The barrier

In her blue bathers, with her hair done up in tight plaits, she looks tiny. Fragile almost.  The swimming lanes are bustling with activity, the school houses are working themselves up into a feverish mania.  So much sound, so much clapping. Splashes of water, clocks and sirens. She has a pink swimming bag. It holds her water goggles. Her towel, a set of spare clothes. One sandwich (cut into half, please). A handful of lollies (green and red, thank you). A bottle of water. Small, everyday things.  Even though today is bigger than everyday. Somedays are like that.

She sits with her friends, hugging the bag.  When I look at her and wave from the stands, she waves back.  

“Ten more minutes and you are in the pool”, the teacher tells her group.

I can’t swim like the rest Mummy. I am tinier than all of them. I don’t want to come in last. In front of the whole school.

You won’t come last. You have to know you are really good.

But the others are so much stronger. They don’t even need to try as hard.

They call out her name. I rush to my feet and push through the crowds. I want to watch this from ground level, not from the stands.

You know what, A?  There are things we are all naturally good at. And there are things we have to struggle to achieve. Doesn’t mean you cannot win, eh?

Do you think I have a chance?

As much as any other little girl.

There are 8 little girls. Standing poised at the foot of 8 deep lanes. They are taller than her, they have done this before. All around her are gladiatorial crowds.

She gets inside the pool and positions herself for the backstroke (because I am good at backstroke, Mummy).

A part of my heart wants to look away. A part of my heart plans dinner and the drive home and the things I will say to her. Because, the other girls are bigger, the deep end looks stern and I want to get a band-aid ready for her hurt even before she falls down.

The siren goes off and she swims. Arms, legs, silver arcs of blue water. The crowds, the claps, the house cheers, time soon becomes a smudge. The finish line, the finality of the last seconds. I race towards her as she finishes.

“How did I go?”, she asks.

“You were so marvellous”, I say and I hug her tight.

“Did I win?”

“I don’t know baby.” She is not the last though, because some girls are still getting out of the pool.

“It doesn’t matter, Mummy. I had thought it did, but it doesn’t. It was just so much fun”

So many things do not matter anymore. Such imposters these are, these fears we claim as our own.

She goes off to ask the teacher how she did. And a minute later, throws herself into my arms with a war cry. 

“I came second. I won the second prize ribbon”.

 A part of my heart expands to accomodate those old mates of happiness and pride.

“Do you know what, Mummy? At the end, I just knew I was doing well. It all seemed so right.”

The thing about victory is this. Victory is in attendance at every game ever played, every chance ever taken, every arrow ever aimed.  Victory lurks at the edge of the playground and mingles with the spectators, it beckons to you from across the boundaries, it runs with you as you sprint, it stands behind you when you aim. In disguise, barely there, yet omnipresent.

When you know what you are playing for, when you take a minute to look around the crowds and the cheers and the faces that ask you to keep going, when you know that the finish line is always nearer than you dreamt, victory shows its face to you. Your reward for spotting the elusive spirit on the courts, the battlefield, the playground.

“I am here”, it says. “I can stay if you want me to.” And a silver arm reaches across those fluid boundaries that define success and failure, triumph and failure and suddenly you have crossed the barriers that once stopped you.

She holds my hand and we walk out into the obscenely cheerful day, swimming ribbon intact.  Behind us, a frenzied chant goes off as Victory pulls more people across into the promised land, revealing its face to those that dared to look at the finish line and conquer the distances that our fears scale for us.

And then it all seems so right.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rajavel
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 14:22:45

    How very eloquently put ! The aspects of struggle and victory and life and trying ! Wonderful ! Thanks as always !


  2. Rajavel
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 14:23:18

    And Ms. A continues to amaze !


  3. IW
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 16:15:22

    Yeaaaayyy @ Ms. A ! Can you swim Scary ?


  4. Captain Nemo
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 20:32:16

    Great blog, as usual. Looking forward to more such simple lessons of life.


  5. Scarlett
    Apr 02, 2011 @ 22:41:42

    Thanks so much, Captain and Rajavel – you guys always make any blogathon worthwhile 🙂
    IW: Nahi, I cannot swim. Self stays dry and far away.


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