I’d deliberately left a little earlier today after yesterday’s calamity of the tide coming in right on top of us forcing us back against the sheer cliff face and eventually off the beach…
We wound our way back through the tee-tree tunnel that we’d found yesterday but had somehow missed the turnoff to the ramp and ended up a mile or two down the shore from where we were yesterday, on a section of beach that was entirely deserted.
I undid their clips and away they jumped with sheer delight, not hesitating for a moment to run clear off into the distance. I trudged along behind them, me – the lowly, old pauper servant who was only ever destined to watch others having fun. Miss would bound back and walk alongside me from time to time as if to make sure I was okay. I have to admit, that although the children had only irritated me the past few days since my arrival, with their incessant noise and neediness, I found it endearing that she adapted her pace to mine. But Master, being the reckless explorer boy, paid no heed to my hobbling along and was blissfully unaware of all else except the self-obsession of how everything was making him feel. Or so I thought.
Master ran up a sheer sand-dune, not stopping to take a breath once until he had reached to top. His energy astounded me. And then he sat there with a proud gleeful grin, watching me with steady eyes to make sure I was taking it all in before half skidding, half slipping and falling over himself in a tumble -sand flying everywhere until he flipped onto the shore below again.
“That really was spectacular,” I shouted over to him. One could tell by this and other antics that he was the younger of the pair and it was then that my heart began to warm toward him a little. He may have acted desperate and clingy sometimes but his big personality and his relentless desire to explore and discover made one admire him. Miss watched on with benign indifference. She was far too superior – in a ladylike way – to bother with such things.
I untied the scarf around my head to tidy the wispy bits that had sprung from underneath it. At that moment a sudden gust of wind sprang from nowhere and before I knew it my scarf was airborne and away from my reach. The children and I both watched on, aghast, as it flipped this way and that, billowing away toward the horizon and there was nothing we could do. My hair would become messy now. I considered turning back. I didn’t like to think of myself as untidy. I already felt shabby enough walking along with shoes in hand, the sand squishing between my toes. And I was concerned the sun would damage my tender skin. But I had committed myself to walk to the sandbank of seaweed I could see some 800 meters ahead and didn’t like to change my mind. As if reading my mind, Master seemed to resign himself to the fact and ran at the water as though he thought it might be for the last time ever. I was shocked to see just how far out he went and was so sure his little legs would not be able to hold him, as the undercurrent pulled at them.
“Come back immediately,” I cried anxiously as his legs bent and seemed to give way. He leapt through the water effortlessly then, toward me as if quite pleased that this diversion tactic had worked. I was diverted, it’s true to say and had completely forgotten about my head scarf. Master threw himself at Miss, who was walking along dutifully beside me, to entice her to play with him. It worked. They ran off together to play in the shallows. It was Miss who found the dead bird – an albatross – on the shore. They were both intensely curious. I looked up and noticed an exact same bird circling the spot and knew in an instant what the dead bird had meant to the living bird. I called the children away. Give the dead a bit of privacy.
I thought of my friends then. Since coming to this new town a few days ago I had thought of them often. I’d received proposals or offers of more than friendship but had politely declined each of them. Duty bound I was. Duty bound I would always be. Oh, there was no longings or yearnings anymore, those days were long gone and at my age, one could not allow oneself to dwell too long on the could-have-been. But I wondered about them and accepted that I missed them and would like to see or hear from them again. If only …
Master gazed back at me, regretfully. He stopped and waited for me to catch up a little. It was then I realised: he didn’t run ahead because he was lost in himself and his surroundings at all. He ran ahead because he was checking things for me. That’s why he would look back to me at certain points; he was doing his job as my guardian and my protector. I felt something wash across my heart. The children were becoming more than my charges. They were becoming my friends. As this thought struck me I looked ahead and noticed a small flock of plovers swerving just out of reach of the children and then happily back on out to sea. Naturally, the children were delighted and gave chase. This was a game that ensued for the next 30 minutes or so. If the children got tired or lost interest, the plovers would land right next to them on the sand to seduce them back into the game. They would fly just out of reach. Master became so wrapped up in the game that he wound up far down the beach and couldn’t hear me calling. I was glad then that my brothers had taught me to whistle when I was a child. I placed my curled fingers in my mouth and let the whistle sound in short, sharp bursts and only just in time too. A big wave was about to crash on Master and wash him away. My heart was in my mouth. What would their mother say? How unfit a nanny was I? The responsibility seemed beyond huge at that moment. But also, to lose such dear ones. And Missy tagging along beside him, letting him lead her into such danger. Poor dear Missy; so corruptible, so gullible. And Master, incorrigible as always!
Luckily my whistle worked and they were back at my side in no time. I wanted to scold them but instead I said “good boy” and “good girl” because I’d noticed that when I used those words they seemed to become very happy and would subsequently listen to me more intently.
“You can have fun but just don’t go too far into the water. And stay where I can see you,” I ordered just as the flock came to a standstill not far off down the beach which had the children tearing up the sand yet again. It occurred to me just how happy we all were in that moment. I took the clips from my hair and let it fall down over my shoulders. The wind immediately swept it into ten different directions and I didn’t care. I noticed the sand that had crept inside the cuff of my pants and that the bottoms were slightly wet from the waves. I saw how my skin was becoming sun-kissed but didn’t care. I thought of the suburban life I’d had up until moving here a couple of days ago and how little it was compared to this. I thought about how I always knew there was something missing. I thought about how I used to wonder at the emptiness. I thought about my friends and everything I would say to them when I contacted them. I thought about the matriarch of the neighbouring manor and how no matter what she said to press my buttons, later on when our paths crossed, that my buttons had somehow become unpressable. It occurred to me that the beach romp had changed me somehow. The sky, the sea, the tee trees on the foreshore, everything; all glorious and beyond description.
I whistled the children back as we came upon the tee tree tunnel that would take us back to civilisation.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Master seemed to be saying as I clipped them back in.
“Well, that’s that then. Wasn’t that fun?” I asked and they looked up at me with their bedraggled faces. I knew the truth then. If I was to fall down right here, right now, they would run and get help. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t overwhelmed with responsibility and duty at all. In the space of two days, I had come to love them and they, me.
When we got home, instead of sitting in the manor, they came and sat with me at my little home. They made a lot of noise if they heard anything or if anyone approached me but I didn’t mind because I understood. Together we listened to the birds, watched the kittens frolicking and planned what to have for tea.
Written Easter 2018
If you exchange the word blackberry for tee tree in the following poem, you can get a feeling of how it felt to be at the beach that day. Thank you Sylvia Plath and the Writer’s Festival in Daylesford for bringing this poem to my attention 🙂