Read a story

It was six thirty in the morning and the swimming pool was completely empty. The only sound breaking the silence was the splash of Olaf cutting water with his strong arms.

If somebody had observed him from the audience seats above, they would have seen a slim figure moving to the right and to the left again in a perfect crawl. They would have seen his strong limbs and lean body, they would have seen the muscles of the back shining from under the surface. They wouldn’t have seen his face and probably even if they had, they wouldn’t have noticed the scar, although Olaf thought everybody saw it even from a huge distance. The scar was to remind and to keep people in the distance. It was to remind about this chilly February night when his dad’s car didn’t manage to turn before a pine and his parents got simply smashed. He was lucky, people said. Was he? He had family. Yes, he had his grandma, who was almost ninety years old and now he had to take care of her. Well, much better than to live in an institution, for sure. But people didn’t understand anything, they simply couldn’t and he knew that. So it was much better to stay away. Perhaps he didn’t have any friends, but he had his goals. Perhaps he wasn’t good at maths or biology. But he was good at swimming and he knew it. Nobody else did. He always came here at six and struggled with his own limitations with no audience.

It was not going to be a good day. He didn’t pass a maths test and everybody laughed when the teacher read his awful Polish essay and commented on it. He stood there with his head down and suddenly realized he wasn’t listening to the teacher, there was only splash pause in his head. “…and I don’t think in the circumstances I can give you another chance…” he suddenly heard. The teacher looked severely at him. She take of her glasses and put it on again, closer and then further from the nose, as if trying to examine him with a magnifying glass. “I’m sorry”, he said, “for the Matura exam I will try…” “There will be no Matura exam for you”, she interrupted. “I will not let you write it.” He didn’t say anything. What for? He could as well die or vanish in the thin air. There was silence in class. Nobody defended him. Nobody said a word.

Grandma had a bad day. “I was trying to clean this pighouse”, she said. “If your mother was alive, she would never…” “Stop, grandma, please”, he almost begged her. There was water on the floor and the windows were covered with smudges of detergent. “I’ll do it, grandma. Please, lie down”. Well, if we wasn’t going to write the exams, it doesn’t matter that he won’t do his homework, does it?

Next day he went to the swimming pool again. At the entrance he saw a poster “Open Swimming Contest. Eliminations: Saturday, 10 a.m.” He had never taken part in any competition. But this time he thought: “Why not? What can I lose?” On Saturday the swimming pool was full and the contestants were divided into age groups. With surprise he saw Alex from his class. The eliminations were a piece of cake, but only eight boys from his group, including Alex swam well enough. They were told that the first stage of the contest was to take place here in two weeks and the best two players would take part in the contest between different districts of Cracow. The best one will take part in the competition for the whole Poland in which eight big cities will have one representative each. Olaf didn’t think he would get that far, but…

Olaf used to swim two kilometers everyday, now he decided to swim four. It was hard and he had to get up earlier, but he felt he was better each day. When he was at school he wanted to ask Alex if he prepared hard to the competition, too, but he didn’t dare. Once he almost did, but Alex looked at him with icy look and said “Hey, swimmer, this explains your maths success!” Olaf felt he really hated the boy. And finally the day of the contest came. Olaf came first, but Alex was the second… Now they were both to take part in the semi-finals. The semi-finals were held in a big swimming pool in the centre of the city. Olaf saw the audience looking at them and cheering and he felt the adrenaline in his veins. Then he simply swam. After a short time he was the leader and he thought he had won but when he rose from water with happiness filling his chest, he saw the audience were clapping and cheering but not for him. Proud Alex was standing there with drops of water on his proud face. He had not only won, but also broke a record.

It was difficult to accept, but when they were already putting their clothes on, he noticed he didn’t hate Alex. He was simply a better swimmer. Well, this happens. Perhaps next time he will beat him. Alex turned to take out his clothes from the shelve, when something fell on the floor. The plastic box opened and covered the floor with white powder. “What is that?” asked Olaf. Alex blushed. “It’s none of your business”, he said. “Vitamins. Don’t you take any?” He took all his things and left quickly.

Olaf didn’t know what to do. Should he tell anybody that he had found some steroids? His father was a doctor and he knew a lot about drugs sports people take to have better results. It didn’t look like vitamins. Should he tell somebody or be quiet?
He didn’t tell anybody and life simply went on, weeks and weeks. Until one day his grandma said. “Olaf, somebody called from the swimming pool. You have to call this number”, and she handed him a piece of paper. “It’s good you’re calling”, the man said. “You took part in the semi-finals last month and you came second”. “Yes, I did.”, Olaf responded. “Well”, the man said, “I think this will be pleasant information. We will have to repeat the finals and you will have to take part”. “Repeat the finals? Why? And what about…” “Your friend Alex took steroids.”, the man said. “He won the finals and we did the routine drug tests. It appeared he must have taken drugs for a long time. So, are you happy, young man?” He was! He couldn’t believe that!

Well, you can imagine how the story finished. Olaf won the contest. There was a note about it in a newspaper and he felt like a hero. Next day his maths teacher said “I didn’t know you were good at sport. You must have trained hard to have won! Now I understand your results. It is important to have a passion, so I will give you another chance! You can write the term test again in two weeks!” But the best thing was yet to come.
He was going to school when somebody shouted “Olaf!”. He turned and saw Alex. “You’ve been absent for a long time.”, he said. “Yes”, Alex said. “I had problems with these drugs. I spent some time at hospital. Now I know it wasn’t a good idea… Somebody told me they are like vitamins, but they might be dangerous. But I wanted to thank you.” “Thank? For what?” “You didn’t tell anybody you had seen the drugs. Thank you. And – congratulations. You won”. He started going down the road, but suddenly he turned and smiled to Olaf.

splash – plusk
lean – szczupły, chudy
scar – blizna
chilly – lodowaty, zimny
severely – surowo, poważnie
smudge – smuga
contest – zawody
competition – zawody
vein – żyła
steroids – sterydy
drug tests – testy antydopingowe
to reach the finals – dojść do finałów
to be on drugs – być na dopingu
to take part in a competition /contest – brać udział w zawodach
to break a record – pobić rekord
to be suspended – zostać zawie­szonym