The sand is scorching, even through my white plastic sandals. I am six years old.
I am sitting on a towel, underneath a red and white beach umbrella. I’m shaded from the direct sun, but it is still very hot. I am resting my narrow back against my Daddy’s shin. I push my hands into the warm sand, scoop some up to let it fall through my fingers. Just below the surface the sand is damp, cooler.
The beach is a low thrum of sound. Dark men in straw hats walk up and down with enormous ice boxes on their back. They are calling in Italian, but I know that their rhythmic cries and songs mean that they are selling ice creams and cold melon.
I have finished my ice cream. My fingers are sticky and I am still very hot. Mummy and Daddy are reading their books, dozing. The sea is fifty yards away, through a few more ranks of towels and loungers and umbrellas. I tell Mummy and Daddy that I want to go in the water; they say I should turn round and wave to them when I reach the sea.
I hop and skip across the burning sand. At the shoreline the sand is cool, soothing between my toes. I look back at the red and white umbrella. I know Mummy and Daddy are underneath it, though I can’t see them in the bright sunlight. I wave, turn and wade into the water. I am wearing a red and white hat with the name of the resort and a picture of a friendly smiling mouse.
The sea is warm, gentle. I submerge my shoulders, enjoying the feeling of buoyancy. I watch some young men playing football with a red and white beach ball. I walk out of the water, back on to the cool wet sand. I know that I just need to walk back in a straight line, the way that I came down to the sea, and there will be Mummy and Daddy.
But I can’t see the red and white umbrella, or Mummy and Daddy. The faces of the people on the beach are blurred. My severe myopia will not be diagnosed until later in the year.
I walk up and down on a short stretch of the waterline. Soon Daddy will come to find me. But he does not come. After what seems like a very long time I start to cry.
Instantly I am surrounded by kind people, moved that a child is crying. They speak to me in Italian, and though I don’t understand them, I know they are kind. One takes my hand, and a big group walks with me along the beach, calling to help me find Mummy and Daddy. And here they are, and I cry some more and then I stop. There is much thanking and patting of shoulders, and the nice people go back to their own beach towels.
And now another little brown boy stands on an Italian shore. The early morning sky is cobalt blue. Now the sand is not hot. The boy’s feet sink its icy chill.
His clothes are wet, and his teeth are chattering. He is wearing an orange life jacket. Heaps of wet rags are scattered all along the beach. There are people lying at the edge of the water. Their limbs bob lazily back and forth in the waves.
The boy cannot find his Mummy and Daddy. He cannot understand Italian, or English. Perhaps he speaks Arabic, or Tigrinya, or Kurdish. He cries. Soon the kind Italian people will come, and help him find his Mummy and Daddy. Won’t they?