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12 Year Old Love
I have always been a cynic when it came to dreams of true love on sight, especially when it came to teenagers. My boundaries ranged from “crushing from a distance”; however, a single encounter proved these ideas to be slightly hypocritical.
It had been a hot day on the beach at Croatia. We sat in the brilliant angry sun while we quietly chewed our ?evape (meat sausages). Our day was a slow one, ranging from swimming, sunbathing, and frolicking about on the streets behind us. At the time, there was only my brother and I, and we had been rather disagreeable that day.
My brother and I challenged each other to a quick swim to an adjacent shore nearby. The way there was easy, but along the way back, I noticed a sharp pain in my foot. Seeing that my brother was in the lead, I ignored it and thrashed my feet harder. We reached the shore promptly and walked back to the squished area where our parents sat in the sea of half-naked Europeans.
“Uh… Merima…” my brother started.
He was looking down at the warm sand where a bloody footprint laid.
My eyes traveled down to my foot where a large gash was visible. At the same time, a little boy of six years was screaming as his worry-stricken mother gripped on the spikes in his foot and pulled them out.
The Mediterranean Sea was full of ježove, sea urchins, which stuck to the rocks at the shallow ends. If one was to go snorkeling in the deeper end, as I had done years later, one would see the entire floor covered in moving prickly porcupines that ensured terrible pain if stepped on.
I cried there on the spot and pain-stakingly ran to my parents, assured that I had stepped on a jež and would need immediate surgery.
My mother, not surprised, calmly lifted my foot and told me, while laughing with relief after several moments of scrutiny, “You got lucky. You just scraped it on a sharp rock, Let it stop bleeding and go to the sea to allow the salt to clean it”.
I sourly sat and watched my brother with a group of children in the water. It was then I first spied Ahmed: a tall, brunette, skinny boy that, like me, was 12.
Later that evening, I fished with my brother, stupidly using a hook with four spikes that could never fit in the small mouth of the shallow fish we were ravenously hunting. I promptly proceeded to have the hook catch onto the thick wispy rope.
“Merima!” my brother whined. “That cost me two dinara!”
“That’s like a dollar…”
“But still… I don’t have any more dollars!”
The same boy approached us and smiled at me. Taken aback, I broadly smiled and stared at his dark brown eyes.
“I’ll get it out,” he assured us. My eyes could not move off him. But when 20 minutes passed by, we understood even our hero could not get us back the hook, fiercely embedding itself even further on the rope. Nevertheless, our group of 3 walked back on the street to find our parents. My brother and I never thought about why Ahmed, the boy, had remained with us with the day; we found out he was an orphan on a special trip to reward him for maintaining the highest marks in his school.
The streets of Croatia were surprisingly romantic and dreamy. It’s cobble-stoned streets slanted downwards and small flickering lanterns surrounded us. Painters stood on front of shops, painting the illuminated Mostar Bridge that was the emblem of our country. Shops displayed goods made by tinkers and bakers. We stopped to watch one man pound his heavy black hammer onto the dusty anvil, creating in the process a thin metallic bracelet with a purple stone in the middle.
At silent intervals, Ahmed and I stole glances at each other, nervously laughing when we caught each other.
Within a few minutes, our group reached the small dock of parasailing ships where my parents stood, hand-in-hand, laughing. She turned around and giggled, telling my father something in a swift low tone.
My father called Ahmed, gently asking where he was from. Ahmed too was from Sarajevo, and several years later, I was told he lived in a public orphanage. Together, they walked to a dock with no boats and sat down to fish together. My brother shortly joined them while my mother and I walked down the warm streets.
“Cute boy you ‘fished’,” she laughed at her own joke.
I blushed and denied it all.
“He doesn’t have a family”.
“He’s siro?e. An orphan.”
“I know what it means,” I snapped.
“You should be his friends. His father was like your Baba: a soldier. He likes him, you know. They met earlier.”
“Oh…” I said.
We walked back over to the group, watching as my brother and Ahmed slyly threw out their fishing lines and yanked on each other’s poles. My father sat cross-legged, staring at the open waters.
I remember smiling at Ahmed, waiting for him to turn around so I could speak with him.
It was growing dark and cold now. The air was misty and cool to our ruddy red faces, flushed after that long hot day. My mother placed down a towel near the dock and beckoned for the three of us to sit. I sat between Ahmed and Kerim, aware of the awkward feelings between the three of us.
Ahmed shyly turned and murmured some joke I did not understand, but I laughed any way. I leaned towards him, a sudden move that even struck me as odd. He bashfully reached for my hand and placed on my palm a cool rubber ball that sparkled lights. Afraid, I refused the ball and gently pushed it back. He was first disappointed, but then smiled as he threw it into the water.
We intently watched as it gently sank, illuminating the sea with flashing pinks, red, and greens. Admiringly, I laughed and his hand came closer to mine. We both sad comfortably and smiled for the rest of the time we sat.
When I came back the next day, his bus had already left. I never saw him again.