The story so far: Eva is little girl living in post-war Germany. Because she might be in danger of contracting TBC she is sent to a children's home, which is also used as a sanatorium, on the island of Norderney in the North Sea. She is away from home, on her own, for the first time in her life.
Eva Goes on Holiday # 4
When I left home it was summer, I am sure it is summer here too; Miss Manfred says there is a cold wind coming off the North Sea, so we can’t go to see the sea, because the weather is bad for us. Then why did Mum send me here I’d like to know; I can be indoors at home where I have my books and my doll. We have weather at home too and sometimes the wind blows ever so fierce and makes my skirt blow up into my face but I am still allowed out. The other girls in the ward aren’t allowed to go to the sea either, we must all stay here in the sanatorium. There is a sandpit in the courtyard, Miss Manfred says there’s real sand in it, from the beach, and before lunch we can go out and we can build sandcastles there. There is supposed to be a shelter which stops the wind from blowing but I don’t know what that means because the sandpit is outdoors and it has no roof over it. We asked if we could have a bucket of water but that is supposed to be bad for us too. But then they make us have a bath and that’s full of water.
Playing in the sandpit is boring but I suppose it is better than nothing.
All the other children in the home have been to the sea lots of times; when they’ve been they show off about it and get all excited and they tell us how they had their shoes and socks off and ran in the sea and splashed each other.
Today we went to the swimming baths. Miss Manfred promised us that we would get proper waves and that we could put our swimming costumes on and play in the water and that the water would be made of seawater. But the water was really in a big house which smelled funny, like nasty medicine in a hospital, and it was flat, with stones around the edge, not sand.
The man in the white trousers asked us if we could swim. I don’t really know what swimming is so I said nothing, in case I got it wrong and he’d tell me off for fibbing. I looked at the other children in the pool but I couldn’t tell if they were swimming or jumping up and down. They were making a lot of noise and I was hoping they’d let me have a go too.
The man put a rubber ring round my tummy, and took me to the stairs at one end of the water. He let me go down the stairs by myself. The water was a bit cold but I went in anyway. He was still watching me but he nodded so it was all right and I could stay and play with the other girls from the isolation ward.
Susie and Birgie said they could swim and I watched them to see if I could learn too and they waved their arms about in the water and pretended to lie down on the water and took one leg off the floor and sort of kicked and hopped with the other. I tried it and I could do it too after I practiced for a bit. I swallowed a lot of water, which tasted very salty, but then I just kept my head up and tried not to scream so much so the water wouldn’t run into my mouth. It was lots of fun. I really enjoyed swimming.
Then the man in the white trousers blew on a very loud whistle and we all had to come out. There was another man and some of us had to have a really long string tied to our rubber rings, like very long leading straps, and they made us go back into the water while the men held the string. They got long poles, like fishing rods and they dangled us from the rods and pulled us into the middle of the water. I didn’t want to go, because I nearly couldn’t put my foot on the bottom any more and I coughed because of swallowing lots of water which made even more water come in my mouth but they said, it’s all right, we won’t let go of you and you want to learn to swim, don’t you. Well, I didn’t want to learn to swim on a rod, I was quite happy swimming with one foot on the bottom, so they let us come out again after a bit. They took the string off again which was good because we knew we didn’t have to have another lesson like being a fish.
Miss Manfred said we could have one more go in the water, a very quick one, but to stay near the edge by the stairs and not to lie on the water but to stand up. When she said that she scrunched up her face and opened her eyes very wide, like gown-ups do when they are trying to trick kids and go all pretend-serious, so we knew something was up and we waited by the edge to see what would happen.
And what happened was that the biggest, fastest, foamiest wave of water of my whole life came rushing through the pool, from one end to the other, and we all screamed and screeched and fell over.
It was brilliant.
I hope we can go again, even if they make me dangle from a pole.