Clinton is a strong swimmer and Vidushun much less so. Vidushun had spent time during the week learning the crawl from a YouTube video, placement of the arms, timing of breathing. They both look at me like an authoritative coach, someone who will really teach them how to swim, though I use the pool only to relax and collect my thoughts. Their minds are full of Michael Phelps, record times, international competitions. They'd told me earlier in the day, in the heat of talking cricket, about which I could care less, that Tamils are excluded from Sri Lankan teams who compete internationally. Is this true? Can a country be so blatantly stupid?
They want to show me how fast they can swim, and Clinton is really powerful. I don't know the first thing about competitive swimming but there are a few things I know. Relax. Fingers together. Breathe. Legs near the surface. These things and a few others I cobble into a lesson. We practice kicking. We practice putting our faces in the water while we're standing, breathing out. Remember. Your face is in the water, you breathe out. We practice treading water and bobbing and holding our breath underwater. The boys are allowed into the pool every Sunday during their break. They are out of breath and exhausted right away.
You get tired, you go down. I show them my sidestroke. This is an old man stroke I tell them. But it's relaxing and you never get tired. You never put your face in the water here. You can swim this way for a few hours. They are truly amazed I can make it across the pool, which they reckon to be about 100 meters long, (maybe it's 15) and not be exhausted.
We practice kicking with our face in the water and arms straight in front. Legs and butts sink and I tell them, keep to the surface. I show and I show and they try. What is that called? I don't know I tell them. I must know what everything's called because I seem to them to be able to do everything. Yet there's so little I can do.
Swimming is like lifting weights I tell Clinton. Breathe, coordinate your body parts so they work together, relax. These ideas may be hard for any 22 year old. I tell them if you can swim in a coordinated way you can also work so you never get tired. These are strange things for them to think about.
We do lots of practice and laugh a lot. Clinton, with his massive torso finds the butterfly stroke to be "his," but today he's exhausted with muscle pain after just a few times across the pool, side to side. Twenty, thirty strokes in all.
So here I am in a land where a boy scurries up a coconut palm and cuts down fronds and fruits effortlessly. Equally so a fisherman goes out in utter silence, rows and handles nets like a dance with his small body. The farmer's wife weaves heavy fronds gracefully and tirelessly. But to swim, to find that core of coordination and repose, to glide from one end of the pool to the other is dead hard for these boys.
They rest in the shade and we hang out in the warm water. They start their Tamil lesson for me and laugh at what they call my good pronunciation. It's hysterical that I can say anything in their language but I wish I could say more. Or understand. Or start to comprehend. Finding that core sensation is as hard for me as it is for them to swim, and this is how our world is divided.