My first memory of a swimming pool was not a pleasant one. I was in this large bottomless pit with my dad. Though he tried hard to calm me, I could not bring myself to trust him to guide me safely across the swimming pool. I was too conscious to let go. My little brother had no such fear then. He floated quietly across the pool with my dad as they tried to rouse me to jealousy while I watched. I was roused to jealousy all right, but not enough to enter the pool again.
Many years later, it felt weird when I asked my favorite little cousin to trust me in exactly the same way. I’d become the strongest swimmer in the pool every time I went swimming. He was ten and he trusted me with his life as I put him on my back and attempted to cross the width at the deep end of the pool. He must have sensed something was wrong halfway because his arms tightened around my neck suddenly. And yes, something was terribly wrong. I was not as strong as I thought I was. He was less than forty kilos but I was not moving as fast as I needed to reach the other end. I couldn’t fight him and free myself. Would I leave the boy to drown? I couldn’t even take a deep breath before my head sank beneath the water line. How we made it underwater to the pool edge I don’t remember. But we did, with a solemn warning from the Atlanta pool management and a vow never to pull such a stunt again.
My last near-drowning experience had been slightly different. It was a challenge. For points in a team building competition, I was to remain submerged for over a minute to give my team the edge in the rankings. I had never remained submerged for up to sixty seconds but I was convinced I could try. The next few seconds convinced me that drowning was the worst way to die. I had easy going for what seemed like 5 minutes to me. In reality it was barely 30 seconds. I was counting. So I held on valiantly, fighting the urge to breathe. At 40 seconds my lungs began to contract and expand violently and involuntarily as my body took over the fight against suffocation. I couldn’t count anymore. I could only meditate. Kevin. You are a rock. Sink to the bottom of the pool and remain there where you truly belong. All this time my hands held the railings of the pool edge while my feet stamped in running frequency underwater. Kevin. You do not breathe. You never needed to breathe. You are a creature of the sea. At this point, I heard the rest of my team mates screaming the count from the surface for the last ten seconds. 50! 51! 52! I had come this close. I would not give up. The lungs and feet stopped their movement, as though yielding to the fact that my mind would ignore whatever they did. 58! 59! 60!!! I paused for the briefest instant before jumping to the surface to gulp in all the air in the universe.
It’s amazing how lucid your memories are at the point of death. Those three incidents had effortlessly flashed through my mind as I faced almost certain death with this beautiful lady in what was meant to be a relaxation swim. We had met at the pool and challenged ourselves to do endurance laps across the pool. She was well-shaped and supple, fair and with long legs. We were not competing per se, just going together because the motivation of a partner enabled us to do more. But as the man, I would be a wuss to call a time out. We cut through the water until she stopped at the edge and refused to follow me back to the shallow end. I looked back, and turned to go to her. She had said I would not be the one to kill her and we had both burst out laughing. But not for long.
At the peak of my laughter she wrapped her legs around my chest and squeezed hard. I was not ready for this. I had not taken a deep breath but she obviously had, as she let herself be dragged down by my airless body. I instinctively opened my mouth to gulp in air but it was water instead. My years of training kicked in and I spewed out the water immediately, knowing that the slightest bout of coughing would definitely be my quick end. Why was she trying to kill me? How were we alone in the pool? Why now, at the brink of my being declared the senatorial flag-bearer for my party after our primaries yesterday? Why….?
My panic was instant. Was this the end? The alibi for the killer would be perfect. She would claim to have come out of the dressing room to see me floating on the water, dead. No struggle injuries would be present. And no one would suspect the pretty damsel of strangling such a powerful swimmer to death. I suddenly heard the rattle of the steel pool steps through the water. Apparently my struggle to be free was creating waves that were able to rattle the steps to that extent. I was wasting energy. I had to stop and think. And kill this lady or be killed.
Kevin. You are a tiger. You walk silently, but you pounce heavily. I suddenly became still. I had reached the stage where my uncontrollable survival spasms had ceased because they were being ignored. The point just before suffocation. If I could get her to believe I was dead, she could open herself up for the briefest of seconds needed for a surprise attack. Not an attack of blows – the water would kill the impact force – but an attack on her mouth and nose, to force her to breathe in water instead of air. It was necessary to shock her so she would do it without thinking. I rolled my eyes to the back of my head, revealing the whites, as though I had given up the ghost. She must have been pretty exhausted herself, for she didn’t wait for the telltale bubbles of final expiration to emerge from my orifices before she loosened her thigh grip. I seized my chance. My left hand went for her eyes, while my right fingers forced their way into her mouth. Her panic was instant. She must have been trying to let go of some air at the same instant I attacked. My luck. Her breath was not controlled as planned but supplemented by panic. The water went in.
She began to cough wildly, sucking in water with each attempt. I was free, swimming to the surface while somehow observing her air come out in painful bubble chunks. At the third chunk, she would choke irrevocably and her airless body would be unable to rise to the surface till it became bloated in death. I would find my photos in her bag as evidence she had been sent to kill me. If not, I would plant my passports there as incriminating evidence. I would have to save my political career by exonerating myself from the crime of killing this lady. My mind processed all this while I rose to the surface to gulp in all the air in the universe.
The water had taught me well.