Like most days, this one began with a routine. Every Wednesday, after breakfast and his mom and dad left for work, a little boy races out of the house and into the rocky beach to play.
Camet’s family had lived here for as far back as he can remember. He loves living near the sea where the crashing waves come out to play with him. He relishes the feel of sand and pebbles on his feet and the peculiar and curious creatures that live in tiny holes. He has the beach to himself. A 7-year-old boy with a playground as infinite as the sky and the ocean combined.
This particular day, however, is different. It could be that the clouds seem a little fluffier than usual. It could be that the waves grew a little taller than the previous days. But then, it might be the rhythm of the sea which seems oddly different. The beating of the ocean’s heart seems to pound faster.
Camet finds a stick and pokes a large hole in the sand between a gray pebble and a handful of shiny, black ones. At the corner of his eye, he sees something move. About two meters from him, it appears that a pile of seaweed is wriggling, shifting. Startled, he hides behind a giant pile of rocks.
Is it a sea lion trapped under the seaweed? He hasn’t seen one alive and is afraid that it would bite him. Before he can draw a conclusion, a tiny hand reaches out from the tangled mess.
A mermaid? He had read about them from books his father gave him.
Curious, Camet walks slowly, carefully, not wanting to scare the creature (whatever it is) away. About a meter closer, he realizes that he forgot to bring his wooden stick.
Behind the tangled seaweed, a little girl lay on the rocks naked and exhausted. She seems to be breathing long, heavy breaths in uneven patterns as if she only learned to breathe air.
Camet hesitates at first, but then carefully walks closer. Where her tail is supposed to be, instead, were two little feet. Camet decides that the creature is a little girl and not a mermaid. He is disappointed. He always wanted to see those creatures in his books.
He observes the little girl, imagining his next move. He doesn’t want to scare her away, but he also doesn’t know what to do. He sits next to her and pokes her shoulder. Two blue-green, ocean eyes open and startles Camet who almost falls on his back.
She sits up staring at the ocean not noticing the little boy who had woken her up.
“What’s your name?” Camet asks nervously. He has never seen a little girl nor other children living in the area. He always thought his family owned the entire beach. “D-do you live around here?”
She continues to look at the horizon and seems to be in deep thought.
“Who are you? What’s your name?” this time Camet says the words louder.
She turns her head towards him and Camet sees two round eyes that don’t seem to understand his words.
“My name’s Camet. What’s yours?”
“I–I don’t have a name. Or I can’t remember. Or I must’ve lost it.”
“Didn’t your mom and dad give you a name? All parents give their kids names. Everybody has one.”
“Mom? Dad? What is a mom? a dad?” she tests the words in her mouth. They feel short and tasty.
“Well,” Camet is struggling to describe what they are. “They’re big kids. They look like you and me, but bigger and they live with small kids like us at home, and make you eat your vegetables even if you don’t want to eat them.”
The little girl looks at Camet, trying to make sense of his words. She then looks back into the ocean.
Camet thought about it for a second before he said “Ocean. That will be your name. I think that sounds about right. Everybody should have a name.”
“Ocean.” repeats the little girl. She likes that word. She likes it very much. It tastes sweet and slightly salty but in a good way.
“Do you want to play with me?”
Ocean smiles at Camet then shivers a little bit when a cold wind blows between them.
“Oh. You must be cold. Wait here, I’ll get you a shirt.” he runs as fast as he can towards the back door of his house.
When he returns, Ocean is still staring at the horizon, deep in thought.
“Here. Wear this. It’s my favorite shirt. Mom gave it to me on my birthday last month. She said it’s from another land across that ocean over there.” He points to one side of the horizon where there are faint triangular shapes. “My mom and dad aren’t always at home. They said they had to work so we can keep our home. I’m not sure what they mean by that.”
The little girl runs her fingers on the shirt. It feels smooth and rough at the same time, like the sand on her feet. She feels her body grow warmer and this makes her smile.
“I’m glad you like them.” Camet feels good about his actions. “I know a secret place where no one else has seen. Not even mom and dad. Do you want to know where it is?”
He grabs her hand and they race across the beach. They pass pools of water big and small, climb up a big rock, and eventually reach a mountain of boulders that points upward.
“This is my hideout. Like batman’s cave, except it’s not really a cave.”
Ocean follows Camet as he crawls towards a tiny opening. Inside, it is bigger than she imagined. It looks like a cave, except instead of a roof, this opens towards the sky.
“You can’t tell anybody about this, ok? Not even my mom and dad. They wouldn’t let me come here if they knew.”
Ocean nods and smiles at Camet.
