The deep end


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The tropical heat made the swimming pool a favourite spot for many during the summer holiday. Every weekend, Mei would go swimming with a good friend.

It was a particularly warm day and Mei slathered sunscreen on her arms and shoulders. She noticed a man in his sixties watching her. Mei self-consciously tugged at her new bright orange swimming costume, trying to avoid the man’s gaze. He did not look away. Instead, with his gaze fixed on Mei, his eyes began to water.

“Ignore him. Sometimes there are crazy people here.” Her friend warned her as she pulled Mei away. “Come on!” She said, diving in to the pool.

Mei stood at the edge of the water as it lapped at her toes.

Her friend started to talk about some boy she had just met. “And then he told me about-”

Mei took a deep breath, and plunged in. The water rushed against her body and greeted her skin with its cool temperature. The world around her was silent for a few seconds. Tentatively, Mei surfaced.

She smiled. The pool was no longer the same. The old tiles were in place, and the Jacuzzi at the edge of the main pool was gone.

“Mei!”

She recognised the voice.

Five weeks ago, Mei realised that she would be transported back in time if she dived into the water head-first at the pool. The first time it happened, she met Hock. He found her, confused, crying and crouched at the corner.

She learnt that it was 1982, and the deep end of the pool was a portal where she could travel between two points in time. For every weekend after that, she would go swimming and take a trip back in time to meet Hock. Yet, she never knew how to tell him about her secret.

“I’ve not seen you wear this before.” He said with some surprise.

“Is it nice?” Mei asked. “Too orange perhaps?” She felt her cheeks growing red.

He paused, and then he laughed. “You look great.”

They swam for the whole afternoon and the sun was beginning to set. At the edge of the pool, they kicked the water lazily. Hock leaned in closer to Mei.

“Can I …” Hock began nervously. “Can I call you after this?”

Reality hit Mei in the face as soon as those words left his mouth. There was no way he could contact her as long as they existed on different timelines.

She turned away. “Hock, I… I can’t. I have to go.” She got out of the water, and Hock panicked. “Mei, did I do something wrong? I’m sorry.”

“No. You did nothing wrong.”

She waited until she was safely out of sight before she plunged back in to the deep end, returning to 2017. Five hours had passed with Hock, but time froze in 2017 for as long as she was in 1982. The sun was still burning in the 2pm sky, and she could hear her friend’s voice as she surfaced.

“–that time he went to climb a mountain, he’s so cool!”

——

The next weekend, Hock was waiting for her.  “I didn’t know if you were even coming today – I…”

Mei threw her arms around him and caught him by surprise. “Hock, I’m sorry about last week,” She said softly.

She was afraid that he would disintegrate if she touched him. What if he was a distant dream tucked away in Mei’s mind, ready to evaporate like the beads of water on her skin? But Hock did not disappear. Instead, Mei felt his arms wrap around her tightly. He was warm, solid, and she could feel his heart beat against her chest.

Hock felt real. Hock was real.

Mei was the first to break the embrace. “I have something to tell you, but you have to promise to believe me.”

He promised, and she told him about the first time she discovered 1982. When Hock recovered from his initial shock, he said, “Mei, stay here with me.”

Mei did not know how the portal worked. Currently, she could move freely between the two years, but what if she found herself somehow trapped in 1982? What would happen in 2017 if she stayed in 1982? Would her body sink to the bottom of the swimming pool? Would she disappear without a trace underwater? More importantly, was she prepared to leave everything behind for Hock?

Mei told Hock that it was something that she had to think about, and he promised to wait.

“I’ll wait for you on Saturdays until you no longer wish to see me.” Hock promised.

—-

The next week, there was a problem with the drainage system and the pool was closed for repairs. Mei had to wait another week for the pool to reopen.

She had made her decision. A weekend later, she plunged in to the deep end. She stayed underwater for a while, and when she was ready for her new life, Mei surfaced for air.

Children were running toward the Jacuzzi. There were no metal ladders by the pool.  Mei blinked and looked at the tiles she was standing on.

It was still 2017.

During the repairs, something had changed. The portal no longer worked.

Her heart shattered as she remembered Hock’s voice, “I’ll wait for you here on Saturdays.” She thought about Hock spending his subsequent weekends waiting for a girl who would never show up. Tears began to well up in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

Suddenly, a recent memory came to mind – Mei recalled seeing a man tearing up by the pool a few weeks ago. It was the day when she wore her orange swimsuit for the first time. Could it be -?

—-

Initially, Hock would go to the pool every weekend, hoping that Mei would come. As the years wore on, the frequency of his visits also declined. At the end of 35 long years, Hock was no longer waiting for Mei, but found comfort in clinging to the memory of a place. On balmy afternoons, he would find himself sitting by the pool for old times’ sake.

And then it happened.

Mei finally showed up, albeit in a way he did not expect. Hock looked on as the girl in the orange swimsuit plunged into the deep end of the water. He watched as his past flooded the present. Yet, a gulf of years still separated them – Hock was no longer a young man.

He wiped the tears from his face. It was time to stop chasing the past.

He was ready to never return to the pool again.

—–

Mei scanned the pool area for the mysterious man, but she was four weeks (35 years) too late.

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