Focus on Fiction: September 2020

By Hansha Masherani

Hana’s birthday party was at the pool where she took swimming lessons twice a week during the summer. Hana and her parents arrived early to set up the food on the picnic table under the wooden awning covered by a thick wisteria vine whose bunches of purple flowers draped over the edges.

Hana’s dad brought in two platters of sandwiches covered with red kitchen towels. They had made the sandwiches that morning: peanut butter and jelly and cream cheese and cucumber. A third covered platter had a cake that Hana had helped make the previous day — iced chocolate cake sprinkled with chocolate candies on top. Leticia, the lifeguard, came to look at the cake and said “Wow! Looks yummy!”

Hana welcomed her friends as they arrived, dressed in their bright swimsuits, bearing gifts wrapped in shiny paper. After placing the gifts in a corner of the picnic area, they walked to the steps at the shallow end of the pale blue pool. The water shimmered in the sunlight, and the smell of chlorine wafted up their nostrils.

They swam to the floor of the pool to gather plastic fishes, while others played catch with an inflated, multi-colored beach ball. Hana floated on her back, squinting her eyes to look at the sky, listening to the gurgling and whooshing of the water, and to the sounds of her friends distorted by the water. Her body felt warm exposed to the sun, while her back felt cool in the gentle rocking motion of the water. She drifted, and then decided to straighten herself and  rejoin her friends. She expected her feet to touch the bottom of the pool, but that didn’t happen: she had drifted to the deep end. She started to go down. Her arms and legs flailed. She saw bubbles rising from her mouth to the surface of the water, which seemed far, and the amount of water above her seemed infinite.There was a loud thrumming, beating roar in her ears. More bubbles rose as she kicked her legs and reached up with her arms, grabbing at the water.

Leticia swam from below her and held Hana under her arms and brought her to the surface. Gasping, Hana clung to Leticia, who looked into her eyes and said, “Let’s go to your mom. You’re okay,” and together, they swam to the stairs. Hana’s teeth chattered as she grabbed the warm, metal pole and climbed to her mom, who wrapped her in a towel and held her close. They sat on a poolside chair and her mom rubbed Hana’s back. “I was scared, mom!” said Hana. Her mom kissed the top of her head and said, “You are okay now.”

After a while, Hana said, “Can we eat? I’m hungry.” They walked to the edge of the pool and her mom announced, “It’s time to eat, everyone. Grab your towels and come to the picnic table.” Hana’s dad poured juice into paper cups and dished out sandwiches. Wrapped in damp towels, wet hair clinging to their scalps, the children gathered at the table. They grabbed paper plates of sandwiches and talked excitedly as they ate.

Everyone sang “Happy Birthday!” enthusiastically; her dad sliced the cake and Hana passed the plates to her guests. “Can I have a bigger piece?” said Mae-Lin, while Emily said, “I want that one, it’s got more candies on it!”

Hana helped her parents to clean up after the party and when they were ready to leave, she hugged Leticia and said, “Thank you for rescuing me.”

“You are welcome, Hana! Will you be here for your lessons next week?” Smiling, Hana replied “Yes!”

© Hansha Masharani July 2020

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