This is the true story of an event which happened to me at the local pool in 2004. I hope you will enjoy the reminder of the preciousness of life, as I did!
While some may call it fate or destiny, others would call it “divine intervention”. Whichever the case may be, there are times when you know that you are moved by a hand greater than your own. For me, such a moment remains unforgettable:
It is like any other late summer afternoon at the local pool. Chemical fumes overwhelm me in the steamy enclosure. The scene assaults my senses: the dirty, steamy windows, the huge rust marks on the ceiling, the mould which grows thickly on wet pavers beneath my feet. My toes cringe! My ears ring with squeals of laughter, screams of defiance, legs kicking and the instructor barking out commands. All this is accompanied by the unsettling drone of the pool equipment.
A dozen small, gleaming bodies swim tireless laps in the choppy water. The instructor spurs them on. They bow to her will entirely. My two eldest girls are among them, showing great resilience to perform this wretched task. Is this fun, or some form of torture?
I take to the tranquillity of the shallow end of the pool, with my youngest daughter. Though not totally water savvy, Bekky exudes a confidence well beyond her three years. She dives through the waves and pops up a few metres away. With sea-green eyes and an infectious smile, she helps me ignore the suffocating atmosphere that clings about us.
The swim instructor paces at the end of the pool. She notices Bekky’s exuberance and suggests I challenge her to “swim” the length of a small pool nearby. Feeling I too must obey, we head for the small pool, seven metres long and hidden in a secluded alcove. The chlorine fumes are even thicker here, hovering over the water as a solid mass! My toes test the water. The temperature soars by degrees. We plunge in, regardless.
A young mum sits beside the pool, cuddling a baby. She watches her little daughter, bobbing up and down behind us. I turn away.
“Swim to me Bek, come on!”
She needs little convincing. She leaps through the thickened air and carves a path through the waves to me, to safety. I point her to the side ledge of the pool. She clambers onto slippery pavers.
“Don’t run!” I warn. I could more easily hold back the tide than curb such enthusiasm. So begins an endless cycle of jumping, swimming, running . . . Her confidence grows with each moment.
The heat and fumes combine to bend my awareness of the scene. The little girl in the corner behind me continues to splash and play. Her mum lies the baby down on the pavers for a nappy change. Perspiration drips from her brow as she awkwardly shifts her weight to avoid falling in the pool.
Bekky jumps into the water again, the hundredth time. She certainly will catch up to her sisters soon, and join those serious swimmers in the other pool. Yet there is a growing impatience within me. When will the instructor be done? When can we escape? I need some air, and water – to drink!
Glancing over my shoulder I notice that the mum has finished the nappy change and is dealing with her baby in the pram. The small girl in the water has stopped splashing and is floating peacefully on her back.
I turn back to Bek, to the arms and legs wildly splashing. She could never lie still long enough to float peacefully like that . . . .
In that split second, horror grips me. I spin back to the small girl. She is rolling side to side! Her nose is centimetres beneath the surface of the water! Her arms float loosely, feet sink slowly. There is a deathly stare in her eyes!
I look to her mother. She simply smiles! She doesn’t know her daughter is struggling for life, a metre away!
How long these moments take, I have no idea. And where is Bekky? Time stands still. I scoop the child from the murky water. I hold her up before my face. She stares blankly at me. I call the mother, with words I do not know. The girl stares, her face glistens with beads of warm water.
I lay her down, on her side, on the pool’s edge. What was that first aid acronym? There are no signs of life, just a questioning look in those deep brown, almond-shaped eyes. Her mother speaks. I don’t understand!
I thump the small girl’s back.
I am beside her on the mouldy pavers. I lift her up, her face on my shoulder. The instructor will know what to do. As I take a step, a wave of warm vomit and water pours down my body. She is alive!
It is a long walk to the other end of the pool. The instructor is surrounded by little bodies. The girl vomits twice more as we walk, emptying herself of the deadly liquid that almost took her life. Her mother trails behind us.
The instructor looks up, puzzled. She knows this child is not my own. And where is Bekky? I discard this thought.
Hastily I explain what has happened.
“Stupid woman!” The instructor says, of the mother.
She takes the girl and wraps her in a beach towel. She sits her down and checks her over.
”You need to get her to a doctor!” The instructor commands the mother.
“No English,” she stammers.
We look around for someone who may be able to translate. A woman steps forward through the gathered crowd of children. The message is passed on, we hope. My own daughters look at me strangely. Bekky appears suddenly by my side.
The little girl sits by her mother. She looks to me briefly. I smile.
Soon they gather up their gear and leave. I remain with my own girls to pack up. My head is swimming. A thousand thoughts crowd for attention.
What if I hadn’t . . . . ?
Now as I lay in bed, searching for sleep, the face of one little girl remains before me. She stares, questioning. Her face is seared into my memory. I am content, knowing that I was in the right place at the right time, for at least one moment. I helped save something so precious that words can scarcely describe it.
By Ros Barrett
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