In the April sunshine that streams through the large, rusted framed windows, people jostle for space. The water is a mixture of bodies, all writhing and moving against each other, fighting for room to use the pool for their rightful reason. To doggedly swim lengths, to chat about the trouble with the boiler, to entertain the kids for an hour, to de-stress, to practise diving (or belly flopping), to do those physio stretches after the hip op, to play.
A woman swims alone in a lane. Her body is older and less taut than it once was and yet she is proud of the movements it can make. In the water she is serene. She slices through the water, moving her legs and arms in precise, seamless strokes, effortless in her pursuit of the perfect 100 lengths. In the water, her face is down, focused on the task. Arm, two, breathe…arm, two, breathe… If only she could train herself to bring her head up to take a breath every three strokes like her daughter did during swimming lessons – she is certain this might speed her up. With every turn of her head, the sun shines through her goggles, blinding her to the commotion in the pool to her right. She doesn’t mind though as, like a shark, she is focused on one goal. Attack.
Amongst the muddle of limbs and spraying water, three teenagers swim, taking advantage of the lack of Monday morning school work and lessons. They swim together, laughing and chatting, daring each other to dive deeper under the water to collect the key to the locker or splashing the water to see who can make it jump further. Whilst this rough play does raise some judgemental glaces from the regular ladies, most welcome the thought that come next Monday, the pool will be theirs again as the children’s feet will be tucked back safely under their desks and not kicking them in the face as they hurry past.
The teenagers’ game dips below the surface. Using their goggles, they watch passers by as they swim. They begin to mimic the swimmers movements, closely following those they admire and laughing at those they don’t. They spot the woman in the lane. She is pushing hard through the water and her baggy body jiggles deliciously she goes. With every kick, her thighs wobble from side to side and her skins ripples. As she swims, they notice the underside of her arms flap like she has wings and her belly moves up and down as if it were disconnected from her body. They see all of this and laugh. Beneath the water, the two girls grab at the skin on their belly and move it up and down. The boy puffs out his cheeks and waddles with his legs apart, slapping his arms on top of the water as his goes.
The grace, the enjoyment, the determination: they don’t see it at all. Instead, they see a big, fat lady sadly slogging up and down the pool, looking gross and ugly, and they laugh. Soon, bored of their game, they decide to race each other, splashing wildly and uncontrollably.
The woman swims on, blind to the unkindness. She is focused on herself.