The long, slow descent of shame
500 Words: U-Turn
All the other kids are doing it.
I’ll be okay, I just have to give it a go.
Come on! I gingerly join the snaking queue.
Then, I’m swept along with the rest of them.
I’m in a sweaty line of kids travelling upwards, step after slow step.
Arms out to the sides, fingers gripping the railings. It’s a long, hot trip.
Cheers as someone makes it.
We keep holding on as we look down between the rungs to inspect the outcome.
Murmured discussions take place up and down the line.
Someone changes their mind.
We all shuffle to different sides as they hesitantly make their way down. They don’t get off lightly – there’s non-congratulatory slaps on the back and accidental/on-purpose tripping. Guffaws and whistles. Lots of chicken impersonations. Soon, the queue settles down again.
I can see the back of my brother’s head.
He’s about five people in front of me.
Mum told him not to do it, but he wasn’t going to listen.
And if he can give it a go (he’s three years younger than me), well I’m going to give it a go too. We keep inching upwards, ever upwards.
The deep, green water lies beneath us. Menacing.
There is the bristle of fear in the air and it’s contagious.
I can feel my heart racing.
My head feels light.
Despite the heat of the January school holidays, my skin has as many goosebumps as a plucked Christmas turkey. Perhaps this wasn’t such a great idea?
In no time, it’s my brother’s turn.
I watch as his head disappears over the top of the ladder.
Kids are shouting and whooping.
I peer through the rungs again, waiting to see him plummet.
In an instant, he’s free-falling, positioned in an ungraceful bellyflop. I hear his body smack the unforgiving water sharply.
Kids are laughing and pointing.
Through the rungs, I see my little brother surface and swim/limp to the side.
I just know mum will be mad and say, “I told you so.”As the next head vanishes over the top, I make a decision.
I make a u-turn.
I shift my body to the side of the ladder and start the long, slow descent of shame.
I know what I’m in for.
The slaps and jeers, the pointing and the sniggering, the name-calling and the chicken-clucking.
But I don’t care. I take my first step down the ladder – I will accept my punishment.
My second step down the ladder – I do not regret this decision.
My third step down the ladder – I feel my body flooding with relief. I continue downwards, feeling more confident with each step I take.
I want my two feet firmly back on the dirty, grey concrete path of our local swimming pool.
Conquering the second level diving board can wait for another day.