Monday, July 21, 2008
(I initially submitted this as an article.
After the editor read it she called me back. "It's more like a blog" she complained.
I took her advise and posted it.)
Being Nigerian there are very few things in life that I am afraid off.
I am for instance unimpressed with Mosquitoes. I don’t even flinch when they bite me. Having been bitten all my life I no longer pause to yell my outrage whenever these unwanted visitors stop by. Gone are the days when mosquito bites used to leave me looking like a pimple advert. These days whenever a mosquito bites me at night it usually has to go to the dentist the next morning to fix its broken teeth.
I am equally unfazed with Cockroaches. If I come across one I simply turn around and walk the other way. If the cockroach is stupid enough to come scuttling after me (this happens every now and then) I proceed to plan B—An intricate move which involves a flying shoe and a very flattened, very dead cockroach.
But despite my invulnerability as a Nigerian there is one thing I am still terrified about.
Well swimming to be exact.
I can’t swim. It is one of those things that I keep promising myself I have to learn. Being Nigerian has taught me caution. You never know. One day I might be trapped in the bathroom with a shower that refuses to go off. Then what would I do?
Swimming, I realized was one of those important things that people never got around to learning. It was a delightful form of exercise for those wishing to lose calories and a perfectly convenient means for irregular transportation. Take the Mexicans who swim into America for instance.
It was quite clear to me. One day I would have to stop procrastinating and actually get around to swimming.
I reached that point last week.
As I celebrated another birthday I decided to do something positive with my new year.
I was going to learn how to swim.
It was surprising how many centers there were in Port Harcourt for beginner swimmers. After inquiries I settled on one which my friend Jeff had recommended. Jeff weighed roughly 120kg. Every time he moved some Asian country suffered an earthquake. And yet whenever I was with him at the pool he always amazed me with the ease with which he moved through the water. He was like a clumsy bungling penguin which transformed into an aquatic marvel once it hit the water. If anyone could teach Jeff how to swim I decided then he must be very good.
So I settled on Jeff’s trainer.
I turned up at the pool the next day.
I was unsure what exactly one wore to swimming lessons. Would I need swimming trunks or would I be given one of those inflatable arm bands. Jeff didn’t help matters much. Shortly before I left he hung a bright Red “L” around my neck.
Just so other swimmers don’t bump into you ,he said.
I arrived at the pool with an excited air. Today I was going to get my license as a swimmer. I wasn’t really worried. There was probably nothing to swim. Just jump into the water , kick your legs, swing your arms and presto, you were swimming.
My swimming instructor walked up to me as I approached.
“You must be Mr. Thrisxtyereix.” He suggested.
“No. That’s my father. “ I said with a grin. “ Just call me Carl.”
He nodded and gave me a serious stare. He ran his eyes over my body. I was suddenly conscious that unlike him my body was not hard and riddled with delightfully placed muscles. He was lean as a Shark and I was …well…let’s just say I wasn’t shark material.
IN front of us a little boy was swimming circles in the water. He couldn’t have been more than five years old. I watched his act with amusement.
“Your son?” I asked my instructor.
He flinched like I had called him a cockroach.
“No. He is not. I have daughters!”
He said this with pride. Like there was something wrong with having sons. I made a mental note to ask my mum about this reaction when next I visited her.
“When do we start? “ I asked excitedly. I took of my shirt quickly and dropped next to my bag which in turn was lying on the Learner L.
He looked at me with a smile.
“We may begin now if you’re ready.”
I laughed in amusement, stretching my hands to the sky. The sun felt warm on my bare back.
“Ready?” I scoffed “I’m a Nigerian. I was born ready.”
And with a running leap I dived into the pool.
For those of you who are yet to visit the pool there are things you must know. Most pools have shallow ends and deep ends. The shallow end are designed for people who can’t swim and yet insist on jumping into the pool. Perhaps for the sake of a picture .The deep end are for the professionals who are so skilled they can make coffee underwater if they decided too. Yet still, there are other pools that have shallow ends, deep ends and then very very deep ends.
