By Veronica Nkwocha
“The sea flows in cascading waves over the beach only to flow back leaving behind debris and valuable, a sign of its earlier presence.”
Ana paused her writing and stared at the surface of the sea, wrinkled and glittering catching the evening sun. She rubbed her brow with the end of her stylus and sighed. The words she tried to form into tangible letters were stuck in her head and no digging could get more out. She flung the phone to the side and unfurled her lithe frame. One last swim and it was back to the hotel.
She was enjoying the solitude of her lone vacation in her dream destination, Valletta, Malta, cradle of ancient histories and jewelled seas. She came alone, without Mark or Ephraim her brothers even though they begged her, that she should not be alone at a time like this.
She twirled in the lukewarm waters allowing its light waves tug her here and there. The light breeze picked up and had a whistle to them, a lone voice trailing from across the miles and miles of vastness. She drifted thinking of the words she had written earlier, ‘leaving behind…valuable’ could be likened to ‘memories’; a stamp of an earlier presence, and she missed Kama so. She ached for him so deeply tears welled up in her eyes and for a moment she was lost in her thoughts.
She lifted her eyes to stare at the sun and realised she had drifted a fair distance from the shore and the evening darkness was descending. She threaded water in a panic. She was alone at the beach. She tried to get closer to shore but she seemed to move further away. The tears were falling freely now.
She yelled ‘Help!’ as loud as she could but she knew she must conserve her strength.
Kristina skipped ahead of her father Brian. He chased after her both of them laughing. She paused at the sight of the beach towels and a lady’s woven hand bag. She stared. Brian stopped and looked around for the owner. It took him a moment to realise something was seriously wrong and he looked out to sea. A tiny speck of a head floated within his vision and he had a difficult choice. Kristina was only six years old and he worried if he should leave her alone to help the lone figure.
He dialled the local number where they staying but it kept returning a busy tone. He frantically searched his mind for emergency numbers.
“Kristina, you know your way back, run ahead and get help. That person over there needs help and I’m going in. Here’s my telephone, keep calling the number as you run along and call Uncle David in London and tell him what’s happening. Please hurry.”
“Yes daddy”, she answered. “I love you daddy”, she said tearing up.
He held her tightly momentarily and looked into her eyes reassuring her.
“I love you too” he said hiding the tears that threatened; dark clouds behind his eyes.
He shed off any excess clothing and dived in. He reached Ana in powerful strokes and took in her frightened eyes. Although he could tell she was trying to be brave teeth chattering. He spoke in measured tones unsure whether she spoke English.
“You’ll be alright”, he said and introduced himself.
The irony of their situation overwhelmed him, it seemed a long way back and he panicked wondering if they would make it. He tried to keep his head clear surrounded by the dark ink of the quickening waters.
“I’m Ana”, she answered.
“Here’s what we must do”, he said guiding her carefully as they tried to get back to shore making careful progress. He was ecstatic when he saw men running up the beach and a boat coming towards them. He happily got in when it reached them and the driver and companion handed them towels.
Ana lost all control and started sobbing uncontrollably; she hid her face in a towel embarrassed. He didn’t know what to say. He clutched the warm drink they had been offered and then once ashore, gingerly stepped out of the boat. Dry ground had never felt better Ana thought to herself. Her legs felt like jelly and she collapsed hugging the bare earth. She wondered if she would look ridiculous if she kissed it.
“Thank you”, she sobbed laughing at the same time.
Brian looked around eagerly. He couldn’t see Kristina’s little frame and he figured she may be at their rooms waiting. He was so proud of her, the quickness in getting help, she was always so precocious.
“Is my daughter with you?” he asked smiling at the men.
“Who’s your daughter?”
“We came straight from the other end of the beach, some-one called about a lady in distress, we didn’t realise there were two of you.”
A wave of panic hit him and it literally shoved him, propelling him into a frenzied dance of fear. He started running in the direction from where they had come earlier then realised it would be quicker to call.
He yelled his voice trembling, “Have you got a phone?”
Ana gave him hers and he dialled frantically while running and disappeared into the night.
The men asked her if she would be fine and she said she was and dressed up quickly. They refused any money for their trouble and she insisted she would be alright getting to her hotel. They parted shaking hands.
She worried about Brian, she asked at her hotel and no-one had heard of them. She tried calling her own phone but remembered it had been very low on battery when she couldn’t get through. She asked the concierge to telephone the other hotels and they said there was no one with a missing daughter as far as they were aware. They also wouldn’t divulge names of their guests for privacy reasons.
Her dream holiday had turned quickly from a well of hope and strength to worry and confusion. She paced back and forth for long moments and then took a warm bath and dried her hair. She slept off consumed by thoughts of the kindly man and his daughter whose form in her dream was elusive. She saw the little girl drowning in a whirlpool and tried to grasp her hands but it was slippery as though coated in oil. She tossed entangled in her bed cover when a loud ring awakened her.
“Madam, this is the wake-up call you requested for. Your taxi for the airport will be here in an hour.”
‘To leave or not to leave?’ her mind a myriad of troubling thoughts.
‘Who were they?’
‘Would it be ridiculous if she left without knowing what had happened?’
Her telephone was a lifeline that held all her thoughts and a lot of vital information. She was loathe to leave it behind. She made a few calls and extended her visit for one more day. She spent it wandering the beach and calling her phone intermittently. She didn’t find them. She cut a forlorn figure the next day at the airport screening.
She was unhappy to have an aisle seat. She would have preferred to be by the window passing the time by ascribing names to drifting clouds. She closed her eyes as the plane filled up, impatient people shoving their luggage into the overhead compartments.
She felt the flight attendant tap her on the shoulder,
“Excuse me madam, would you mind moving to the window? The party has a young child and may interrupt you needing bathroom breaks and the like”.
“It’s no trouble at all” she said and the most beautiful eyes stared back at her from beyond the attendant’s crouching frame.
Blond hair trailed down the little girl’s shoulders and Ana looked up into a familiar face, his eyes wrinkling into a smile of recognition. She launched herself into his arms and then embarrassed, pulled away.
“I believe I have something that belongs to you” he said as they settled in their seats.
He handed her phone to her and introduced Kristina.
“Ah” Kristina said smiling.
“I’m glad you’re okay, poor daddy couldn’t get the phone to work to call you. He made me walk around several hotels and they said they couldn’t divulge information” she said shaking her head exasperated the way little girls are at grown-ups’ quaint behaviour.
The adults laughed.
“I couldn’t get the right charger at first and then your lock code got in the way. I then figured it was best to get professionals back home in England to access your phone since we were leaving Valletta anyway. Best way to reach you I’d presumed.” He said chuckling.
She smiled her heart warm and fuzzy. He looked at her and something tugged at his soul, he wanted very much to get to know her better. Maria’s passing had left him totally focused on raising Kristina, precious, wee Kristina.
The sea’s waves over the beach had left something valuable, hope for tomorrow, friendship…she still missed Kama her seventeen year old brother. She had looked after him since her mother died but his permanent coma was such that it was only practical that he be cared for away from home. Her arms had felt so empty when he was gone, no more caring for him around the clock. She would still visit as often as she could after all he was only a few miles from Braxton where she lived.
Kristina showed her photos of their Valletta holiday chattering away as though they were old friends. Brian filled up holes here and there and she told him about Mark and Ephraim and Kama.
The touch down in Heathrow was smooth and it was raining. The chattering trio had a shine about them; they had brought their own sun back from Valletta.