The woman was worried about her butt; however, that was not the first thing I noticed when I turned to look at her.
I was in the women’s locker room, post-Saturday morning swim class. Another woman in the locker room commented aloud about her butt, specifically her dissatisfaction with it because it looked “like a man’s butt.” I was the only other woman in the room, so the sisterly duty of assuring her she did not have a masculine posterior fell to me.
That’s when I turned and saw the hijab.
“Oh boy, gonna end this quick,” I thought.
We couldn’t have enough in common to carry a conversation.
I admitted I checked out “what’s going on back there” myself when I used the facing mirrors in the gym locker room. She laughed in agreement when I said it was best that I did not have that view available at home. We discovered we were both adult swim class repeat attenders, and it was the third time for both of us. We’d both had breakthroughs that morning: she got the rhythm of breathing while doing the freestyle stroke, and I’d released my death grip on the pool wall long enough to tread in the deep end, despite my brain’s Code Red response.
We both enjoyed and believed in the importance of indulging our passion to learn new things. She’d just recently learned to ride a motorcycle. A motorcycle! I thought it would have been rude to ask whether she wore her head scarf under her helmet. If she did, it was likely not the one that matched her black yoga pants and magenta athletic top that morning. I imagined she had worn a scarf that was appropriate for motorcycle riding.
She mentioned she was a runner and I said, “Me too!” like we were in middle school and had just discovered a fellow Belieber. We talked about the pleasure of turning out-of-town weekend race events into getaways.
“You gotta live, girl,” she said.
Life is meant to be enjoyed, we agreed, even if it means spending a little more money and letting the gotta-dos pile up sometimes.
I finished dressing and packing, wished her a good week, and said maybe I’d see her the following Saturday. I joked she’d likely not recognize me in the pool because my swim cap covered my distinctive crazy kinkies. She raised her eyebrows, pointed to her scarf, and asked if I’d recognize her without it. Then she pulled it back enough so I could see the roots of her own dark coils.
With our caps on, we might swim right past each other on subsequent Saturdays. But I’ll know that underneath the coverings and the trappings of our swim gear, there is another woman so much like me. A woman who had seemed too different and outside of what I consider familiar and compatible. Another, unexpected breakthrough for that morning: Letting go of shallow and safe notions is what gives me the courage to swim in the deep. Sometimes nobody limits me more than myself.