I didn’t know all this. If I did I didn’t suspect. There was a five year old boy swimming already. Nobody warned me.
The instructor tried to shout a warning as I jumped in but I didn’t quite hear him. All I heard was a shouted “No .Don’t….” and then I was in the water.
I didn’t panic for the first 2 seconds. The force of the impact caught me by surprise but I recovered quickly. I kicked my legs in the water. I had read books with instructions. If I kicked with the right momentum I would move forward. It didn’t work out that way. Instead of a burst into sunlight I remained in my water prison. I noticed quickly that I was sinking instead of rising. It didn’t make any sense. Opening my eyes I could see two baby legs hanging above me. My lungs were screaming their alarm. I had been in water for only 2 seconds and suddenly I realized was in trouble.
And then I panicked.
I opened my mouth to scream for help.
I was going to either shout Help to the side or Jesus to the heavens. I did neither. I managed to open my mouth and succeeded in tasting my first mouthful of pool water.
It didn’t taste like sprite.
Water rushed into my mouth flushing out whatever self control I had left. I thrashed about in the water madly. My eyes were bulging out with alarm. I must have looked ridiculous. If a penguin swarm by it would probably conclude I was some confused seahorse. I had fought in the water for another five seconds when suddenly my head broke the surface into the warm sunlight.
I inhaled deeply as I popped out. A sharp pain warned me that maybe I was overexerting myself. I looked around quickly for my instructor. He no doubt was on his way to save me.
I found him still standing on the side of the pool. He was looking at me with a puzzled frown.
“What are you doing? “ I gasped out. “I’m drowning you idiot.”
Then I sunk back in again.
My arms went crazy .They flayed madly in the water. Almost as if they were trying to run away and leave me to drown. I thrashed about in the pool for another 3 seconds before bobbing back to the surface. Frothy foam was all around me. I could feel a dull ache in my arms slowly growing. I wouldn’t be able to fight any longer.
The swimming instructor was still standing at the side when I popped out. Beside him the five year old boy was watching with concern. I had probably scared him out of the water with my swimming antics. I splashed wildly around me. Trying to stay afloat. If I wasn’t so busy trying to stay alive I would have been furious with the instructor. Was this how he trained his students?
I wondered if there were any bodies at the bottom of the pool. People that had failed his course.
Despite my heroics I was losing the battle. I couldn’t fight anymore. In another second I was going to go down again and this time I wasn’t sure I could make it back up again.
“Help me.” I gasped to the instructor. “Please.”
The instructor shook his head at me and sighed.
“Stop being silly and just stand in the water.”
His instructions took a while to register. I struggled for a moment before deciding to do what he said. I let my sink and then stood up.
My head burst into the warm sunlight.
It turned out I had dived into the shallow ending. Standing, the water was no more than 4 feet high. More than enough for me to breathe. I stood in the pool, hunched against my knee gasping for breath.
The instructor and the little boy watched me perplexed.
“ I almost drowned.” I pointed out.
“ In 4 feet of water? You’re six feet!” The instructor snapped.
Beside him the little boy laughed at me. I glared at him angrily. Maybe this was why little girls were better than boys. A little girl would have crying for me.
They watched me patiently until I stopped panting. Then slowly I made my way to the side and climbed out of the pool. Water dripped of me as I slowly made my way to my bags.
“Where are you going to?” The instructor asked. “We’re about to begin your lesson.”
I had almost ended my life there and I told him as much.
He laughed at me. “No one drowns in the shallow end. You just panicked. We’ll have to work on that.”
I ignored him and sat down. He was joking if he thought I was going back into the water. I was Nigerian not stupid.
“Oh come on.” He urged with a smile.
“Once beaten. Twice I shy” I said. I picked up the learners L and rehung it around my neck. I didn’t mind that everyone knew I couldn’t swim. I had survived almost drowning. Come Sunday I had a testimony to tell.
“Practice makes perfect” He crooned.
I closed my eyes and enjoyed the afternoon.
He might have had a point but it was flawed.
Practice might make perfect, but nobody's perfect, so why practice?