Swimming, Crawling, Walking, Talking

photo-jan-03-11-41-03-am Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Photo by Cheri Lucas Rowlands via The Daily Post


Before I learned to do anything else, except eating, drinking and sleeping, I learned to swim.

I was a lucky baby.

My parents had a house with a pool.

It was a big curvaceous pool, with tiny shimmering mosaic tiles of varying shades of blue, from cerulean to cobalt to midnight. It was my father’s dream. He designed it and watched over every element of its creation with as much love as he poured into his paintings. He broke several local planning laws when he built it, and didn’t care. This was his fantasy come to life, one he could dive into, float upon and submerge himself in.

He was born into abject poverty. Born in a town which tumbled like a stone waterfall down steep cliffs into azure waters that sparkled under a vibrant and searing sun until eyes cried in pain. It was a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, fiercely loved by its inhabitants even though it threatened their very existence to live there.

His extended family scattered throughout the world to scrape a living, crossing vast bodies of water, not knowing what lay on the other side, just knowing that staying put was not an option. It was better to risk drowning in the unknown than sinking into the known.

His parents moved away from their hometown in search of opportunity and life elsewhere, taking their young son with them. They did not cross any water but stayed on dry land, migrating north. They lived in a tiny one room apartment in the slums of a big city which swallowed them up like a hungry beast with a ravenous appetite that never was sated.

They struggled to survive, every year getting harder as more mouths appeared from the belly of creation. The tiny apartment got crowded with big and small bodies bobbing around in close quarters, huddled together like survivors of a shipwreck trying to ward off shark attacks.

Then the war came, wave after wave of fear engulfed the country. My grandfather ended up in jail due to possessing the stubborn mind of a southerner with the fiery blood of his brigand ancestors flowing in his veins. Unable to work to keep his family afloat in the dark waters of the time, the role of captain of the family ship passed to my father, who by then was a man in his early teens.

He had a natural talent, one his teacher had recognised from the doodles with which he decorated his schoolwork and had encouraged him to develop. He went out into the streets awash with foreigners, and offered his services as a painter of portraits to send home across seas of land and water to loved ones waiting for proof of life, a glimpse of something bright in a bleak and starless sky, a breath of welcome wind in the doldrums.

He became an artist because he was starving, because his family was starving. He became an artist by sheer hard graft, by necessity, by desperation, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the right ability and the nous to put it to practical use. He became an artist because the muse coursed through his psyche, his cells, his atoms, the plankton within, his inner deep, his passionate abyss. He became an artist who was no longer starving.

He dreamed of living by the ocean again, of azure waters melting in the heat of the sun. Of returning to the embrace of gentle waves caressing skin, soothing, relaxing, soaking all the stress away, removing the weight of physicality, of gravity. Of reliving those times before he was plucked and dragged away from his tribal origins, uprooted from his soul’s terra firma, those times when as a carefree child unaware of the grim scramble for life all around him he dove into the sea and the sea dove into him, and he swam far from shore, unafraid, knowing the tide would return him when the moment had come to return.

But he never returned, the tide was a rip, a current too strong to fight, it ripped him further away from the source of his pleasure, and dashed him on rocks of pain, reefs tearing flesh from bone. The muse was a siren.

He bought a house in the mountains and built his own private sea.

Because my parents had a house with a pool. Because my parents then had a baby. A baby living in a house with a pool. They threw the baby into the pool and the baby learned to swim before I could crawl, walk or talk.

I was a lucky baby.