We were stinky. We were cranky. We were happy to have the cylindrical flying ship that had borne us from one hemisphere to another at our backs. Finally! We were in South Africa!
After making small talk with the man at the reception desk at the Holiday Inn in Jo’burg and tipping our very happy porter R50 (about $3.45 or the price a one piece meal at KFC), I instructed the girls to get washed up so that we could go to bed.
“But we’re hungry,” they said.
How could they be hungry? We had just spent nearly 24 hours doing nothing but eating, sitting and watching outdated films! Whatever. If they wanted to stuff a few more items down their already engorged colons, so be it. The sooner we ate, the sooner we could get to bed, and the sooner I could get my swollen feet elevated.
Dinner was a buffet that night. There were two types of rice, a curried fish, some sort of red meat in gravy and a spicy chicken. The vegetables were oily and the salad fixings were dull. But the desert table? Whew! That was on fleek! I allowed the girls to have their fill of sugar, knowing that I’d regret it later. It didn’t matter. We were outchea now! In the middle of a mouthful of chocolate pudding, Nadjah spied the hotel’s outdoor pool just beyond the lobby’s glass doors.
“Can we go swimming tonight, Mommy?” Her voice was sodden with hope.
I sighed, mentally running down a litany of reasons why it was completely impractical and utterly unlikely that they would be swimming that night. Finally, I decided to allow them to employ reason and self-determination, rather than enforcing my own will.
“Go outside and put your hands in the water. If you think it’s warm enough, then yes. You can go swimming.”
Nadjah’s jaw scraped the floor. She asked me to repeat myself. I obliged, to the disbelief of all.
“Really?” said Aya, her voice a squeak.
Yes. Really. I assured them that it was okay. The three girls walked hastily to the pool to test the waters while I waited at the table, knowing what the verdict would be. It was 56 degrees in Johannesburg that night, which meant the water was no warmer than 50 degrees. That’s mighty cold. The receptionist had already informed them that the pool would not be heated, but they were welcome to swim if they wished. They rushed back to the table with their discovery.
“It’s COLD!” they whispered loudly in near unison.
“Are you still going to swim?”
Initially, they were all down to take the plunge until Nadjah changed her mind. She would rather sit in the room and watch TV, she announced.
Really? You’re just going to plant this ridiculous idea in your sisters’ heads and then back out? I see how it is now.
Aya and Liya were still game. They rushed back up to the room and changed into their swimming suits, swathed in the hotel’s enormous white towels to guard against the chilly air. I followed behind, taking one apathetic step after another. All I wanted to do was go to sleep and rest my swollen feet! However I knew that if I were patient, the elements would do the work of getting them back into the room for me.
Aya was the first to leap into the water. She broke through the surface with a mighty splash and let out a yelp when she re-emerged. Liya followed after her, screeching as soon as her feet touched glassy water.
“SSSSHHHHHH!!!!” I hissed. “You wanted this! Don’t yell and disturb the other people resting!”
They giggled and reiterated how COLD it was. I leaned back in my lounge chair, stifling my laughter until the exercise became futile. I don’t know what was so amusing about watching my children punish themselves again and again by submerging themselves in the frigid liquid, but I was thoroughly entertained. (I suppose it’s for the same reason we laugh when the athletically challenged darn near destroy themselves on America’s Funniest Home Videos or Ninja Warrior.) We weren’t out there for more than 5 minutes. 5 minutes of self-flagellation was enough for my girls to test their limits.
As we re-entered the hotel, we found ourselves subject to stares both quizzical and disapproving. It was for that very reason that I allowed my girls to do something as “foolish” as jump into the pool on a mild winter’s night in South Africa.
Because Black people don’t do that sort of thing.
Because ‘Black girls don’t swim.’
Because Black girls should have more moments to live carefree.
Because my children should not find my reactions so predictable.
Because their father never would have let them.
Because their grandmother would disapprove.
Because I don’t remember if my own parents would have let me or my siblings.
Because they were perfectly safe in my presence.
Because everyone should have fond memories of a crazy incident or daring do.
Because they were not afraid to try.
Because they should never fear a challenge, especially one of their own making.
Because it was out of character.
Because we outchea.