By Josefina Huq
With artwork by Claire Wildish
By three o’clock we would be in the pool. Partially clothed, sometimes completely naked. All of us small and brown and getting darker under the sun piercing through the palm trees that surround. The boys had short, fluffy hair and were the skinniest they would ever be in their lives. There was a new rule that they had to wear jocks in Yayo and Yaya’s pool, so they splashed around in their tiny budgie smugglers, which were always block colours like dark red or blue. I had much fancier underwear. Lacey and patterned with pastel colours; little bows at the front. Who the bows were for, I’m not too sure. At one time it seemed to be for a boy from school, who walked past the house and saw me playing in the front yard through the wooden, red fence. He made ooh sounds and rubbed his chest while ignoring my brother Jamil and cousin Francis who continued to play in their little jocks, unaware. I knew that it would only be my body that would continue to grow in different directions to the boy’s, and eventually switched to wearing full-length bathers instead of my panties when playing water games. Which meant while I tried to fold my sticky one-piece over my hips I would miss out. Which meant the boys would go on playing without me.
The pool has four different levels to it, some little steps here and there and a shallow ridge I could sit on, letting the jets wash over my waist. Sometimes I did that when I didn’t feel like changing into swimmers (fondling the dead leaves with my bare feet). The bricks were an ashy-orange tone, which clashed with the blue tiles that lined the walls. Yayo built it himself so some bricks would come loose from time to time. The pool was an oval-shaped hole, cut into neat little parts. It sat on a square stage, elevated, so that the parents could smoke and watch that we didn’t drown from the verandah without getting their shoes wet. Above us was a tarp that never did what a tarp should do and, if the spiders were feeling courageous, webs hung between the trees like soft, thin hammocks. We were never scared, unless we jumped too high and got close enough to see the spiders sleeping. Sometimes we were also scared of that one sharp drop in the water from the top level to the deepest because you couldn’t see the bottom, just darkness. For whatever reason the boys decided these dark parts of the water were either full of monsters or caca; it depended on their mood.
Sometimes it was easy to have fun in Yayo’s pool, we didn’t have to think. But as we aged we became restless and picky. We thought about balloons, no, noodles, something else – something to elevate the fun. We could have had cannonball competitions, but my splashes weren’t as big as the boy’s, and, besides, I was barely in the competition anyway. All of it was eventually lost in the talking- but talking about what?
It’s hard to think about what we spoke of as children, but it was possibly a continuous stream of funny lines from the television. Sometimes Yaya would come and relieve our boredom, under the guise of cleaning out the filter. She would swing open the green fence and enter our world. Always so casually. At first it would feel like an intrusion, turning off the jets, leaning over the ridge and reaching her hand into the hole on the ledge to pull out sludge piles of rotting leaves (short twigs biting her palms). Sometimes I imagined my long hair being sucked into that filter. Soon enough we would be begging for Yaya to come in, to toss us into the air, to sing songs and replace the lyrics with our names. Her and her bellowing singlets, floating across the water’s surface as she sat in the middle and we swam around the edge trapping her into a whirlpool. As the years went by we got more rough with our play, and Yaya’s energy shrunk and, in time, dried up. She would exit the pool with less and less of her singlet wet, when in the old days her whole head would be soaked.
Yayo has talked about fixing the, now, broken pool. Would I swim in it? Yes, but what would be the point. Yaya’s legs are too swollen, and the cannonballs would be too dangerous. Would anyone even buy water balloons? For the game we used to play; two teams, separated by the pool, had to catch the other teams balloons without breaking them. We had two moves I can remember – the snowman and the penguin. All that was needed was to twist it in the middle, separating it into two spheres stacked on top of each other. The little mouth where you filled it with water would either be a penguin’s beak or a snowman’s nose.
We played that game at my auntie’s old house too. There was a communal pool, which sometimes had other kids we didn’t care for in it, but most of the time it was for us; me and my cousins. We spent a lot of time in the water. Not to say that other children dislike water, we just felt we liked it more. I started going to my auntie’s after school instead of Yayo and Yaya’s, and one time I was late so my cousins accused me of kissing boys. They were obsessed with thoughts like that, and sometimes I caught them floating with their jocks much too close to the jets of the pool (To me it felt good and weird and wrong). In the lead up to Christmas we were excited about that pool, because other, distant cousins would come, and there would be even more children playing. Then on Christmas Eve I noticed a dark red stain on my pretty little undies and a weird tightening in my stomach. All the children, including the boys, played in the pool that night, while I stayed inside holding the spot under my bellybutton and feeling the rub of tissue against myself.
When playing in pools my thoughts always slip back to my long hair catching on filters. Maybe I would drown, and whilst dying, watch the games that I’m missing out continue on above me. And the boys would only notice a little later on when the games turned sour. But it’s been so long since I’ve gone for a swim, and I don’t think Yayo will ever fix his pool.
Josefina Huq is a writer and honours student. Her writing is concerned with place phenomena, nostalgia and its effects on creative writing.
Claire Wildish is a writer, artist and mother. She lived in the middle of the desert for five years. Now she makes art in the city.