Swimming Partners by Timwa Lipenga
In Swimming Partners by Timwa Lipenga we have the theme of connection, control, friendship, love, fear, change, freedom and AIDS. Narrated in the first person by a woman called Linda the story is a memory piece that takes Linda’s relationship with her sister, Aisha, into account. From the beginning of the story it is clear that Linda has a connection with her older sister. Aisha is the dominant one in the relationship and Linda follows everything that Aisha does. It is for this reason that Aisha’s friends call Linda a ‘slave’ and a ‘shadow’. What is also interesting is the fact that when the girls first go swimming in the steam Linda overcomes her fear of the water (and swimming) simply because she believes in Aisha. She is that much influenced and connected to Aisha.
The theme of fear is further explored by way of the mother’s reaction to Linda and Aisha going swimming. She is outraged and in an effort to control her daughters and to instill fear inside them. She refuses them dinner. Aisha on this occasion is the stronger of the two sisters and does not appear to be bothered by her mother’s reaction to them playing in the stream. It is a little more difficult for the younger Linda, who the reader feels has suffered because of Aisha’s and her actions. The fact that Aisha no longer wants to work in the maize fields could be important for two reasons. Firstly she is exerting further control over Linda by asking her to go to the city with her and secondly because for the first time in her life the sixteen year old Linda does not obey her sister. She frees herself from Aisha, for good or for bad.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The stream and school can be seen to be two areas in which both girls feel freedom. They are not under their mother’s constraint nor are they controlled by their mother. The Khope bird that is mentioned in the story can be seen to represent freedom too. It will follow the wind though it does appear to be directionless. Which in many ways mirrors how Linda reacts when it comes to Aisha controlling her. Linda is unable to make up her own mind.
The end of the story is interesting if not exceptionally sad. Both Linda and Aisha have AIDS, most likely from having unprotected sex. With Aisha, she has found freedom in the city but she has paid with her life. While Linda has married a man, Itimu, who has been unfaithful to her. What is also interesting about Linda’s relationship with Itimu is the fact that she constantly keeps an eye on him so he will not stray. Regardless of this it is obvious he has. No matter how difficult life is for Linda and Aisha there is a sense that Linda will take control of Aisha and love her just as Aisha had once controlled and loved Linda. She still has fresh memories of them being swimming partners and when life was relatively easier and it is this memory which will carry Linda and Aisha through difficult times.