‘Swell’

  Photo credit:  Dave Johnson

Photo credit: Dave Johnson

By Conor White-Andrews

He has already seen the two lifeguards looking. He has seen them glaring, and he can see Oscar—his brown skin dark against the turquoise-grey swell—waving at him irritatedly, further along in the water, scowling and shouting something inaudible. They had entered the water together—he, Oscar, and Juan—but now Charlie is at least thirty metres away, alone, away from the other swimmers. The beach is quieter today because of the incoming storm, a fraction of the usual crowd, and there are very few people in the sea. The waves are three or four times their normal size, but still, Charlie is alone, away from the other swimmers, struggling against the current. It is for this reason that the lifeguards are looking.

They are wearing electric, luminous yellow polo shirts, which have, Charlie knows, the word “socarista,” (lifeguard) printed in red letters across the back. They are also wearing red shorts that stop halfway down their deeply tanned legs and plastic mirror sunglasses and one of them, the one on the left, is holding a long, red float attached to a white string that has been tied around his waist. The man is holding the red float up by one hand and looking at Charlie and now the other people on the beach are watching him too. A situation has developed, and Charlie is not sure how.

But it is real, this situation, and Charlie has lost control. His companions are already leaving the water, now even further along, treading back along the sand towards the others, and Charlie is in a spot. The current has moved him toward the rocks at the far side of the beach, and the waves, three or four times their usual size, are too strong. They are crashing down from exceptional heights, seemingly two at a time, and pulling him underwater. His eyes are stinging because of the salt and he cannot wipe them because his arms, already exhausted from his limp efforts at fighting the current, are busy keeping him up. Beneath him he can feel the hard, sharp faces of rocks, and the thought of sea urchins, of black needles delicately puncturing the paper-white soles of his feet, is as bad as that of his skull being suddenly, violently forced down against the stone. His green swimming shorts have come undone and are slipping down. With one hand he is wildly, uselessly grabbing at his crotch. The waves are unrelenting against his face, in his eyes, and he is spluttering, coughing up water.

On the beach, there are maybe thirty people watching. They are standing there, hands at their hips. Later, in conversation, Charlie will say how eager—how keen—the lifeguard was to enter the water, suddenly tearing off his yellow polo shirt to expose his dark, sculpted chest and dashing through the waves towards him. He looks amused when he arrives, his green eyes taunting Charlie, laughing at the pale English boy in the water. His hand grips Charlie’s left arm and it hurts, being dragged back to the shore with the salt stinging his eyes. His right hand holding up the green shorts that cover his penis. Later, he will say that it was unnecessary, that he was fine. But in the moment, he is content to be saved.

He keeps saying, in Spanish, that he didn’t know there were rocks. He says thank you very much, but that he didn’t know there were rocks. He says this—tells himself this—in order to add reason: he was swimming too close to the rocks and this is why the lifeguard had intervened. If somebody is swimming too close to the rocks, then the lifeguards must do something. It is as simple as that.

And this is what he tells his friends, back on the sand, once the lifeguard with the green eyes has shoved him off and his friends gather around him. I didn’t know there were rocks, he splutters, not meeting any of their eyes. He doesn’t look, but he knows that Oscar is shaking his head and that Juan is bent forward laughing. He is laughing so hard that there is hardly any sound, only a high-pitched squeaking. Beside his friends—who are Spanish and brown—Charlie is an unhealthy white. When they go back to the edge of the water, to sit down in the damp sand and let the turquoise-grey waves wash up around them, Charlie returns to his towel. His towel is at the top of the beach where the sand is fine and dry, and he brushes off the edges before sitting down.

He knows that there are still people watching—laughing at the stupid guiri pallido in his green shorts—and that the lifeguards, now back together, keep glancing back at him and grinning, giggling. A whole beach of people, though fewer than usual because of the incoming storm, is laughing at his expense.

On his towel, he lies down on his back. While the sky was gray and overcast when they arrived, walking slowly down the beach from Oscar’s house, there are now vast patches of crisp blue and white sunlight burning over the sand. They have been saying that the storm, la tormenta, will arrive tomorrow for three days now, but again, it will not be today. Perhaps it will be tomorrow. Lying on his back, Charlie closes his eyes. The sun is hot on his skin, and soon he will begin to burn.

 

Conor White-Andrews is based out of London. Follow him on Twitter @ConrWA.

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