“Look,” Camet points towards the sky above them. “Right now, all you can see are clouds and the blue sky. But I sometimes come here at night and look at the stars when my parents are asleep. My mom says I was born one evening when the stars shone their brightest in the sky. And when she held me, the stars fell one by one towards the ocean.”
“What’s a mom like?” Ocean asks staring at the rabbit-shaped cloud moving lazily above them. This one has very pointy, long ears sticking out of its head.
Camet thinks about it for a second. “A mom is like the sea in the morning, warm and gentle on your toes. She tells you stories in bed and makes you hot chocolate when it’s raining. She buys you shirts so you don’t get cold and wipes your feet when they get dirty from mud. My mom used to do all those things for me, but she doesn’t anymore. My mom and dad are always busy working now.”
“What’s a dad like? Is he like a mom too?”
“No, a dad is more like the waves in the sea. Sometimes he plays with you, other times he’s scary. Especially when he’s angry. He doesn’t like it when I don’t sit still or eat my food.”
Ocean tries to imagine Camet’s words as accurately as she can. She forms pictures in her head, but she wants to see them with her own eyes.
“Lately, my mom and dad have been fighting a lot. They put me in my room and close the door while they shout at each other. They think I’m not listening, but I hear everything.”
“What do they fight about?”
“Money?” Ocean looks confused. So many words she can’t make sense of.
“It’s a piece of paper with drawings in it.”
“Why do they fight about it?”
“I don’t know.” Camet shifts his view towards the rock formation on his left. “Mom says it’s for my future, but I don’t want it. It’s just paper. I’d rather have crabs and sand castles and rocks and shells.”
Ocean doesn’t really understand what money is, but she agrees that crabs and sand castles and rocks and shells are better than anything in this world.
They are both silent for a while watching the clouds above them. A bird-shaped cloud floats in the sky. Ocean closes her eyes and drifts into sleep. When she wakes up, the sky has transformed from blue to orange.
“Mom and dad will be here any minute. I need to go back home. I’ll bring you some food later. You can stay here for now.”
When Camet left, Ocean decides to follow him secretly. She’s curious about what a mom and dad look like. She imagines two giants with big hands and large feet. She wants to know what money is and why they are fighting about it.
Ocean rubs her hands to remove the sand on her hands and legs and shakes the ones on her hair. Then, she crawls out of the opening where they had entered. Camet is now a few meters away and he does not notice her follow him at all.
The house looks big in Ocean’s eyes. They are nothing like the secret place that Camet had shown her. It has a roof and thick walls. The windows have warm light coming out from it. She looks inside one of them. It looks very nice inside.
“Camet, we’re home. Come and have dinner with me and dad.” A voice startles Ocean, and she quickly ducks from the window.
“Ok mom, I’m coming.”
Mom. So this is what a mom sounds like? Warm and gentle like the sea in the morning. Ocean peeks at the window one more time. She sees two figures sitting in the dining room. One has a gentle face and long legs that reminds her of jellyfish. The other looks stern and rigid like a rock. He says nothing when Camet enters the room.
He changed into a cleaner shirt and washed his face with soap and water. Mom smiled at him.
“Camet, what happened to your hand?” the mother rushes to his side and inspects his palm. There are bruises and cuts.
“I fell outside.” Camet looks at his father nervously who now looks at him with intimidating eyes.
“Oh dear, we better clean those wounds before you get infected.” Ocean looks at her face who now seems anxious and worried. She tilts her head sideways wondering what she’s going to do next.
She grabs a bottle and tissue on one side of the room then rubs something in his hand. Afterward, she kisses them and hugs Camet.
“Mom,” Ocean repeats the word. She feels warm inside.
Camet never takes his gaze off of his father, but he quickly becomes relieved when there was no shouting.
“Let’s eat.” is all he says gesturing towards the hot meal on the table. Camet and mom went to their seats and started eating.
“Camet, be careful next time,” Dad says in a stern but caring voice. Camet looks at his plate and gobbles the food whole. He even eats his beans and carrots.
When it is time to sleep, Camet’s mom reads him a story about children from the moon. Ocean moves to the next window and listens to the whole story. It makes her happy to hear a story for the first time even though she doesn’t understand most of the words. When Camet looks asleep, his dad goes into the room and stroked his head. Then he kisses him and whispers “Goodnight”.
Ocean closes her eyes and imagines a mom and dad of her own.
When she opens her eyes, she sees the ocean glimmer. The sky turns from orange to dark blue. She looks at the stars that seem to be falling towards the ocean.
She stands up and walks towards the shore. “Mom, Dad.” She dips her feet on the water, and it feels warm and gentle and sweet. The waves greet her, hugging her knees. She slowly inches forward step by step, until eventually, she disappears into the ocean.