As a child I always wished to swim like a fish; smoothly, swiftly and elegantly. The way the fishes maneuvered and propelled under the water, interested me immensely.
I was too afraid of water however. Every other visit to a local swimming pool with my dad, who took me there to teach swimming, would end up me watching others play in the pool and me sitting in one corner, scared. Every time my dad tried to hold me and get into the water, I ended up crying and pushing back. Tired of pursuing me, my dad would leave me on the side and go swimming in the pool alone.
It was not until I had grown a bit older; into my teenage, that I gathered a little courage to learn swimming. It took over ten years to finally shed the fear of water. The wish to swim like a fish kept the lamp of hope burning. It was always at the back of my mind. Thanks to a school friend of mine, an expert swimmer, who volunteered to teach me swimming.
My swimmer friend lived in the country side. He had big old house adjacent to a large garden of mango trees. A little distance from his house was a big well, rectangle in shape surrounded by a wall of stone and concrete. The water in the well was around thirty feet deep. The interior of the well was secured with construction of uneven stones and concrete. The uneven stones left gaps between them which lead to the growth of slippery creepers from the soil contained beneath them. The creepers had grown long and hung all over to decorate the walls of the well. One side of the well had stony steps descending from top of the well up to the level of water.
Besides serving as a source of irrigation to the farms, the well also served as a place for the kids to take a dive into it in the hot summer. During the summer vacations, school kids from the nearby area gathered at the well to swim. Kids as young as four years old dove from the top of the well.
One of those summer vacation days I planned to take my swimming lessons from my friend in that well, after he assured me that it was safe and as good as a swimming pool. I got myself a safety vest. The safety vest consisted of a throw away motor bike rubber tube blown with air that had to be worn around the waist.
Being the oldest boy at the well who didn’t know swimming, it embarrassed me a little. All other kids had not even reached their teens but swam proficiently. The small kids gave a strange look at me and giggled among themselves. I’m sure they thought it funny, that a boy this big didn’t know to swim.
I walked down the well from the steps. As I got closer to the water my excitement started to turn into fear once more. Stomach started churning. The fear of water that scared me as a kid started to resurface again. I stood at the edge of the step trying to make my mind to take a dip. My friend was encouraging me to jump with a promise to join me.
While I stood there making up my mind to jump, I got a thrust from back. Someone pushed me hard and I was down in the water with a shout. It was some mischievous kid. The cold water held my breath. I started hitting my hands and legs in bewilderment. I gulped loads of water as I tried to stabilize myself in the water. I started to call my friend for help. He kept laughing along with others at the edge while I was struggling in the water.
After some time he jumped in the water. He held me with his hand. He then explained the basics of the swimming as he demonstrated. I stayed still and watched. I followed as he told. I moved my hands and legs in rhythm. My learning continued for couple of weeks this way.
When I was a bit confident, my friend suggested me to try swimming without the tube. So one day I decided to do so.
I was bit scared without the tube. The depth of the well made me nervous. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and threw myself in the water. The training for the past couple of weeks had given a bit confidence to me. I slowly moved my hands and legs rhythmically. I was swimming. However, if someone swam close to me, I would still be afraid and tried to cling to the wall on the side. I was enjoying the water now. I was still not very confident but was able to swim at least. I took few short laps across the well there after. I was still not very confident to turn myself being in water. So as soon I would reach the end of the lap, I would hold the stones on the sides for support, turn myself, and swim back again.
Later my friend joined me to swim a bigger lap across far end of the rectangular well. We started from one end to reach the other. I swam slowly while my friend was fast. He had already reached the end and was back when I was approaching the other end. As I approached the wall I raised my hand to locate the stone for support while my head was buried in the water. I raised my head to breath. I was shocked to see a snake suddenly sneaking out of the gaps between the stones where I had my hand.
It was a green colored grass snake with shiny eyes. It scared the shit out of me. As a child, the creature that I had most feared was a snake. It didn’t matter whether it was a poisonous or a non poisonous snake; it just scared the hell out of me. Here it was in front of me staring in my face. I didn’t know what to do. I started sweating in the cold water. My heart pounded. I started hitting the water hard with my hands in fear. I was trying to turn and swim away from the snake. As I did, I started sinking in the water. My legs seemed to lose all the strength. I cried for help. I was scared I will drown. The snake was still there staring and enjoying my misery. I called my friend who had by that time got out of the well to wipe himself. I kept dipping in and rising in the water, struggling myself as I called for help.
My friend finally heard my voice. He hurriedly jumped from the top of the well into the water and swam towards me to help me. I felt a sigh of relief as I saw him coming. He held me by my shoulder and dragged me out of the water.
That was the last day I ever went to that well to swim. The sight of the snake in that well, kept haunting me for many days. Even today whenever I see a large well similar to that one, my mind pictures a snake crawling somewhere by the sides of the well.
That well in the country side taught me my first swimming lesson. Today I can swim well. I still remember that encounter with the snake in the well.