A fish out of water

She walked all the way around the pool. Yet another time. Third round done, she came to a halt right below the diving platform. Shielding her eyes against the fierce sun, she peered up at it. Should she try it now? No, still no courage to enter. She reflected that this would be yet another day wasted. Nearby, her coach of 15 years waited patiently, having exhausted all his arguments in the matter.

She recognized that she was wrong, only paranoid. But the fear was too great to overcome. So she stood there, fighting every instinct that screamed at her to run, to get out of there. “It is only water. Only another swimming pool,” she told herself, looking down at her blurred reflection on the soft ripples.

Seven years ago, she had achieved glory as the Numero Uno swimmer in the state. Her coach remembered the first time he had met his new pupil. It was a cliché but the little girl had taken to water like a fish, perfecting her dog paddle almost before the week was out. When the time came, he had advised her parents: there was no question but that she should turn professional. And so she had.

He thought back to the time when she’d bagged her first medal, a silver. She was – and remained – his star pupil, no doubt about that. Still, the current situation perplexed him. It had been months since she’d entered the water. The phobia had taken over her mind and all the counselling, all that medication, had been in vain. He’d never known that a single magazine article, read somewhere on the fly, could inflict so much damage.

A few weeks into therapy, she’d Googled up the article for him. Something about an unnamed woman in Florida who’d stepped out into the swimming pool in her own backyard and been attacked by a runaway alligator. The woman had survived. The reptile was found to have escaped from a nearby holding facility and was restored to it. No harm done. Not to the woman in the magazine, at least. The swimmer was another matter.

He’d been very surprised when she first started skipping practice. She’d make several excuses but would turn up if he insisted. Anyway it was no use; when she did get there, she was too afraid to dive in and get started. Her swimming technique too had gone for a toss: all she’d do was make a mad dash across the pool, thrashing frantically to get out on the other side.

After a few days of this, he had asked her and she’d told him about the stripes. The swim lanes at the bottom of the pool which she thought concealed a croc. He’d been so incredulous he’d laughed in her face. But when weeks passed and things did not improve, he had had to seek out a therapist for her. The doctor was competent, famous for his work in the field of sports psychology. But even he barely made a difference. She’d make it to the pool but things did not go further than that. All she’d do was pace up and down, working to build up her courage. And every evening, they’d return disappointed.

On the way back, she’d tell him how afraid she was of being dragged down to the bottom, how she dreamt every night of drowning, and how that was absolutely the worst way to die. And each time he told her how silly it all was, how the country’s best swimmer was the last person you’d expect to die in a piddling swimming pool.

But nothing had changed. At this rate, they both knew, she’d ruin her chances of selection to the 2012 Olympics.

The story repeated itself the next morning. According to the coach, they’d both reached early. As usual, he had strolled out for his smoke while the swimmer showered and changed for the pool. That was all that the coach could tell for certain.

The rest was easy to piece together. At some point, the swimmer had emerged and made her way to the newest – and highest – of the diving boards. Her coach could picture how it would have been. At the top, she’d have allowed herself no time to hesitate. As she jumped, the aluminium board, yet to be attached to the concrete slab below, came off and followed her down.

All in all, the whole thing would have taken no more than five minutes. Mercifully, the blow to the head would have left her unconscious. She wouldn’t have known a thing. And by the time her coach jumped in and got to her, the swimmer was long drowned.

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