Froggy at the Pool
Over in the shallow end Froggy is doing underwater widths. Side to side he goes, at sea-snail’s pace. He comes up for breaths every few seconds, opening his big froggy mouth and gasping for air, his big froggy eyes peeking out from steamed-up goggles.
Froggy won’t know I am watching from the benches. He was underwater when I came in. And now the mid-morning sunshine is piling in along the windows behind me. If he looks over, I will be little more than a silhouette in the chloriney damp heat haze. A teenage monkey sitting in the rainforest.
It is funny to find him here, Froggy in the pool. I have seen him every Monday to Friday for years, often in the same room along with thirty others, but always from afar, rarely just we two. It would be weird to talk to him. Today might be the day.
Nearing the edge, Froggy reaches out and pulls himself up. He leans back against the wet concrete, catching his breath, arms spread out, long fingers clinging to the sides, white-knuckled. He takes off his goggles and wipes the insides with his thumb, blowing on cold air like you do with hot soup. Goggles back on, a deep breath and he is off again, spindly legs flexing and kicking out till he disappears under the water.
I didn’t think the nickname came from his goofy swimming style, but watching him in action, it seems more than a coincidence. I must have seen his moves years ago in primary school swimming lessons, but I wouldn’t have noticed. I was too busy splash-fighting my pals. This empty holiday-time pool allows for closer observation.
I will wait a little longer before I go back in for another sixteen lengths. With the whole summer ahead, there is no rush. The muscley track-suited pool-guard saunters past and nods at me before throwing a glance down at Froggy. I wonder what Life-guard Man makes of the Underwater Frog-kid. Where does he place my fellow pupil in the pondlife hierarchy?
Down in the green water Froggy is heading in my direction again; so slowly, he is hardly moving, time standing still. His body is all shaky, a mirage through the gloopy underwater blur. Reaching the side, he stands and wades towards the metal ladder, fighting through the water, moving like a spaceman on the moon.
He is out and coming my way. Perhaps, he did see me after all.
‘Kevin, fancy meeting you here,’ Froggy says, in his funny, grown-up way, as if we are army officers.
‘Hey, Froggy. Good to be on holiday, eh?’ I say.
‘Yes. Free at last, for a few weeks, anyway.’ Froggy is dripping puddles around his feet.
He is taller than I expected. The same slim frame, long limbs, and wide square shoulders, just a larger version than my image-memory of him.
‘Sit down if you want,’ I say.
Froggy folds his towel into a comfy looking cushion, lays it on the bench and sits, dripping away, and turns to me for a moment. I check his big blue eyes and dark lashes, long lank hair wet on his shoulders. He could be a very pale California surfer dude. I have the thought that he is getting good-looking. Who would have guessed that would happen?
He rests quietly, settled on his towel, self-absorbed, as if I am not there.
‘You like the underwater thing, eh, Froggy?’
‘It is another world down there. Magical. You can escape from it all! It will have to suffice until I am old enough to buy drugs.’
I laugh. I forgot how funny Froggy is. I remember I sat next to him in Maths for a few lessons in the first year, glad for a familiar face from my village school in the jungle of Big School. I don’t recall speaking with him one-to-one since then. That is years and years now. A crazy thought.
I don’t know how to reply to Froggy’s joke. His clever-clever stuff always makes me feel so dumb; everyone else too, I guess. That is part of the problem.
I come out with something I have always wanted to ask. ‘Do you mind people calling you Froggy?’
Froggy shrugs and fiddles with his goggles.
‘It won’t be for much longer,’ he goes. ‘You will all grow out of it eventually. But at least you will all remember me, even when you are old. I won’t remember most of you.’
He is doing it again. That grown-up, know-it-all thing that pisses people off so much. And how come he is lumping me in with everyone else? Bastard. We go way back, right to infants. I have never ever done him any harm. Unlike some people I know.
‘What time are you going out?’ I ask.
‘Me too. See you upstairs?’
Froggy nods. ‘All right.’
In the spectator gallery we get some unhealthy stuff from the machines and go outside into the July sun to sit on a wall.
Crumbs from crisps drop onto Froggy’s trousers, which aren’t jeans, but are more like school clothes. He is the only kid I know who doesn’t wear jeans out of school. That is not the only weird thing about him. There are so many stories about Froggy and his family. Amongst others are: the grandmother who lives in a chateau in France, the dad in prison for stealing from the bank, the uncle who stopped a nuclear war; that he is related to the Queen, he is really thirty-two, he speaks nine languages, his house is haunted, and grass grows through his kitchen floor.
On the last one, no one knows whether it is true or not because no one has been to his house. It is outside the village, down a lane. I have only glimpsed the red brick walls through the winter trees from the main road.
Right now, I would like to know more. I would like to check with Froggy about all those rumours, but I can’t. I feel he knows I want to ask. Kids always tease and pester him.
‘So, what are you going to do all summer?’ I go instead.
‘I have to pack. We are leaving the village. A long story. Don’t ask, Kevin.’
‘Do you want to go?’ I ask.
‘Yes, of course it is fine by me. I really do not mind. My current life is simply waiting. I can wait here, there, or anywhere.’
‘Waiting? Froggy. I don’t understand.’
‘Waiting to be an adult. To be free. For when I can choose what I do all day, who to be with. Before long, my life will begin to get better and better. For you lot, on the other hand, things will get worse each year that you are away from the school. You will start to wish you were a child again, going to that dump every day. You lot have had your six happy years. I am going to have sixty.’
His serious expression breaks, and he starts to laugh as I have never heard anyone laugh.