A few days ago, I was watching the Tokyo Olympics Swimming 100m finals and I was reminded of an incident that happened at our community’s swimming pool probably 5 or 6 years ago. What happened there transformed and shaped many of my opinions on humankind and I can never look at a swimming pool without being reminded of the mortifying sequence of events I had to witness that one dreadful day and I’m writing this because even to this day, I think of the boy who was there to swim just like me but became the victim of humankind’s nefariousness.
And this is what took place on that one cathartic day.
As I see it, the swimming pool is an aggregation of not just water but a hundred thousand particles ready to conquer your throat and lungs, submerge you to make you their own: drifting, silent, dead. I stand in it, between the colliding currents that sway my knees, the blue grasping at my waist. A few meters away a man is wading through the thrumming liquid, his greying hair spots on his head, his bloated gut a ship’s hairy bow. Behind him a boy stands, his pale face twisted, black hair in wet, drooping spikes.
“Why did you throw your goggles and cap? What are you going to do now?” demands the man, turning to the boy.
The boy stays silent, or he mutters something unheard.
Either way, the man continues. “Listen to me. Your mother…”, and the man stops roaring with fury but I think what he wanted to continue saying was that ‘your mother is observing and listening, she is right over there: shut up, listen and behave. Your mother is watching, get yourself together and start swimming, with or without your gear.’ The breeze twists the other way or the water enters my ears, either way, I am too shocked by what just happened so I don’t hear what the man says.
Maybe the boy is now weeping silently, silver streams of tears bulging scars on his cheek, for the man erupts, waving his arms, “Why are you crying?”
The most entitled question: why are you crying? Why have you handed me a consequence, after I rammed the cause down your very throat?
The man inhales the wind, and in a sudden exhale it bursts out through his mouth. “Are you crying for sympathy? Pity? Let me tell you, boy,” and this he shouts, “the more you beg for the pity the less of it you have! Who will pity you?”
My shoulders shake. The boy, stunned, stands unmoving, his head bowed, his back bare. One day he will thank his wounds for being invisible.
“Retrieve your goggles. Retrieve your cap.” The man grabs the boy by his head. “I want you to succeed! What are you doing? Crying? I don’t want you to be a loser! Loser, do you hear?” The man’s booming voice bounces off the pool walls and pries into the boy’s ears, my ears, everyone’s ears, the ears of my cousin who spoke back to his father, my mother’s friend whose husband who would return home drunk at 3 am, all these generations and all these lives until the last hearing ear has been deafened. In his rage, the man spoke the language of humanity.
Then, the soft afterword. “This is for your own good,” the man finishes, calmed after an outburst. “Retrieve your gear, let’s swim.”
This is the thing with people: they vow on your life, praise Satan, talk about helping you get your life on track while all they do is ruin it, and then end with a smile, saying, “This is for your own good.” No, this isn’t for their own good. The boy is going to remember this incident for a really long time, probably even for his entire life, and even begin to detest swimming. For all I know, he could’ve been an Olympic swimmer if not for the man scaring him for life. And I think to myself, in a barbaric world where people are dreadfully cold, there’s no one who will do anything for ‘your own good’. That is when I came up with survival rules for the boy and for myself; rule number one, I think to myself and the boy, don’t believe him. Rule number two: hate him but don’t fear him. Rule number three: smile at him, smile and obey, smile and listen and nod, this is your life, you can change it but not now. These are the rules of the game.
While I watched the entire incident unfurl in front of me, I haven’t seen the man showing an ounce of love or empathy towards the boy instead all I could see was the man’s envy, anger, and hatred.
Envy is a vice. Instead of focusing on your own goals, your goal becomes to throw other people’s goals off the rails, and at the end of the day, you gain nothing but a mischievous satisfaction that you have destroyed someone.
It has been years since the occurrence of this incident but I can still recall the fear in the boy’s eyes. What was supposed to be a fun day at the pool changed my perception of the world entirely and a swimming pool, to me, was never again just an aggregation of water but a hundred thousand particles of human piss, saliva, snot, and tears, scoldings, quiet rivalries, and violent pledges, gushing into your gasping mouth and open throat.
You swallow it and they make you their own.