Driftwood

By Susheela Menon

My little girl stood clapping on the small chair of the carousel. She perched on it perilously and tried to balance her waif-like body. I trembled with fright. Shrill screams pierced the air as the carousel spun like a top. Her flowing dark locks swirled around her ethereal face. Suddenly, the carousel flung her onto the soft, silky sand. She stood up stunned but fine. I ran to hug her but she hopped away from me.

We were at the beach, at the park by the sea. The ocean surged and retreated. The sun was beginning to set.

My little girl’s feet dug holes in the sand as she ran towards the cotton candy kiosk. Her long, white frock fluttered around her. Its hem caught her feet. She stumbled but ran on. “Bravo!” I wanted to shout.

The kiosk was heavily crowded. The vendor stood spinning thick clouds of cotton candy. My little monster suddenly caught hold of the spinning bowl and tried to grab some of the pink sugar she desperately wanted. She spun around dangerously and fell amidst the crowd. Before I could reach her, she dusted her frock and sped towards the shooting stall.

Her big, brown eyes stared at the balloons. She touched one of them. Someone shooed away the few children who stood admiring the balloons but my little girl didn’t budge. She looked back and smiled at me. A man trained his gun at the wall and pulled the trigger. I was too late to notice. She stood open-mouthed as a big red balloon burst behind her. The loud blast scared her but she didn’t cry. I wanted to embrace her but she had skipped away to stand near the massive Ferris wheel.

It was dark now. The crowd had dwindled but there was a long queue of people waiting to ride the wheel. She joined them. I jogged towards the queue but saw her stand near the heavy gate through which one entered the pods. The heavy pods swung down one after the other.

The wheel picked up speed. I heard squeals of excitement from the pods, which shot up in the air after they nearly touched the ground. Her eyes sparkled with mischief. I wagged a finger at her when my phone rang. It was my wife asking when I would be back. I mumbled something and looked for my girl. None saw her slip through the wide bars of the gate. She ducked to avoid a pod that hurtled down. My heart raced with fear. I began to shout but by then, she had bounded off into the dark, startling a sullen dog that howled at her.

She stood near the sea now. The tide rose. She played with the seashells and threw a pebble at me. The waves licked her thighs. She loved the sand and sat drawing alphabets on it. The waves grew stronger as they hugged her chest. A huge swell appeared in the distance. I ran to pick her up but the currents pushed me back towards the shore. I ploughed through the waves and caught her frock.

Driftwood.

My eyes scoured the sea. She wasn’t there. I never find her. My little girl always fades peacefully into these dancing currents. The dark waters reclaim her every time. I see her every evening on the carousel and lose her every night to the sea. I headed home. The wild waves shone in the moonlight. It was time for dinner.

(First published in “Life is a Roller Coaster” anthology, Kind of a Hurricane Press)

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