
Until dinner, he did not disclose what had him upset. Earlier that day, while he was doing his stretches and waiting for the coach to give the green signal to enter the water, a commotion broke out in the adjacent pool.
It was deeper than the one kids his age practised in and was meant for the older students. One of those had a muscle cramp while making a turn at the far end and could not come up for air. Her desperate thrashing and gasping echoed through the enclosed space and stopped everyone in what they were doing. Two of the closest coaches dived in and brought her out of the water.
“When she coughed, only water came out. From her mouth, from her nose.” Kip shook his head, his complexion paler than before. “Until today,” he continued in a softer tone, “it never occurred to me that you could drown in a pool.” He pressed his lips together and stared without looking at the stray kidney beans on his plate.
Aria told him how it was okay to take a little break if he felt too shaken. It was also okay if he wanted to keep going.
He said he would know once he entered the pool area tomorrow.
Kip was all right. He hesitated perhaps for a second, but once he was in the water, it felt like he had never left. As though he were home.
Aria was relieved when she returned home. Seeing Kip undeterred by his fear, it was a great start to the day. She could not stop smiling, reminiscing about the way his enthusiasm returned in sparks after a single lap.
If she had experienced the thought of drowning, what with her established avoidance of anything large made of the clear liquid –
Her eyes sprung open. Streams of water streaked down right before her pupils, and it brought back sudden visions of being underwater before. Much, much before.
She was inhaling water too quickly, there was no surface to rise to. It was all dark and her throat closed up. A strong arm pulled her out then, and her own will pushed her back from under the shower now. She stared at the innocent droplets falling down in an unassuming bunch and her whole being shivered, not just from the cold that prickled her wet skin.
Her hands would not stop shaking even after an hour had passed. Aria had forgotten she had been to a beach once. As a young child. Had entered the sea too with her father holding her hand. The waves had tumbled her around still, even when he held her to keep her steady.
She had seen the dark swirls of sand under the waves, had swallowed a fair share of the salty sea mixed in with the sand, and she could not erase the experience or image from her young mind for a long time afterwards.
Aria no longer remembered how she had forgotten. She was only conscious of the wariness it had left behind. With the returned memory, the fear housed in it returned too, in all its taunting glory.
In the ten days that followed, the showerhead became a monster she dared not to touch. Leaving Kip at the swimming practice was a bigger gut wrenching struggle for her, but she knew better than to let her fears overshadow his passion. The rational reasoning did not help her nerves all day though, even when she was engrossed in her work. The string of nerves stretched very thin very quickly and she knew she could not function if it kept on. Her phobia needed to be treated.
Aria counselled with several therapists till she felt comfortable with one. They held sessions around her work timings and her son’s school timings. Even when the exposure therapy began, it was adjusted in and around her usual schedule.
No, she did not want Kip worried about it. He was only eight and he deserved to live like a kid. Besides, learning to deal with the fears and apprehensions, was that not how life worked anyway?
She had to overcome the fear of living alone in a strange city, and now it was the one she had built her life in.
She had to face the fear of being a single mother, and now life without Kip made no sense.
Now that she knew her fear of water, that would not stop her either.
Over a year later, there she was, quietening her demons, one swimming stroke at a time. At the end of the lap, a grinning Kip stood ready with a towel and a high five.
“Never thought you’d be interested in learning swimming too. My love for it must come from you,” he remarked, warming up his muscles and joints.
“Oh, I don’t know about that, honey. I think I inherited your love for water instead,” she replied, sitting down on one of the benches lined along the walls, the towel wrapped around her shoulders.
“That’s silly, Ma.” He shook his head and chuckled as he put on his pair of goggles and adjusted its strap over the cap. His gear had long ago lost its newness, unlike hers. Then again, he was a year senior to her in the sport.
Aria watched Kip tear through the water effortlessly and smiled. The ripples he left in his wake smiled back at her.
Editor’s note: It’s the new decade of the new millennium, and here’s a fresh theme for our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month. In 2020, we bring to you quotes feminist women achievers around the world – we hope to bring you some food for thought, and look forward to the same engaging short stories that are a hallmark of our Muse of the Month contests.
Here’s the woman for February 2020 – 38 year old tennis wiz Serena Williams has 39 Grand Slam titles under her belt. She has gone through much in her life, not the least of it was racism in a high profile game, making her the perfect pick for Black History Month as a black woman mover & shaker world over. She has since then worked her way to the top after injury, pregnancy, and childbirth too. In January 2020, she has won her first singles title since her maternity break, in the 2020 Auckland Open, showing that she is indeed one of the best.
The cue is this quote by her: “Whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger.”
Manisha Sahoo wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
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Clumsy. Awkward. Straight-forward. A writer, in progress. A pencil sketch artist by hobby.
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