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Entering the Pool in Penang

4 minute read. Note: We are currently in Indonesia, even though this post is about the pool in Penang. //

One. The white-blue sky stretches up beyond the tops of the buildings, higher and wider than even 41 storeys of pool-view apartments. The pool stretches away from the patio and lounge chairs and teal sun beds and trellised pavilions. It is speckled with little whirling wasps panicking at their watery error, it is blotched with pink frangipani blossoms that have fallen from the decorative shrubbery. The surface is turquoise. No, the floor is turquoise, the surface is clear. It looks like a sleek stone or sheet of stained glass. There are no ripples, there is no movement apart from the wasps. The water is still.

[ Caption: Frangipani blossoms having a meeting ]

Two. The blue tiles of the top step are not covered by pool water. They are baked and broiled in the Malaysian sun, sometimes braised when a splash hits them. The soft soles of my feet are burning even as my weight presses my skin against the step. It feels like a hot chalkboard; the pebbledash patio was prickly and warm, this is smooth and painful. The narrow white grout is cooler by a few degrees, but most of the surface is scorched ceramic with water stains from dead puddles. I bear the pain a moment more so I can slide my right foot into the glass. Shattered.

Three. My skin’s nerve endings decide on my behalf and both my feet are suddenly submerged on the second step. My ankles are being nuzzled by the disturbed water while my heels are cooling; all pain sensors stop transmitting, my pleasure sensors begin. The hairs on my big toes strain at their anchors like micro kelp, though without a kelp forest’s enclosed ecosystem I hope. My submerged skin has become pale tourmaline and I can see my veins like rivers.

[ Caption: View of our building from the pool ]

Four. On the third step my bones become hollow and from my knees down I am a bird. This must be what an emu or kiwi feels like as they saunter top-heavy while their legs are light enough to soar. What is the mythical creature whose lower half is a bird? I am that. A modern interpretation in a rainbow bikini. Before, my weight held me onto a griddle. Now, my ankles want to fly away and my shins are accomplice. I see the unshaven hairs on my calves waft in the leftover wake from my entrance, but I can’t feel their movement. It’s like seeing a refracted rainbow dance on my arm, and closing my eyes and feeling nothing.

Five. The fourth step sinks my thighs and the water parries around my bikini line. One part of my suit decides to absorb some pool, and the coolness spreads between my legs and across my buttocks. This is the event horizon, as I am still dry enough to retreat and pretend the pool holds no sway. This is the point a responsible mother says to her hopeful children, “No, I’m not coming in. I’m only wading.” This is the moment where cold water wreaks havoc on men in their loose bathing trunks, mistakenly kept thirsty so that when the fabrics meets water it gulps it up, and up. I can feel the warmth of this water and appreciate the tropical sun as it ensures the pool is safe for all genders.

[ Caption: View of the pool from our balcony proving it is gender-safe ]

Six. My belly button looks even paler under a thin-section of water - I am half painted in white wash. My tummy floats and suddenly the fiery patio feels like the past. I am more aquatic than terrestrial and the pool has announced my arrival with ripples racing to the furthest reaches of the long lap pool. Even the crows balancing on the infinity edge register my coming and they stand with their beaks open in awe. My white waist and brown shoulders remain air-borne.

Seven. The pool is not deep. The steps have ended and my bikini bra is just starting to drink up the ripples that are now making their way back to us. It is time to part the water with my hands, to slip my fingers below the surface and feel the resistance and tension melt away. I move my legs and feet to see how distorted they are, far below against the abyssal plains. Now, the golden hairs on my forearms have become hungry baby birds, searching for lunch but not straying too far from the nest. The freckles that have been slowly colonising my skin for years look dark and mysterious in the angular light – they are pretending to be intentional.

[ Caption: Sometimes getting into a pool can lay one low, as these two casualties show ]

Eight. I push the balls of my feet into the floor and spread my toes out across two of the medium mosaic tiles. My left sprained ankle warns me not to push too hard. My right pinkie reminds me I broke her last August and she still hasn’t fully healed. Both of my arms remain uninjured, though, and poise to take the strain of submersion. My dry shoulder blades are open to the sun and the skin sweats protest chants at being so mistreated and over-heated. I like the heat, though; it penetrates from the epidermis into my heart and lungs. I can feel my kidneys absorb the light and the buoyancy it carries even as my skin screams threats about peeling and turning as red as an apple rose.

Nine. As I surge forward, the pool water parts around my chin and fashions itself into a bow wave that will have repercussions across this aquamarine world. My nape is dry for another agonising moment; it watches two walls of water rise up above it, towering over the small patch of dry skin and preparing to douse it like a lamp. Around my hands and legs and tummy I am already satu­­rated and insensitive to the future of my soon-to-be-drowned neck. I am encased in jelly – perhaps a thinly set gelatine, or one that is still too warm to have earned its full range of wobble. As each body part encounters the water, it is the sensation of having a mouth full of chewed Jell-O. Or perhaps it is like emptying a canister of squirty cream into my mouth, then chewing and chewing on the creamy semi-air.

[ Caption: So long and enticing... ]

Ten. I open my lungs and pull air deep inside me. I squint my eyes shut and drive myself completely under, pressing into the blue. The water that had felt so warm on my thighs feels cooler on my eyelids, perhaps because they had been hiding heat in their folds. My scalp dances under the sudden hit, shouting via hasty bubbles that it does not wish to return to air. The phenomenon of evolution keeps my ears dry even though there seems to be nothing stopping the entire pool from flooding my dry canals. Surfacing, but still below the water. I snort out my used and useless air through my nostrils and my dry ears report the sound loudly. It is reminiscent of machine-gun chatter, though a bit softer and kinder. The bubbles stop, I stop, just below the water’s rim. Equilibrium for just now. Sounds have a new resonance, as if they had bought a new amplifier and were keen to try it out. There are jets feeding water into the pool and they rumble like small dogs defending biscuits, while the sound of my paddling hands is the turning of a tissue-thin magazine page, back and forth.

Eleven. When I lift my head back into dry sunlight I can feel the noise of an airy world, sharp and clean. The rush of water falling past my ears and collapsing into the pool is as thrilling as snow falling off a roof or palm fronds rattling. My head is a bobbing pink peony on a delicate stem. Water runs in rivulets down my cheeks, pouring from around my eyes; these chlorine tears are not mine. The short ponytail attached to the back of my head sticks to the left side of my neck and holds on, acting like a limpet suddenly exposed to a new world. I am afloat in a bath of clear meringue, light and resilient and whipped so as to defy physics. My body mass has a new relationship with gravity and I can float like a cosmonaut who must come up for air.

Twelve. I join the water again, more softly this time. I am alone with the pool, the blossoms, the doomed little wasps. I hear the soft noises below the ripples and feel the wet bottom. I am light and free.


Note: If you are travelling to Penang and wish to stay here, the building is called The Landmark by Katana and has a variety of flats ranging from studios to large 3-bed places. They welcome short-term lets as well as permanent residents. Contact us if you'd like to be put in touch. :-)

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