Through the countless dizzyingly tall buildings of the gray city, Anja walked with her mother, her hair swept up by the wind which also gusted beneath her yellow cotton dress, her favourite one, the one with the pocket closed by a press-stud on the front.
She entered the enclosed square by a gate, which shut behind her. With a bucket and spade in her hand, she proudly ignored the slide and swings with all the disdain her four years could muster and went to sit in the modest sand pit, where mothers came in the summer if they had no balcony, no money for the swimming pool or outings and no car to take their children to the seaside. Anja had been to the beach once with her school, and it had been so beautiful that she still dreamed about it at night.
The sky was dark, but Anja and her mother had needed to get out of that tiny, clammy apartment, stuck on the tenth floor of a high-rise. They needed to breathe, to “get some good fresh air”, as her Mom said.
Anja had taken her shoes off; she liked to feel the sand tickling her feet. The green plastic bucket filled up quickly. Then she poured its contents into the sand pit, watching the pyramid it made. The little girl took up her little spade and dug in the sand, gently at first, then with an increasingly fierce determination.
Suddenly, she felt the cool water under her feet. The water came up to her ankles, then slowly to her knees. She felt the powerful eddies of the sea wash against her bare thighs as she picked up the hem of her dress and held it tightly gripped in her fists. She breathed with all her might in the vast blueness. Her round cheeks were caressed by the spray; she closed her eyes, her nostrils dilated, letting in the scents of the sea which she savoured.
The regular breaking of the surf was her favourite melody. Each movement of the water, each crystal note it produced made her feel she was plunging her whole body into the emerald ocean. Her feet sank into the wet sand. She felt cold drops run down her face, her closed eyes, and her plump arms.
She could hear her mother’s voice from far away, “Anja…”
“Anja, it’s raining, we’ll have to go home now. We’ll come back tomorrow.”
Anja opened her eyes to see the gray high-rises once more and looked at her mother.
“We’re coming back tomorrow? You promise?”
Translated by Wendy Cross