The young architect was building a castle in the sand. It was unusually well designed.
Girl or boy? wondered the youth, who was sitting on the sea-wall. He was ofCaribbean descent, a poet, and a student of English literature. As if the child had read his thoughts, she looked up and smiled. It was this that made him certain she was a girl. There may have been a soft curving of the slim figure, but it was barely perceptible as yet. The fair hair was bobbed, and the face would have been androgynous if it had not been for something in the smile. It was not a sexual smile, deliberately enticing the young man, or anything like that. No, it was just that it was one which revealed her essential femininity.
She had built the castle like a fortress, and now turned out castles from her pail – towers to stand along the battlements. Decorated them with seagulls’ feathers for flags. The young man handed her a feather. He was handsome with large eyes, dark and luminous, and black hair, thick and curly, but with otherwise European features. His skin looked as if it had no more than a summer tan.
The child smiled again, and thanked him in a soft voice. Another girl, of sturdier build, plainer, good-natured. an acquaintance made on the beach, helped the young architect to fetch water for the moat. The water would not stay, but sank into the sand.
A small boy was scaring sea gulls, running up to them, shouting and making them fly away. The poet had often noticed this with young boys. They thought it funny to chase gulls, pigeons, sparrows, any bird that will hop or strut around near you. The youth supposed it must give the pursuer a sense of power, but he had never felt the urge to do this himself, finding it cleverer to get a bird to come to him – either for food, or because of his stillness, or both.
His eye was now caught by what looked like an attractive pebble with orange and white stripes. He jumped off the wall to get it, but it turned out to be a toffee paper. The mind turned to pebbles he had collected in the past. One was a complete sphere, faultless. Grey all over, and he’d kept it like that for a long time before painting it in a variety of colours. In the end he lent it to his father, an aunt teacher, to take to school for a project – and he never saw it again. Another was a flat, round, beautifully marked stone. He’d decided not to paint it this time, but just to varnish it to make it shine as if always in the water, and let it keep its natural spiralling colours.
Children were running and jumping at the wall, trying to scramble up it. Mostly a dark family. Not unlike himself, but darker. Their parents, on the promenade, helped them, taking their hands and pulling them up. The father was black, but the mother was Caucasian and quite blonde. Again, not unlike his own parents.
The architect looked at her castle. If it lasted long enough, the water would come up and fill the moat before submerging it.
It would not last long enough. The small boy, her younger brother (who was not so small, being old enough to know better), had got hold of a toy umbrella and was waving it about, threatening to knock down her creation. The watcher, not wishing to interfere, hoped and believed that the girl would prevent the destruction. Instead she moved behind her brother and playfully pushed him over, onto the castle, smashing it.
It did not matter. She would build many castles.