A Woman Cries in a Swimming Pool


Each week, we pick a short fiction piece from our Fairlight Shorts archives to feature as our story of the week. This week, we’ve chosen a story about self-acceptance by Ola Mustapha.

Ola Mustapha was born in London and spent part of her childhood living in Egypt, before returning to England. She studied economics and Japanese at university and then moved to Japan, where she taught English for several years. She now lives in London and works as an editor. Her short fiction has been published in literary journals including AestheticaStorgy and Bandit Fiction. Her debut novel Other Names, Other Places is publishing with Fairlight Books in July 2023.

‘A Woman Cries in a Swimming Pool’ follows a woman as she is confronted with her past choices.



I can tell she is going to irritate the bejesus out of me from the minute she takes a running jump into the swimming pool. The over-exuberant type – Little Miss #LiveLaughLove. Ignoring the tsunami of chlorine she’s unleashed into my eyes, she makes a laughing ‘brrr’ sound and shakes her head like a dog.

‘Fuck’s sake,’ I mutter. It comes out the way Andrew used to call ‘passive-aggressive’. Loud enough to be heard; low enough to make the other person wonder if they’ve heard correctly.

The girl – woman – twitches her head in my direction before tipping onto her back and flailing her arms around. Too much splashing. Too much noise. Too much her, invading my space.

Edging away from her, I continue my sedate breaststroke – it’s been years since I dunked my head under water. ‘Stubborn refusal to relinquish control under any circumstances’ – that’s how Andrew described it.

The woman stops thrashing and drifts into a starfish pose. From behind my sunglasses, I look her up and down. Soft thighs in a white bikini. Apple cheeks curving in a blissfully upturned face. Give us some of your puppy fat, love. Ten kilos have dropped off me in the past year, and friends are telling me I look ‘tired’ rather than ‘great!’

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