A Lion on the Shore
Jorge Sanchez dares not move another inch. The feeling of water running over his small feet is about all he can stand. He glowers at the other children swimming in the warm sea.
“Go on Jorge!” his mother cries. He turns to meet her smile. “It’s okay. Go on!”
He focuses his attention on the water again; he takes a step forward. It submerges his leg up to the top of his ankle this time, as it laps up on the shore. His mother laughs as he shakes his curly hair and runs back to where she is reclining on her elbows.
“I don’t like it. It’s dirty,” Jorge says, scowling at the sand.
Jorge’s mother has an idea as to why he won’t go in the water. It happened here at the Cat’s Cape beach when he was only two.
The beach is long enough for it to be impossible to see where it ends in either direction. On one side of the village that the beach takes its name from, it stretches off for more than thirty miles and melts into the horizon. On the other side of the village, it sweeps for another twenty or twenty-five miles down to the glittering city of Almeria. The vast scale can render an adult awestruck, but to a little boy, the beach can be overwhelming. A child might also perceive the Mediterranean Sea as being as huge as the sky above it. Adding to its sense of size, the beach here slopes down from the land to the water, obscuring the view of the surrounding landscape. An adult can appreciate a sense of isolation here, whereas a small child such as Jorge, can feel set adrift.
Three years ago, he had been stomping around in the shallow water on the shore. His father splashed water over Jorge’s golden skin and mane of hair. Jorge giggled and tried to soak his father by scooping under the water and up again, but he only succeeded in throwing water over his own face and hair. He laughed and hiccuped all the same.
“Aaaaaye Hijo mio!” His father laughed and ruffled his son’s hair.
He left Jorge to go and sit with Rebeca on the sand. They smiled down at their child as the evening sun sank closer to the water and bathed him in soft light. His laughter filled the air.
Small waves lapped in and out and pushed him over. He kept his balance well and giggled with delight as they grew larger.
They didn’t see it. It came in on one the bigger waves. Its white body was hidden in the foam. It floated into Jorge and brushed his leg.
“Medusa!” His parents darted to the water, before he let out a sudden scream.
Now, three years on, his mother sits here with her son in almost the same place. His father is in another country. She wonders if Jorge can remember his ordeal with the jellyfish. They sometimes wash in on days when the sea has been choppy. They don’t go out of their way to hurt people. She wants to tell him this, as he sits glumly observing the gentle waves.
“Do you love your mummy Jorge?” she asks him and brushes his hair out of his eyes.
“Si! Mucho!” He smiles and nods his head as if he were trying to roll it off of his shoulders and onto the sand.
His mother stands up and walks down to the water. Jorge watches her submerge herself up to her shoulders. His smile quickly transforms into a frown. He looks at the sand in utter despair again.
“Jorge!” she screams in panic, causing him to look up suddenly. “I can’t swim Jorge!” She dips her head in and out of the water. He runs to the edge of the shore and rocks on the balls of his feet with his fists clenched tight at his sides. A man makes his way over, but she raises a finger and looks at the child. Something passes between her and the young father. He turns and walks back to his family, watching the little boy who looks like a little lion on the shore.
“Jorge! Jorge! Help me!” she dips her head under the water again. When she comes up, she suppresses a smile as she sees Jorge paddling on all fours towards her.
“Take my hand.” She reaches out to him. “Can you help me?”
“Si! mama, si!”
He takes her hand and finds that he can stand up to his full height in the water. She allows him to pull her in towards the shore and then falls dramatically on the sand, pretending to gasp for breath.
“You saved my life!” she exclaims.
He leans over her. He hunkers down on his knees, checking her for any injuries he believes she might have incurred in the water. He then hugs her mid section clumsily, before breaking away from her and asking: “Mama, estas bien?”
“Yes, Jorge, but my hat is still in the water,” she says, still pretending to be out of breath.
Jorge follows his mother’s line of vision to where her straw hat is floating in the mellow evening sun.
The little boy scrunches his eyes against the evening sun and runs into the ocean.