I struggle to carry my gym bag across the YMCA hallway. I hate the YMCA. I cringe from the smell of sweat. I look around and find my friend Rachel. I hate Rachel too, but I never tell her. I hurry and meet her at the end of the hall. Rachel pulls her hair into a slick ponytail, white smile beaming. I look at her big boobs through her tight staff shirt, and then scrutinize mine. I cross my arms and with force, smile back.

“Hey!” Rachel says.

“Hi,” I reply.

Conversations with Rachel always involved a cute boy in her new school, or the latest hair trend. We get to the change room. I change into a swimsuit. I make sure no one sees my bony chest or my hairy legs. My mom doesn’t allow me to shave. I peek at Rachel through my hair. I gawk at her boobs. They grow by the second.

I walk to the shower area. Naked women take showers, while little girls watch.

I watch.

I don’t take a shower. I don’t want the other girls to stare at my shoulders, or my rib cage.

Rachel and I walk to the swimming pool. I sit on a bench and observe my surroundings. I feel the girl across the pool stare at my calves. I shift and wrap my towel around me.

“C’mon!” Rachel encourages. “Don’t you have a lesson?”

“I do,” I say. I get up and wait for my instructor. I like my instructor. He is cute. I blush when I see him, cross my legs and smile.

“Hey, Aida,” Mark says.

“Hey!” my passion pours out. I step into the swimming pool. The cold water prickles my skin.

“Aida, you should run your body under hot water before entering the pool,” Mark says.

“Sorry.” I move my head to the side. I promise to do it next time. The young children join us. I stand tall beside them. They peer at me from the side. They think I’m a volunteer.

Mark instructs us to swim backwards; I hate it. I don’t know how to swim. I stare at the kids who follow Mark to the deep zone. I stand in the corner, feet on the bottom. I look up at the cafeteria window upstairs. My mom looks down at me. She motions for me to swim with the kids. I shake my head.

“Aida, are you okay?” Mark yells from the other end. I smile and nod. He swims to me. “Would you like some help?”

“Okay,” I answer, irritated.

I lie on my back and face the ceiling. My mom glares at me through the window. Mark has his hands around my waist. I flush.

“Okay, now you need to move your feet up and down like I showed you, same goes with your hands.” I follow his orders. I don’t want to disappoint him. I move my head further back and observe Mark’s face.

He is beautiful. His dirty-blond hair tucks into a wet pony tail. I clutch onto his biceps, taking advantage of the situation. I stare deep into his blue eyes. He lets go of me.

I struggle to find his arms again. I scream with all my power. My hands find something.

I grab on to Mark’s armpit hair, and I freeze. My face tingles. My body numbs. Mark screams through the pain.

I let the weight of my body slowly pull me down.

-Aida Jahjah

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