The Antigua sun had already burnt me to a crisp, so I settled beneath the shade of a palm tree. An elderly woman, with a big floppy hat, sat two lounge chairs over, an island drink in her hand and a scowl on her face. Her dismay was clearly directed at a group of teenagers playing volley ball.
“Sounds like they’re having a great time,” I commented, as their shouts and laughter filled the air.
“Hmph,” she grumbled, “Can’t even get peace and quiet on vacation.”
Okay, I thought, so much for conversing with her. I sat back and opened my book. About four pages in, I could feel her eyes on me. I looked up and smiled. “Susan Wiggs’ latest,” I said, flashing the cover.
“Hmph,” she muttered, “Never thought much of mindless reading.”
Ouch, that hurt. I took a sip of my pina colada, thinking that I didn’t care for the old biddy’s attitude. “Well, I like a light read sometimes and I guess I like losing myself in someone else’s life for a while.” I cleared my throat, forced a grin and eyeballed another shady spot.
Suddenly out of nowhere a little girl tumbled across the sand and plunked herself at the foot of the cantankerous old lady’s chair. Oblivious to her disapproving glare, the child smiled brightly. “Hey! Guess what I found today . . . a sea shell!”
“Hmph. Imagine that.”
Undaunted, the child continued, “It’s a beee-uuutiful sea shell!” Jumping to her feet, she exclaimed, “I’ll show it to you . . . be right back!” And off she flew, her flip-flops spewing sand in her wake – right into the startled woman’s lap. I half expected her gnarled hand to snatch the child back for a verbal lashing.
“Hmph. Kids,” she snorted, brushing the sand from her spider-veined legs.
I watched the little girl scamper across the beachfront to a cottage at the far end. As quickly as she dashed in, she dashed out again – running back full-speed, waving her treasure in the air. The closer she got to us, the brighter her eyes and bigger her smile. With innocent exuberance, she plopped down in front of the prickly woman’s chair, breathing heavily with excitement and holding the shell out for admiration. “See . . . ain’t it just beee-uuutiful?”
“Hmph. If you say so.”
As the child’s face fell with disappointment, I interjected. “Wow! That shell is absolutely beautiful!”
Smiling anew, she shuffled across the sand on her knees and settled before me. “Thanks! I knew it! Here, you can hold it.” She placed it gently in my outstretched hand and rambled on. “I’m gonna take it home. Mimi said you ain’t sposed to, but I asked the manger and he said I could cause it’s so beee-uuutiful. It’s my suvneer. Ain’t I lucky?”
I glimpsed the old woman, who was giving us both the evil eye. “Oh my, you sure are!” I said with extra enthusiasm. The child was just adorable. “So, what’s your name?” I asked.
“Lexie,” she replied. “And I’m six. Hey! I found this shell just digging in the sand . . . I’ll try to find you one, too. K?” Her little fingers began scooping sand.
“Hmph,” came a now familiar mumble from two chairs over. I ignored it.
“So, are you on vacation, Miss Lexie?” I asked.
“Well, kinda,” she said, using both hands now to shovel the sand away. She stopped to examine a tiny shell, deemed it unworthy and tossed it aside. “Me and Mama and Mimi are on holiday.”
“Oh,” I said, “that’s nice.”
“But not my daddy,” she explained. “He died.”
“Oh, I-I’m sorry,” I said, startled by her revelation.
Pushing her hair back with a sandy hand, she looked up, her little eyebrows knit with confusion. “Don’t be sorry . . . it’s not your fault.”
I felt a catch in my heart as she tilted her little head, shrugged her shoulders and pursed her lips together bravely. “Daddy lives in heaven now with my brother. Mimi brung us to the ocean so Mama won't cry any more.”
Suddenly there was a shout from her cottage. “Lexie! Lunch time!”
Lexie scrambled to her feet. “Gotta go!” She grabbed her precious sea shell, and took off like a streak.
I whispered a prayer for her family. Glancing over at the old woman, I saw tears trickling down her wrinkled cheek.
Hmph. She has a heart after all.
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