(tw. sexual assault)
by Rosa Esteves
The boom had been there that day, and we’d swum under it. Mermaid swam, arms by our sides. Bumping our heads against its soft plastic skin. Underneath was the wide steel wall of the boom, there to break the Olympic pool in to two smaller pools. There was a gap at the bottom big enough for a child’s body to wriggle and swim under it. I can remember the reaching would start straight away. Stretching our arms out in the shadowy blue to touch the light water ahead. Chills of excitement washing over our eager, wafting hands.
The fear was like fresh cold lemonade sparkling down my gullet. Sometimes they’d be a hand on the other side to pull you out. Or feet would appear and they’d be a panicked pushing, grabbing at strangers arches and heels, to force a way out. Once, with something in my eye, I got disorientated and there was a struggle in the wrong direction, tightening lungs. Fighting feet one too many times built a lug in our gut and that day we decided a new plan, to lie underwater looking up. Synchronised swimmers.
There was mostly a hilarious mood between me and Gem. We’d sing at the tops of our voices on the bus to town, horribly triumphant when people moved forward, away. She had pushed a solidarity pee out, when I weed myself on the way home. Hands on hips, legs spread to only get a tube of wet on tights. And now standing on the shelf in the swimming pool changing rooms, drying ourselves from top to toe, we compared new and minuscule pube growth. Comparing my white-person hair with her small afro curls. That part’s quite foggy. Coming more into view is noticing the Smartie-sized hole in the cubicle wall. I remember we laid our towels down first so as not to slip, a lesson well-learnt. Then the jumping, the shrieking, going high to land just in front of the hole. I remember stretching our arms out, aiming at the hole pubes first. Over and over, whooping, arching to get pubes at hole height. Jumping starred out, the air and us, bursting in the cubicle.
“The fear was like fresh cold lemonade sparkling down my gullet.”
Clearest of all I remember noticing the eye, the eye that stabbed into mine. It was as if we’d seen a gun. It was so still and so blue, we went silent and still, too. Did we go to a sign language or a childish stage whisper, I don’t know. Did we jump again? I think I thought about it. A tension, a nothingness while we thought, or didn’t think. We took turns looking at the eye. Eye right up to eye. A looking again and seeing the hand and penis. The squeezing. A slow rubbing. A hand coming under the wall, beckoning. Jumping onto the shelf, feet up, pulling up anything dangling that could be grabbed. The hand leaving money. Five pounds. My hand angrily snatching the money and then pushing it back. Getting down on the floor to look under. The floor at the edge of the towels wet on my hands, against my cheek. Looking through the hole again to see white being pushed out of the penis, massaged out of not a young penis. A proper adult’s hands cupping the white and the white being held under the wall. And then waiting. Waiting on the shelf for a long time. Our towels stretched on the floor. And then ready to go and still waiting until footfall outside the cubicle died down and the only voices were staff talking packing-up talk and we were the only ones.
I can remember Grand Central, us stepping out into the now deserted arcade and seeing us leaving from afar. Seeing us stepping tentatively out into the greying twilight, with the restricted view of someone concealed. Someone peering. It was an existing fear we had, that we knew already, and that day came out into the light. A fear that inch by inch, year by year, would take a well-known shape. What did we learn? We learnt the water is deep. The boom is unyielding. And we learnt something about peepholes.
Rosa Esteves lives in her home town, Manchester. She’s interested in social justice. She likes: ‘Write what should not be forgotten.’ (Isabel Allende)