The Pool Shark: My First Encounter with a Girl
Note: The author of this post has requested to use a pseudonym for his story.
By Azaad Raha
I was always ‘that religious guy’ who never messed around with girls. In high school and college, I avoided making friends with the opposite sex. Fellow Muslim students viewed me with a combination of respect (or fear), admiration (during Ramadan) and pity (the remaining 11 months of the year).
I stuck with the Muslim ‘bros’. We occasionally talked to girls, but only when forced to do so. Furthermore, I didn’t go on my first real date till I was almost 30, at which point I was horrified to realize that despite having approached the age to get married and settle down, I knew absolutely nothing about women.
Everything I thought I knew was wrong. I had the emotional maturity of a toddler, and for all intents and purposes, had about the same level of experience with women as one. I couldn’t talk – let alone court – women one-on-one, and even on the rare occasion I was able to muster the courage to open my mouth, I didn’t know what to say.
What went wrong?
It can all be traced back to a fateful day when I was attacked by a killer, man-eating pool shark.
Despite my genetic (Pakistani) predisposition to avoiding water sports at all costs, my father decided I needed to learn how to swim when I was about 10.
During one fateful swimming lesson at the local indoor pool, under the hawkish eye of my mother (the only parent wearing a ‘Dupatta’ [head scarf] and ‘Shalwar Kameeze”[pajamas] at the poolside), I inadvertently collided with a girl.
Yes, a girl.
I can’t remember exactly what happened, other than the fact that we were “introduced” mid-stroke. Water was swallowed, legs kicked, and my arms flailed while I grasped for something solid. At some point during this awkward exchange, male brown Muslim skin touched soft, white, female skin. The coup de grace? My fellow, prepubescent swimmer was wearing a swimsuit (aka Baywatch bikini aka you-may-as-well-be-naked).
It was the first clash of civilizations.
A chlorinated water tsunami; the ripples from which sabotaged every single interaction I have had with the opposite sex ever since.
As we left the pool that afternoon, my ever stern, vigilante mother, who had of course seen everything, recoiled with urgency realizing she had in fact already waited too long in giving me “the talk.” Seeing her son frolicking with naked white girls, like on TV, she decided to make a pre-emptive, Abbottabad style, Navy Seal strike to prevent any further descent into a dark abyss of sexual depravity.
As I walked in my towel and boy Speedos, shivering towards the changing rooms, she carefully and deliberately explained, in Urdu, in a hushed tone lest anyone hear, and with a pause after every word to add extra effect, how I should never ever ever, under any circumstances, ever have, anything to do with ‘girls’. I’d never heard her talk with such seriousness.
‘I should not touch girls’ she commanded. ‘I should not talk to them’. ‘I should not look at them’. ‘I should not even be seen with boys-who-talk-to-girls’. I was about to get the ‘birds and the bees’ lecture.
This was big.
However, what should have been managed with a level of care and preparation approaching Pediatric Neurosurgery, was instead handled with the sensitivity of a sleepy Pakistani aunty crashing her car into a Fair & Lovely factory.
I was the collateral damage.
Because, like the evil Voldemort, what was being alluded to was soooo bad that it couldn’t even be directly acknowledged! But still there was just enough dark innuendo to get the message across.
This was my first physical ‘interaction’ with girls in the critically formative stage between childhood and puberty, and already non-sexual (let alone sexual) interactions between men and women were being portrayed as dirty, shameful and avoided at all costs.
Being the obedient (actually, incredibly stupid) son, I took in every word and so began my religious crusade to avoid interacting with ‘girls’ at all costs. Crushes from girls in high school were met with disbelief (who me?), and then scorn. Requests to ‘study together’ in college were brutally rebuffed. Invitations to late night dinners with attractive, single female colleagues were politely declined. I was Muslim and I would be sharreef [honorable]. I would protect the family name. I would be the last man standing.
Looking back, it would have been less damaging to me if, rather than colliding with the naked white girl, a dark, ominous, dorsal fin had broken the surface of the pool. In retrospect, on that fateful afternoon, I didn’t collide with an innocent young girl learning to swim, but rather the paralyzing fears and ignorance of my mother, who inflicted as much damage to me had I actually been attacked by a man (hood)-eating, killer shark.
Now, I look around, and I’m the only one left. I’m single and the last man standing. It’s evening time. The lights are out, the pool is empty, the water is red, and the people have gone home, except for the circling shark, which slowly comes closer and closer.
January 17, 2012