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The Beach by the Kampong

by neilwills 

Posted: 12 July 2007
Word Count: 987
Summary: A small boy fishing gets more than he expected.

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warm, stiff breeze caused the soft fringe of his sun-bleached hair to blow and wave around his forehead. It stopped briefly now and again allowing the heat of the tropical sun to reach him directly. Despite the tickling of his hair he kept perfectly still. Even the buttons on his shirt pressing uncomfortably into his belly and chest were ignored as he stared through the slats of the decking into the water below. Behind him the jetty stretched to the beach where the small, foam-crested waves threw themselves onto the sand as if exhausted by their long journey across the South China Sea.

In the distance he could hear the sounds of the Kampong. Children squealed while the adults slept away from the midday sun. Even though the wind blew from the sea he also knew the smell of it - a mixture of mud and pigs and sweetly rotting rubbish overlaid by the pungency from the rows of fresh and drying fish on racks. The bleached and faded colours of the sampans contrasted with the grey and weather worn boards of the kampong huts and the palm fronds lying in the sand.

The sunlight streaming through the boards danced like moving curtains of light into the depths of the pale, green water. Small, yellow fish darted through the fine debris and suspended particles of sand washing with the swell around the piling timbers. The clarity of the water ended a couple of feet down and he was irritated not to be able to see the bottom. His hook floated about a foot or so below the surface and rose and fell with the movement of the water, but to his great disappointment, was ignored completely by the yellow fish. Each time one approached, the boy's heart skipped a beat and his lungs held still in anticipation until he could hold his breath no longer and let go with a gasp.

The boards beneath him vibrated as footsteps drew near. He registered the sound but kept his eyes firmly on the fish.

'What are you doing?'

The corners of his mouth drew down in a grimace as the fish moved even further away from his hook. He continued to stare into the water, willing his companion to leave him alone.

'Are you sick, Nick?' She giggled at the rhyme, which made him roll over and glare at her.

'Get lost, Libby.' He squinted up into the brightness surrounding his older sister. 'Where's dad?'

She looked back at the beach and nodded. 'Gone to look for some fish because you haven't caught any.'

The boy rolled over again and pushed his fringe away before resuming his vigil.

'Mum said it's time for lunch.'

He ignored her and was pleased to hear her footsteps recede. Once she had gone he turned to glare at her disappearing back. His mother waved from her position on the sand. He could see the picnic basket open and the red, gingham tablecloth laid with the blue plastic plates. Libby glanced back at him and laughed her irritating laugh and in response he pulled a face. He pretended not to hear his mother's calls and focused upon the fish once more.

Shortly afterwards, the sound of voices approached. It was a mixed blessing - the deep bass of his dad's voice contaminated by Libby's falsetto.

'Any luck yet, tuan?'

He shook his head and lay still.

The boards creaked as his dad joined him peering through a crack at the hook. They lay for a minute or two watching the shoals wriggling and diving through the shadows and light.

He could smell his father's familiar scent overlaid with fresh sweat. A hairy, hot arm rested against his own and the warmth spread across them both as the breeze retreated a little before resuming in intensity. Nick could see the greying tufts of his father's sideburns twitching and tugging in the puffs of air. A sense of love and desolation suddenly hit him. It was so powerful he couldn't explain it but he knew that this moment would live forever in his mind. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply before he was brought back to reality by Libby's squeal from the end of the jetty. His father scrambled over to her where she was holding her foot.

'Quick, get your mother. Libby's been stung. Tell her to bring the water.'

He hesitated briefly, scanning the sea with interest for the rogue jellyfish but then shouting to his mother as he ran off towards the beach. She, playing her part well, looking worried rose to her feet, seemingly hesitant and unsure what to do. As he reached her she grabbed and held his wrist looking earnestly at him.

'What's happened?'

He tried to turn to point as he spoke but she held him firmly facing her and stared into his face.

'Libby's been stung. Dad needs some water.'

She peered past his shoulder to the far end of the jetty. A brief instant passed and then a voice called reassurance above the breeze.

'It's ok. It was just a splinter.'

His mother raised her eyes and tutted. I told her to wear something on her feet.'

Nick ran to where his sister sat smirking. His scowl was interrupted by his father's startled shout.

'Quick, you've got a bite!'

They struggled together with the fish while Libby danced alongside shouting encouragement. The miraculous disappearance of her previous injury missed him entirely. Laughing, they gave a final great heave, and landed on their backs while a large grey fish popped out of the water beside them where it lay stiff and still in a puddle. Oblivious to the rigor mortis and innocent of its provenance, he smiled in triumph. His father ran his hand through his son's hair. He caught his wife's eye and briefly glanced back towards the kampong before winking sneakily at a grinning Libby.

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Comments by other Members

SteveB at 07:51 on 13 July 2007  Report this post
Strong description of the scene - very evocative. You brought out a lovely relationship between the boy and his father.
The whole scene poses lots of questions about this family - who are they? what are they doing there? what are the relationships between the family members?
The whole ending - the elaborate hoax to get the boy a fish on his line was marvellous - and makes you ask why did they so want him to succeed - from reading it, I assume the sister was in on the hoax and it wasn't just the dad...
...reading it was like looking at a picture and seeing so much more than was described - which I think is a great achievement.

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