52 Stories from 52 Photos: ‘#21’
I found her in a rock pool on a blazing summer day. She was lying still; her limbs splayed out around her . If she hadn’t had her eyes open — her beautiful long eyelashes fluttering up and down — I would have feared the worst. But her clothes were torn and hanging off her, so I jumped off my bicycle and hopped across the jagged boulders of the shore as quickly as I could. She didn’t react to my clumsy approach short of turning her head in the shallow water slightly in my direction. When I reached her I knelt down at her side and spoke gently,
“Hey there, are you ok? Do you need some help?”
She said nothing but smiled faintly. Her hair was wet and and there was some kind of seaweed resting on her brow. I reached slowly to peel it off her face and she flinched momentarily at my touch.
“How did you get here?” I tried, “What happened to you?”
Every question was met with serene silence and her mesmerising gaze. I scooped her in my arms and made my way slowly back the the road. I locked my bike up and got us on the first bus home.
She shivered on the way back and I gave her my jacket to keep her warm. She looked at it like it was magic and I smiled. I tried to ask her some more questions but decided she must not be able to speak English and judging by her visible awe at the shabby public transport I decided she couldn’t have been from any western land that I knew. We passed a couple of armed police on my street and she reached out to touch their rifle as we passed. I panicked and grabbed her wrist before they noticed which made her jump,
“You mustn’t do that,” I tried to explain, “They’ll think you’re trying to hurt them!”
She cocked her head to the side in confusion. We’d reached my apartment now and I attempted to demonstrate my point by showing her the front cover of the newspaper. I realised we weren’t getting anywhere and I was becoming confused myself the more we talked. I went to my room to change my clothes and stopped to look in the mirror. I must have caught the sun as there was a warm glow to my skin. I turned back and headed back to the other room only to find the girl had gone. I checked the bathroom but she wasn’t there. The window in the landing had been opened and it was this moment that it hit home quite how ill-equipped she was to being out there alone. I dashed to the window and looked out. From above me I heard a shuffling.
Carefully I climbed out to the window sill and pulled myself up from the drain onto the roof. There she was – standing still and straight as a spear, her face upturned to the sun. I approached her and lay my hand gently on her shoulder. She opened one eye and looked at me, slowly pointing to the distance where a great billowing of smoke rose from the industrial estate the town over.
“Don’t worry that’s just a factory. It makes cars.” I gestured a steering wheel but she shook her head in confusion. She pointed again at the cloud, then arced her arm from its journey across the sky to where it crossed the sun. She looked at me urgently for an answer, but I didn’t understand the question any more than she would understand me if I did. I held her hand and led her back to the window and inside.
I decided perhaps it was safer if we went for a walk. I didn’t know what else to do but to show her around the town in the hopes that we would see something, someone that would show us where she needed to go. We headed to a park in the centre of the city and sat in the shade of a great oak tree. She spent a long time pressing her hands and face against the old bark which seemed to make her happy. This drew the attention of a couple of guys drinking loudly in the sun. One of them got up and came over
“What’s wrong with your girlfriend?” he smirked.
“She’s fine, just leave us” I muttered but he came closer and poured his can down the side of the tree trunk. She drew her hands back and looked distressed. I rose and pushed the man back and he fired a short, sharp punch into my stomach and walked away swearing. I was ok, but the girl was shaken up and grabbing for my torso.
“It’s fine, honestly. Some people are just out looking for trouble”
She stroked my chest with one hand and clenched and unclenched the fist of the other. She peered at how the knuckles protruded and looked up at me with tears in her eyes. Then she grabbed my hand and tugged me out of the park.
We ran through the town, her eyes closed half the time. She would stop momentarily and lift her nose to the breeze, sometimes changing direction with a jolt. Eventually we burst out of busy roads and came out onto the promenade. Still with tears in her eyes she led me down the cliff side track and onto the beach. I followed her wordlessly all the way down to the shore, where the tide was making its way in. She turned to me and held my face in her hands. They were cold and wet.
“Le bonheur est caché dans l’inconnu bleu” she said in a voice that was simultaneously hoarse and beautiful. Then she lay curled up like a child on the edge of a long rock jutting out from the stones. I stepped back as the waves lapped into my shoes. A gust sound made me look up just in time to see a great wave leer up in front of us. I tried to call for her to come in but she just smiled calmly and beckoned to me. Instead I jumped back as the water crashed on top of us and when I shook the salt from eyes, she was gone.