Survival of the Fishest

Mr Cooper loved the light glittering on the ceiling. It looked like a sea in the sky. He’d managed to convince the project manager to put reflective paint on the ceiling by telling him it would save on heating and lighting costs.

This was his favourite part of the job, teaching kids to swim. “Right! We’ll begin with the principles of buoyancy,” he said. “Who knows what happens when humans enter water?”

No hands went up, so he picked on a small boy at the front. “You – what happens?”

“We sink,” he said quietly, and looked scared.

“Wrong! We float. The human body has high water content, so its density is close to water. Due to its cavities – I mean your lungs, not your teeth – the average density becomes even lower and we float. So your natural state is floating, not sinking. Got it?”

The small boy pulled in his lips and nodded. A tall boy at the back was not paying attention, and made his friend laugh. Mr Cooper said, “You – what’s funny?”

“Nothing Sir.”

“Well, why is your friend laughing? Are you both such imbeciles that you laugh at nothing?”

“No Sir. We were wondering why it is important to swim when you can use a boat? I mean, you can enjoy the water and not even get wet.”

Mr Cooper was a master of the long game. He said, “You’re right there, we could use a boat.” The boy nodded happily. “In fact why bother going on the water at all when you can play the Titanic video game? That way you can have a really exciting adventure, safe in your home.” The boy continued to nod.

Oh dear, thought Mr Cooper, it’s even worse than I imagined. The noble tradition of movement through water using one’s limbs, without aid or apparatus, is in dire straits indeed. He thought of the epic stories of mankind. Would Gilgamesh have swum to the bottom of a deep pool and found the Plant of Immortality? Would Beowulf have dived into the boiling lake to slay the monster Grendel? Would Odysseus have survived his twenty year voyage sailing home? Heroes have always been swimmers. It shows their mastery of nature.

There are Stone Age paintings of swimmers, five thousand years old. If the power grid went down, today’s useless kids would be thrown right back there. No Hotmail, no Google, no iPhone, no PlayStation, no television, or microwave. Back to basics for everybody. Hunting, gathering, and swimming!

Mr Cooper rubbed his hands. It was time to have some fun.

He picked on a brown boy. “You – where are your parents from? Guatemala? Okay, that’s close enough. Imagine if they needed to get across the Rio Grande to get from Mexico to America. Do you think they’d make it?”

The boy was confused, and said, “I don’t know, Sir.”

“Well, let’s see if you would.” Mr Cooper pushed him in.

He pointed at a stocky boy. “You – are any of your family in the army? Good. What about the navy? No? Well you can be the first.” He pushed him in.

The children drew away but their backs were against the pool; they had nowhere to go. He pointed to a boy with glasses. “You – you look like a good student. Do you like biology? Good, try marine biology.” He pushed him in.

“Now the rest of you can jump in too, before I use one of you to illustrate what good exercise swimming is for amputees and paralytics. Fortunately you have use of your limbs.”

Some of the children were scared of water, but they were more scared of him, so climbed and jumped into the pool. The ones that couldn’t swim clung to the side.

“Great, you’re all in the water. Now we can begin.” He threw floats into the pool. As the children at the edge reached for them, he said. “Don’t be complacent though. You could easily die from drowning. You could panic in the water, become exhausted, catch hypothermia, or become dehydrated. Something could hit you in fast-flowing water and cause blunt trauma. In open water you could suffer bacterial infection, or in places like this, suffer from chlorine inhalation. Jellyfish can sting you, crabs can puncture your skin, even small sharks can bite and cause blood loss, sea snakes are venomous, and eels will shock you.”

The children were scared and some momentarily forgot to swim, and sank. “Right – all of you must stay in this pool for an hour. Get to like it. If you try to crawl out I’ll throw you back in.”

He was being hard on them, he knew. But we have evolved from water. It is our natural home. Only when we rebuild our relationship with water will we respect the earth’s life force, become Water Brothers and Sisters.

As a Water Master tasked with carrying our racial memory – that of fish crawling from oceans, becoming mammals, then apes, and humans – Mr Cooper took his duty seriously. He looked at the light glittering on the ceiling, as if there was a sea in the sky. This is what it must have looked like, he thought, to our earliest ancestors. The bravest and strongest ones. The ones who knew that the purpose of life was survival of the fishest.

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