As Ray looked down at the roaring surf, he thought to himself, “I wish I had the guts to go into that water”. The surf was raging with a terrible roar, winding itself up like a loaded spring and then unwinding with a loud “swish”, as it came unto the shore and gurgled back like a whirlpool, a terror to all little boys of Ray’s age.
The day was hot and dry. The beach of golden sand stretched out before him. As Ray walked out to the edge of the water, he saw the smooth rounded gray pebbles amid white shell looking objects, and felt them rough under his feet. Ever so often the sea would come in washing his feet with its foamy invitation. Then he heard someone call his name “Ray!” It was Johnny, and girlfriend, Sydney. They were waving at him to come in: He pointed at a now towering wave coming in and ran back to the safety of the shore. It crashed on the shore, and retreated. Johhny came in and took Ray by his hand into the water, saying: “It is shallow out there, just ride up when you see the wave coming in. Then you will not get pulled in: then paddle the water to walk on it, moving your legs; its not that difficult.”
Ray tried doing that doing all right for a while, though he swallowed a bit of salt water, coughing and spluttering. Sydney smiled, and said to Johnny, “Perhaps he has had enough; you should really teach him to swim.”
Content to sit in the shade under the bush near the water, Ray looked at the blue sea in the distance. The sky was even bluer, and looking across to the horizon he could see the flecks of surf on the sea’s surface, stirred by the wind into anger and rage as it pounded unto the long shore. In the distance he could sea the edge of the Palisadoes peninsula, which stretched for miles into the sea on his right. On the other side of Palisadoes, he knew, was Kingston Harbor, where the water was calmer. But there was no beach there, only small piers from which you could fish. But directly in front of him and on his left, were the open waters of the Caribbean.
The wind died out somewhat, and Johnny came back in, and said: “Let’s see if could try to float. Don’t worry, I will be right beside you.” He took Ray by the hand, and into the water. The cooling breeze and water washed off the sweat on Ray’s body, as Johnny made him lie back on the water. At first he was as stiff as a board, but with a little prompting, Johhny got Ray to relax and move his hands under the water, so he could barely stay afloat. His feet kept sinking though, but Johnny placed his hand under his back, and held him up. Johhny was Ray’s brother, a good 12 years older than Ray.
After a bit of practice, and much patience from Johnny, Ray began to get the idea. The calmer he was, the more he stayed afloat; he even tried moving backwards and found out he could move. “Attaboy, Ray, that’s the way to do it.” That Sunday was the beginning for Ray, and he tried that floating action whenever he could, and whenever the sea would allow him.
There was a time when Ray’s Dad used to take him to the Copacabana Beach Club, where they had a large salt-water pool. The Beach Club had a pool looking like a figure eight, with the upper half of the eight being much smaller in diameter: That was the children’s pool and it was shallow. The main pool, the lower half of the eight, was around 50 feet in diameter, and it sloped from a three-foot depth near the circumference to around eight foot in the center. Around the periphery were shingled roof shed structures, appearing to be long gazebos, with a table and benches. Looking up towards the Clubhouse one could see a dance floor, and a kitchen, from which hot dogs and hamburgers could be purchased. Beyond the Clubhouse one could see the blue sea, but the shore here was somewhat rockier, and the swimming therefore difficult and dangerous. The pool made up for all those deficiencies, as it was strained salt water
coming into the pool.
There Ray practiced his floating and backstroking, while the rest of the family brought out picnic sandwiches and sodas. Ray had a great time at the Copa, especially when Johnny came along. Then he and Johnny would practice floating and swimming. It was there that Ray was shown to swim under the surface of the water, holding his breath and doing a breaststroke. One day while practicing, Ray heard a commotion: Someone was drowning in the center of the pool, having suffered a cramp.
They pulled the man out, and Johnny stood up over him pressing him down, and pushing his lungs to evacuate the water. The prostrate man gulped out gallons of water, but still was not able to breathe. Johnny breathed into his mouth, mouth to mouth, pumping his chest up and down. Ray thought he saw Johnny slap the person over the heart, and the man coughed and gulped and coughed some more, releasing all the fluid in his mouth. He sat up and weakly talked. Dad threw a towel over his shoulders, and he seemed to be all right after that. His folks took him home. Ray always thought to myself; that whatever he could do, he could not match Johnny; for Johnny could save a life.
Johnny and Sydney took Ray to Montego Bay to the Doctor’s Cave Beach. The beach was white Sand, and the water in that Bay was calm and crystal clear. The surf was a mere tickle, and the opportunities for a swim were golden. Though the beach was gently sloping and open, there were umbrellas strewn over its surface with plastic lounge chairs under them. To the left as you faced the bay was the Hotel itself, raised somewhat higher than the sea’s level, where they had change rooms and restaurant facilities. But on the bay Ray was alone with the glistening aqua green waters of the sea. Out in the distance around a hundred yards from the shore were large rafts fixed to the sandy ground beneath, and most swimmers took a chance at swimming out to them. Ray tried to swim out that day but the distance was longer than he thought and he came back in heaving and breathing deeply. Undaunted, Ray tried again and swam that whole day, the breaststroke, and then a little over-arm, and left Montego feeling now that he could now handle himself in the water.
Ramesh Sujanani (c)