I can think of nothing more relaxing than floating down a man-made river, under clear blue skies. The weather is beautiful and the kids are bustling with excitement. The small village and its buildings, that almost form a guard of honour on either side of the meandering body of water, are strangely quiet. But I too am distracted by the children’s excitement to take any real notice.
It has been a long taxing year, and all I want to do right now is to enjoy the innocence of the children’s laughter and soak up the silence that seems to envelope us.
Suddenly there’s a big splash. Before I can figure out what’s happened, the rubber dinghy has capsized and everything from the picnic basket to the children are floating in the water.
Thank goodness their mother insisted that the boys keep their lifejackets on at all times. After managing to calm the children down, I decide to get them to safety. The only way out of the river is to swim upstream towards the perimeter wall of the small town where the bank slopes down enough for us to climb out.
I manage to get the children to grab onto me and start swimming. After what feels like a good twenty minutes or so, I’m able to hoist the children onto the river’s bank, over the wall, and back into the safety of their mother’s arms. They shriek with laughter as they tell their mother what happened, without really registering the concern on her face.
“They’re fine,” I assure her almost pre-emptively.
I decide to head back to the river to see if there’s anything worth salvaging. With a bit of luck the boat and its contents haven’t floated too far off. As I’m scaling the wall, it dawns on me that these two neighbouring towns, separated by little more than a road, are in sharp contrast to one another.
The one, where I imagine the children are now being vigorously towelled off while the waitress is preparing them hot chocolate to warm their little shivering bodies, is vibrant and colourful; full of life. But the other is eerie and dull in its nature. Crossing the road is like stepping out of life into something that died a long time ago.
I manage to find a safe place to jump down and start running towards the river bank. From the entry point you can see how the dark water gradually flows for some distance, then suddenly drops slightly as it moves further and further into town. The buildings that cast long shadows across the water stand abandoned and derelict, with dark watermarks that run down from rusty old window frames.
“Thank goodness,” I whisper under my breath.
The dinghy is still more or less where we left it. I grab those items that can still be salvaged –the children’s backpacks, my windbreaker jacket and a Ben 10 figurine – and turn to head back. Just then I’m distracted by a sudden unsettling silence… it’s as if I’m being watched. I wonder if this is how a gazelle would feel just before a lioness pounces out of the long grass and give chase.
“Stop being silly” I mutter to myself, “you are imagining things.” The sky suddenly seems considerably more grey, and foreboding.
When I return to the coffee shop with the backpacks and Ben 10 in tow, I find the children running up and down the aisle that leads from the front door to the little garden at the back. Drama forgotten. You’ve got to love how quickly children can move on.
Tell us: Do you ever get the sense that you’re being watched when you’re alone?