The Colour of Pool Water

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SWIMMING IS FREEDOM says the poster, each letter framed in gold chalk and stuck-up by a baguette from throat to arse. At least you'd reckon so. The font's impossible to peg on the free web. Beneath the tagline, twin peaks of steel-cap shoulders and a back crumpled like wet cardboard flex. They dome into a jaw, acutely engineered to break the water's surface best. The swimmer's mid-flight, his wingspan extends from lane to lane: he's about to butter-fly from the paper.

In my mind, his nasal bridge widens. The pointy end of his nose rounds. His hair darkens, his eyelashes thicken and lengthen, and so do his brows. I glare into the mirror at the brown thing in the reflection. Where's your poster? It stares back at me, fists raised and brows furrowed to a point they touch. A hand relaxes and reaches out from the mirror. I glance down to the sink at my hips.

Turning the tap right; the water dribbles, stops, and gushes. What a waste. Dad would've bottled and sold it. I run my charcoal goggles under the tap. The tiny tears in their straps widen from the pressure. "Fuck," I drop the eyewear and retreat to a towel beside the sink. The warm, white material dulls the invisible 'ice cream bites' encasing my fingers. And 6 am steam blushes my cheeks.

I pass my hands back under the water. I dry them against the towel. I repeat the process. I pick the goggles up and wash out the thick white paste from the sockets' insides. Water seeps out the sides of my palms and between my baby carrot fingers.

I turn the tap left and inspect the goggles. A thin whiteness lines the length of the inner lenses and a slight smell of peppermint persists. I stick my fingers in and dig, wishing, not for the first time, that they were only a little longer and wider. And webbed.

I twist the lid back on the sample-sized tube of toothpaste. I wrap it in a plastic bag full of school supplies and a change of clothes. Damian and Ken saunter into the changing room, Speedo bags strapped like crossbodies, and Magic5 goggles stretched over their foreheads, pulling their matching long blondes into strictly backside curtains of curls.

"—fuck off, bro, how are you always right," Damian sniggers, his eyes training on the back of my neck. I turn the tap left and dunk my goggles in the water again. Our eyes meet in the reflection of the mirror above the sink. Damian averts his gaze first.

Ken replies, "Bro, you know he'll always be here. Probably sleeps in one of the showers too."

"He-y," I stutter. My tongue magnets to the roof of my mouth and I pucker.

They dump their bags on the wooden bench beside me in my corner of the room. Ken wraps a navy towel around his waist and begins undressing. Damian opens his Speedo bag. He removes two price-tagged goggle cases and a 10-piece pack of store-bought sushi.

"Fuck, my mum forgot to pack my togs and towel."

Ken opens his bag and pulls out a taped box featuring a model in budgie smugglers on the front. "Algood bro, use these." He chucks a yellow towel to his friend and hands him the box.


Other boys trot into the changing room, trading hellos and fist bumps with Damian and Ken. One acknowledges me with a "sup." I half-nod in response as I shuffle past him towards the pool area.

"Yo, someone turn off the tap. Kids in A-fri-ca are dehydrating," the same voice whispers to the cohort as I store my plastic bag in a locker just outside the room.

"Bro, he's Indian, not African," Ken replies.

French, Fijian Indian but born and raised here. I bite my lip and taste metal. Just as red as yours. Covering the thought with a blanket grin, I pull a purple swim cap over my hair and stride over to the pool.

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