By Dan Jones
Another entry in our Write Across Sussex competition.
I looked up and he had gone. I had only taken my eyes off of him for an instant as I put the towel into my backpack. The second I looked up I felt my whole world change. Time swiftly began to run slow, I swung my head left then right. I felt throb-thumping in my chest, the sweat swelling from every pore on my body, the cold shiver creep-freezing up my back, then spreading to my neck, shoulder blades and down my arms.
I started to shout. My shout quickly turned into panic; my panic quickly turned into hysteria. I could feel the last few drops of moisture in my mouth evaporating at an alarming rate. I swung my head left then right again. The beach looked so much more crowded than I had remembered it being moments ago when Jimmy was beside me. Now I was beside myself.
The throb-thumping continued to pound more intensely as each second passed. Each passing second began to stretch in a way you normally only experience when you wait in line at a bank or wait for a bus. As I continued to frantically look around for my son, the world became ever-increasingly confusing. Wherever I looked the world was swirling and merging. It was like watching different coloured paints being mixed loosely together. The same was happening to all the sound around me. I could no longer distinguish voices from background noise.
I left the bag and began to run along the beach, looking for Jimmy. It was like trying to run along a boat in high seas or trying to run after whiz-zipping on a roundabout when you were a child. I could feel my head spin as I staggered and pushed and occasionally fell, but I couldn’t stay down, I had to find my son. The longer I searched, the more anxious I became. It didn’t help that I seemed to have acquired the ability to create horror films in my mind, complete with surround sound and a scary voice, playing films worse than any news report. I tried to think straight, but the harder I tried, the more confused I seemed to become. Every now and then out of the fog of colour came a flash of clarity as I caught a glimpse of the back of a head or a hint of clothing or a familiar sounding word or phrase. Each time I was mistaken and each time I fell deeper into despair.
It had probably only been five minutes since I started my search, yet it now seemed like I had already been searching for hours. It felt like I must have checked every inch of the beach. I was telling people to help me, telling people my son was lost. I was becoming increasingly frustrated that no one seemed to care. Everyone seemed to be just looking at me as if I was mad.
Despite all the beauty around me with the soft warm golden sand, the turquoise water and the blue cloudless sky, the day now seemed far from perfect. Only twenty minutes earlier I had been enjoying the journey along the boundary between the sea and the land with the soft kneading of the warm water along the doughy shore, getting a well-earned foot massage-tickle-treat from Mother Nature. I had been gazing out over the shimmering water towards the hazy horizon, enjoying the sensuous tingle-touch of the slightest of breezes on the back of my neck, helping my mind wander into memories of pleasure and relaxation. I thought, “This is what holidays are for.”
I know my mind drifting and dreaming as I wandered along the beach perhaps seems like I wasn’t paying attention to Jimmy. I was. I always had him in sight. If anyone went near him or if anything happened, I would have been jolted back to reality instantly.
As I pulled out my mobile, the shake-twitch-adrenaline-buzz took over my hands. I tried in vain to dial. My hands had started to go numb with fear. Not just that nothingness numb you get when you are anaesthetised, but that tingle-fizz numb you get when you fall asleep on an arm at night or when you stay in one position too long. I tried one more time to use my phone before spotting a beach patrol truck in the distance. The throb-thumping began now echoing and reverberating throughout my body as a glimmer of hope sparkled in my heart. I ran towards the truck, shouting to get the attention of the patrolman. I could see him walking around his truck to get in and drive off. He hadn’t noticed me yet. I had to get to him, but getting through the crowded beach was like fighting through dense jungle. I pushed and shoved and squeezed and shouted, but it wasn’t enough. The patrolman got in his truck and left.
I fell to my knees. My heart broke. My eyelids were no longer sufficiently strong dams to hold back the torrents of tears and despair from flooding over to the sand below. I could feel that flood welling up inside my throat. The pain was unbearable. I couldn’t believe no one was concerned. No one would help. Everyone seemed to just want to enjoy their time on the beach. I stared at the ground through misty eyes as each drop of despair found its unique way along the cracks, crevices and ravines of my face before making the long journey from the sides of my chin down to the dry, soft sand below. I watched as each drop released a miniature cloud of sand followed by small globules of dark wet lumps. I watched how the water seeped and soaked and spread from each drop, creeping further from the centre, darkening an ever-increasing area. My mind began to wander. Not to thoughts of despair – that was all running out – but to thoughts of hope, to thoughts of focus and motivation.
I focused my eyes, and then I focused my mind. I had to find Jimmy. As long as I was highly emotional and worrying, there was no way I would be able to think sensibly enough to find him. I stood up, looked around, got a sense of where I was. I had to think like an eight-year-old child. Where would an eight-year-old be? Where would they go? I didn’t want to think of the worst-case scenarios. I had to believe that Jimmy walked off by himself.
First I had to walk back to where I started. I had to find my bag, find where we were sitting. As I walked, I took some deep purposeful breaths to calm myself down. I suddenly became aware of the weight of the sun beating down on me. For a while I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts and feelings that reality had vanished. Now that I was focused on a course of action, reality was beginning to take back some of its form. I could hear children playing, couples laughing, a group gossiping. Everything had become much clearer. All the people became individuals again.
I found my way back to the start. The first thing I did was to relax and take a look around me. I looked at the ground. Fortunately no one had trampled over the area where my bag was. The beach wasn’t as crowded now as it had seemed when I was hysterical. As I looked on the ground, I could see where I had churned up the sand at the start of my panic. I looked around that area and could see a trail of small footprints meandering off to the north. Something had obviously caught Jimmy’s attention. I followed the trail as it wound around what were now empty spaces where once people had sat. I found myself stood at the top of the beach. There was no trail left to follow, as this part of the beach had been so fully trodden by visitors to the beach that it looked freshly ploughed.
I had to make a decision which direction to go. What would an eight-year-old do? Where would they go? I had to choose. I looked left then right. I looked at what buildings were up here. I tried to think like an eight-year-old. What could he have noticed from the beach that he would head to without hesitation? I looked carefully at all the dark wooden huts. There were gift shops, cafés, small bars, take-away shops. Then I saw it. My excitement caused a grin that threatened to tickle my ears. I felt the throb-thumping in my chest as adrenaline drove through my body. This wasn’t a rush of fear like before; it was a rush of motivation and hope.
I ran towards the giant ice-cream sign that stretched gracefully and temptingly high into the air above one of the wooden buildings. I could hear the tempo of the dull thud-swish with each landing and take-off of my feet. I picked up the pace as I neared the shop. Even from this distance I could hear the faint crying of a child. I was sure it was Jimmy. I ran faster. As I approached the last leg of the journey to the shop, I could see Jimmy sitting on a wall outside the shop. There was a young assistant trying to comfort him. The beach patrol truck was also there with the patrolman crouched down asking Jimmy questions.
As I got closer, Jimmy looked up and smiled. He had tears in his eyes. He ran to me and wrapped his arms around me. He kept saying sorry. I began to cry and told him it was okay. The patrolman came over and said that he had got a call about a child that had wandered off to the shop, wanting an ice-cream, but when he got there and looked back, he didn’t know where to go. It hadn’t taken long apparently for Jimmy to get scared that I may have forgotten him. I thanked the shop assistant for her help. On the way home we stopped to get Jimmy his favourite pudding – ice cream – we arrived home, had dinner and I decided it must be time for bed because we had had enough adventure for one day. Jimmy agreed but said he might have another one tonight when he sleeps. He promised that it would be a safe journey there and back again and that he would see me in the morning.
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