Perfect bliss; to come out of the cool sea and lie on the beach soaking up the sun, then plunge back into the waves to cool off again. This beach would be paradise if it wasn’t full of thousands of other day trippers, but when I close my eyes it’s peaceful, I could be alone. The screams of swimmers and the laughter of children fades away and I am drifting off to sleep, the early morning start, to beat the traffic down to the coast, is catching up with me.
I’m not quite asleep and I open my eyes to observe unnoticed the trio of girls spreading out their towels a few feet away. When they go running and giggling towards the waves I close my eyes again; in this heat wave they are bound to stay frolicking in the waves for a while.
My eyelids are heavy, my towel is moulded comfortably into the warm sand and I am drifting, just as I was in the gentle swell moments ago. Work, studying and responsibilities have floated away.
The gentle hum of human voices returns and then I hear it; a voice at odds with happy holiday makers, an increasingly urgent cry.
‘Charlie, Charlie, CHARLIE…’
I keep my eyes closed, just someone calling their dog and disturbing my perfect day.
‘Charlie, Charlie, has anyone seen a little boy…
I open my eyes, I am listening, but nobody else is. Where is the voice coming from?
‘Charlie, help, I’ve lost my son, he was here a second ago, Charlie…’
I sit bolt upright, twist around and there she is, sheer panic in her eyes, her mouth fixed open. People start to stir, struggle to their feet in the soft sand. The young woman looks straight at me.
‘Did you see where he went? Someone, someone must have seen him… Charlie?’
My brain starts to wake up, unburdened by parental terror I find myself gearing into action.
‘What does he look like, how old is he?’
‘Four, red hair, purple shorts, lime green top…’
Sounds quite easy to spot, but four is young, can they talk by then, I don’t know much about kids…
‘Go to the Lifeguards, they probably have some system or other, they’ll get a search going… I’ll look around.’
She stumbles off, some granny person is taking her arm. For some reason other sun bathers and parents seem to think I know the mother, know what’s happening.
‘Come on everybody, if we all look, red shorts, purple top and green hair… I mean purple shorts, lime green top and red hair, four year old boy.’
Suddenly everybody is shouting for Charlie, it’s quite exciting, a Lifeguard is running, talking on his radio… I could be a Lifeguard, saving people on land and sea…
Then I see him in the distance with a man, trundling away from our search area. I plough through the sand. Holding the man’s hand, is he being kidnapped? I overtake and trip over a sandcastle in front of them, the boy looks unperturbed.
‘Charlie, are you Charlie, your Mummy’s looking for you.’
‘My name’s Archie.’
‘Clear off mate.’
‘I was just trying to help a lady who’s lost her son, sorry, same clothes …’
The cries and shouts and radio voices reach us and the man turns his head to see the whole beach on the move, moving towards us, recognising the purple, green and red description.
‘My brother’s called Charlie’ says the little boy.
The man suddenly laughs. ‘Bloody child, he’s always doing that to us, getting lost. Come on Archie, no ice cream till we’ve found your twin brother.’
The game of snap ends ten minutes later when a worried swimmer emerges from the shallows with a grinning sodden child, but now nobody is sure where the mother is.
More tales of land and sea in Times and Tides