It was on a recent break in Bali that we found out that our teenage son is an excellent swimmer. The discovery was a source of amazement, because, whether in the sea or a pool, Calvin only floats on his back, politely declining requests to get some exercise and show us his best freestyle and butterfly strokes.
At the hotel in Nusa Dua, our 15-year-old spent all his time in the large, undulating pool, the shape of which offered lots of corners and tree-shaded nooks, perfect for surly teenagers trying to give their parents the slip.
Whenever told to get out, Calvin would silently sink like a stone to the bottom of the deep pool, swimming along the floor like a giant eel. At other times he would retreat to a corner, hidden by tufts of waving frangipani. But more often than not, he’d stay completely submerged, only his eyes showing, lurking in a manner not unlike a somnolent hippo.
His swimming skills were only on display when we were not around. We happened to find out one afternoon, while enjoying a cup of tea on the balcony of our room. We caught sight of Calvin in the pool, not drifting around like a log, but energetically swimming lap after lap. After completing about a dozen lengths, he stopped for a brief rest, then performed a few somersaults with a flourish, obviously showing off to the assorted sunbathers. This was followed by a display of how long he could hold his breath underwater, and the flawless execution of the type of manoeuvres that would cause any member of a synchronised swimming team to faint in envy.
For the first time in his life, Calvin also refused to go exploring. This came as a shock, because he is a culture vulture. No amount of pleading or cajoling could change his mind. It was only when we threatened to end his pool time that he would drag himself out of the water, muttering under his breath, grudgingly acknowledging the russet-hued sunset at the seaside Tanalot temple, and sullenly giving in to tours of ancient monuments.
Then, after about four days of this mutiny, he regained his humour, during a much-anticipated cultural performance. The show started out as a sombre retelling of a story from the Ramayana, accompanied by an orchestra of musicians on traditional wind instruments. Then halfway through, the play suddenly – and unaccountably – degenerated into bawdy slapstick comedy. As my husband and I stared in shock, wondering if the actors were inebriated, Calvin flopped around like a fish, laughing until tears streamed from his eyes. He was back to his normal self after that, happily joining us on our jaunts, and only taking to the pool for a few hours of the day. He still won’t show us his gorgeous moves in the water, but he doesn’t know that his parents filmed it all when they were watching from the balcony.