Orange_Water_wings

There’s already a family splashing around when I show up to swim a few laps. Well, most of a family. Three little kids bob in the water, rendered genderless by the sheer number of floatation devices strapped to their little bodies. The mother’s covered head to foot, Muslim, Sikh? I don’t trust myself to know which. I smile as broadly as possible, shooting out a squeaky hi as I fast-walk past her. She smiles back. Raptor eyes return to the three bobbing shapes. I wonder for a second about the odds of her jumping in the water after them, covered as she is, should something go wrong. But I notice how she’s perched on the lounge chair, anything but relaxed, coiled to spring.

I shuck off my shirt. For an absent moment I wonder if it’s rude to be partially unclothed if she doesn’t have that option. Am I being insensitive? Or is anxiety about offending itself testimony to my ignorance?

Sliding into the water on the far side of the pool, I try to block the family out of my mind. I start to swim. Like always, it’s humbling. When I run, I can convince myself that I’m fit. Then I try to swim, and my body screams. My lungs whine, my arms ache, and my legs rebel. It’s not my element.

Sputtering after a length, I grab the edge of the pool. I overhear a little boy’s voice say, “He’s resting. Is he resting? He’s resting, right?” I need a good deal more rest, but I take off again anyway. Why do I care what this boy thinks?

A few more lengths pass. I get the second wind (the second current?) and I’m much more comfortable. I’m ahead of my usual pace. It’s going to be a good day.

In the periphery of my vision, I glimpse a dark blur. For some reason, I reach out for the side of the pool. That’s when she strikes.

“Hi!” Based on the voice, probably a little girl. It’s alarmingly hard to tell, with short, slicked-back hair and a buoyant sheath around her middle.

“Hi.” I say it with a smile, injecting as much friendliness and non-threat as humanly possible. With first blood drawn, the other kids feel it’s finally safe to approach. They scramble our direction.

“What are you doing?” What a relief. A question I can always answer.

“Swimming laps. For exercise.” Again I smile, for lack of anything more interesting to contribute. How can I call myself a conversationalist if I don’t even know how to talk to a kid?

“Why?”

Vanity, I think immediately. I respond, “To stay healthy.”

“Healthy?” Kids don’t bother to conceal confusion.

“To stay young, like you.” It’s an almost truth if I don’t think about it too much.

“But Mommy and Daddy and Adi and Mommy don’t- Mommy didn’t bring her swimsuit- and Adi didn’t bring hers. But she’s in S’Arabia.”

That takes a moment for me to process. “Well, that’s a pretty good reason, I say,” stating the obvious.

Now the other blobs have floated their way close enough to gain genders. A young boy, and a bashful girl who’s probably a few years older than the others.

“Where are you from?” asks Big Mouth.

Again showing off my highly developed conversational skills, I point towards the apartment complex. You can actually see my window.

She flops around, spewing water everywhere, incredulously, squinting as if looking for something through the building. Then she slowly turns back and eyes me like I’ve just tried to cheat at Go-Fish. “No! I mean where are you from.”

“I’m from America.”

My lack of understanding clearly frustrates her. “No, I mean where are you from. What country are you from?”

“I’m from here,” I repeat, a little catch in my throat.

“No, what country are you from? Like, I’m from S’Arabia. And Adi’s from S’Arabia.”

I take a moment to think this over. Finally: “I’m from Texas.”

A smile takes over her face. “Are you a cowboy?”

If she’d been 15 years older, I’d be miffed by the use of the stereotype. As is, I smile against my own will. “No, no. I’m not a cowboy.”

“I’m going to ride a horse.”

“Really?”

“Yep. When I’m 4, I ride a horse.”

Now the pudgy boy has paddled his way over. “How many do you have?” he says.

I decide he’s not talking about horses. “I have 21 years, I tell him.”

“Right now I’m 5,” brags the first girl.

“Oh really? My little sister’s 5 too.”

“Really!?” The girl’s jaw drops open.

The pudgy boy has a different perspective. He starts to paddle towards the side of the pool. “Like anyone cares!”  he shoots towards me.

But my interrogator is still confused. “What!?”

“That’s impossible,” continues the boy, implying that someone might care just a little bit.

By now the three have me surrounded, positively pinned against the side. It’s a blockade Nelson would have been proud of.

“I should probably…” Again, I show off my linguistic mastery by making swimming motions with my arms.

Then the boy spits water on me. I don’t really mind. Hell, I’m in a pool. Odds are good I’m swimming in the kid’s pee anyway. But I seize on the excuse to leave the conversation. I leap between two inflatable dreadnoughts and swim another length.

As I approach that side of the pool again, another dark blur hovers nearby. I come up.

“Sorry!” the boy squeaks out. It’s a hit and run. He starts paddling away. I look over at his mother, who smiles at me and mouths an apology. They’re good kids, I decide. She must know what she’s doing.