THE GIRL ON THE ROCKS
In the distance I see her there again, like so many times before.
Families often visit this particular beach. The freshness of the salt air is as addictive as heroin, or so I’m told. She wears an apricot tulle-skirted dress,the bodice dappled in a vintage rose print. She wears no shoes; never any shoes. She is quiet and solitary but seems content.
Who is she? Who else sees this child and worries about her like I do? If I look away, I fear she will disappear without a trace. I can’t risk it. I can’t divert my gaze, just in case.
Something is not right. Something I can’t understand.
The girl leaves the safe haven of the rocks. She meanders along the sand. From my vantage point on the rickety old pier I see the footprints she leaves in her wake. Her destination seems uncertain. I feel she lingers, but I can’t be sure.
She stops several times between the rocks and the ocean and inspects seashells and maybe the tiny soldier crabs with their miniscule balls of sand. Seaweed and driftwood make the corners of her mouth turn upward. Further along the beach she walks amongst families relaxing and children playing. They do not notice her.
The sun catches the glint of plastic in the sand. The tulle-clad girl notices, and moves towards it. She picks it up with care and turns back toward the direction she came. She hesitates at the rocks, before continuing toward me. This time the girl walks with purpose. She breathes in the freshness of the sea. Her inhalation is deep and her nostrils flare a little. She is close enough now that I can speak to her. What do I say?
She reaches a hand towards me and my eyes widen in surprise, although I do not feel threatened. She does not smile. But nor does she frown. She lunges towards me and drops the empty bottle into the recycle bin near my elbow. It reverberates within the tin shelter as it lands on the garbage inside. She turns and makes her descent down a set of stairs that leads back toward the beach.
Without thinking of the consequences, I scan the beach for any potential parents. She could be no more than six years old and should not be here alone. All the other families appear to be intact. Everyone has a collective group or family they belong to. A mother and four children, all with red hair, build sand castles. An elderly couple sit on a bench – together but childless. A team of Little Nippers and their coaches are all dressed in yellow and red.
Nobody belongs to the little girl and the little girl belongs only to herself. I turn back to the shoreline hoping to get a glimpse of the apricot tulle again. My eyes rest first on the recycle bin that I had not even noticed earlier. Nothing. It is just a regular disposal unit.
The girl sits on the last step, wriggling her toes in the sand. The sun lowers in the sky. We both watch it for a little while. Many others pack up the last moments of their day and disperse in different directions. She waits. So, I wait too.
I can’t help but admire the colours of the sky reflecting on the water. All the pinks and oranges stretch out like a majestic carpet shimmering on the waves.
The girl and I wait.
Soon enough the sun forms a semi-circle on the horizon as the earth rotates on its axis. The day ends. The girl walks to the water’s edge and smiles. She glances back at the beach before looking up. She looks straight at me, then walks deeper in to the sea.
I don’t even react. I want to but I can’t. Words and shouts catch in my throat and I am completely alone on the beach. I am at the bottom of the stairs and my shoes are wet but I don’t recall how I got here. I look at the ocean where moments earlier I saw a little girl wearing an apricot tulle-skirted dress with the bodice dappled in a vintage rose print. She wasn’t wearing any shoes. She never wears any shoes.
Just meters in front of me, I see the flick of a tail. It’s a similar form to a whale. This tail swims on the majestic carpet that leads to the distant horizon. And there are apricot-coloured diamonds glowing in the ocean.