Beads of sweat rolled down the sides of my face and raced down my back where they pooled, forming stains on my long sleeved shirt. Their failed attempts to cool down my boiling skin annoyed me to no end, forcing me to lift an arm to wipe away the useless and clingy things that they were off my forehead.
Even after almost a year of living on a tropical island, it still felt weird to me, this perspiration thing that was so normal to human beings but which I only found bothersome.
There was no helping it though, seeing as the sun hadn't relented all day and, judging by the clear smirking sky, it would stay like that for a while longer. There was hope, though, in the blue horizon where, straight ahead of me, lay the beach and, inevitably, the ocean.
Following that tantalizing sight of cool water and calling whispers, I had set about crossing the town's plaza, where other inhabitants, great and small, roamed about, when a shadow grazed me. Hoping for a passing cloud, I looked up, only to catch a glimpse of a big red balloon before it disappeared over my head.
The shout brought my attention back to the path ahead. A small girl stopped, breathless, beside me, her big wavering eyes set on the fast moving red spot that had escaped her, leaving her all alone.
I pulled my eyes away from the heart-wrenching scene and walked away from it, focusing my eyes on the previously chosen destination while repeating the same well practiced mantra over and over inside my head.
Just walk away, walk away like you didn't see anything. It's none of your business. Think of the sea and just walk-
A lone sniff reached my ears, interrupting my mantra, just as a foreign, tear-bringing sadness seized my heart.
Oh, for the love of...!
Turning around on my heels, I sprinted off and, like a cheetah after its prey, I chased down the beloved red balloon, jumping, diving and doing things I never though my scrawny body was capable of (or should do for that matter). After what felt like hours of grueling exercise, I dragged myself up to the small girl.
"Give me your arm."
The girl's smile flattened and she blinked her enormous eyes at me, the hold she had on the hem of her yellow sundress tightening. But she obeyed, quickly giving into curiosity, as was common for any child, human or not.
Ignoring my pounding heart and drenched skin, I tied the balloon's string to her wrist, making sure it wasn't too tight or too loose.
"There we go, this way you won't lose it again," I breathed out, getting up with a stretch of my aching back. This was going to hurt in the morning, no doubt about it.
When I opened my eyes though, I was greeted by the sight of the little girl reaching her arms out to me.
My mind panicked.
"Look here, little girl, do I look like someone who goes around carrying people around? Besides, I don't think you should be asking strangers for piggy-back rides." At the insistent pout on her lips, I decided to change tactics. "Where are your parents?"
The moment those eyes lightened up, I knew I was going to regret that question.
"My mom went to the hairdresser. She told me to stay with my aunt at the beach and play with my cousins, but they're mean and wanted to take my balloon so I ran away, but then tripped and fell, and lost my-"
"I get it, I get it!"
Wow... what was that human expression again, the one Kai often repeated to me? Oh, yes: "She was talking nineteen to the dozen, Fern!"
Rubbing the bridge of my nose, I gave a long tired sight, taking a deep breath afterwards before squatting down to pick her up, holding her close and safely to my side so she would be able to gaze at the sea. She brightened up at this, the balloon bumping harmlessly against the back of my head when she immediately latched on to my neck, burying her nose in my hair while her fingers shot up to play with the braid over my ear.
"Your hair's pretty."
I looked at her like she had just grown an octopus head and tentacles and said that she wanted to eat the moon on a plate full of seaweed.
"Okay..." was my awkward reply, not really knowing how to respond to something like that. "So, how about we go to the beach?" The fingers that had been twisting my braid stopped. "Don't worry, you don't have to play with your cousins if you don't wish to. You can just play by yourself."
"Or with you," she offered with a straight face.
"Or with- ... Wait, what? No!"
Unrestrained laughter flowed through my ears, pure and innocent as the sky above. It filled me with joy not my own but, soon, silly and deep laughs also escaped me, joining hers. I laughed until tears of happiness leaked from the corners of my eyes.
A squeal breaking through the air like an arrow, followed by warm arms that latched onto my neck, snapped me out of it. I turned to gaze upon the closed eyes and brilliant smile sketched on the round rosy face resting on my shoulder.
"You have a pretty laugh!"
At that compliment, all the blood rushed to my face and I averted my eyes, mumbling something about 'aunt' and 'beach' before finally pulling my legs into a fast gait, towards our destination.