The sand was soothingly warm. A gentle breeze kissed her face. With a sleepy yawn, Faith watched seabirds glide silently over a distant wave. A solitary, early morning board rider, paddled out across the sandbar in search of the best. Sunbeams danced on the surface around him. A shipping tanker seemed to glide across the smooth far-away horizon while the sound of waves crashing ashore filled the air.
It was Faith’s first day on the job as a lifeguard. Ken, the head lifeguard, slouched high on the lookout tower, binoculars swinging from the arm of his deck chair. Faith was happy to stretch her long legs on the beach below. She watched a young mother dressed in red, chasing her small child around a sandcastle they had sculpted in the wet sand. The little one was wearing a bright yellow shirt and bathers. Faith blinked drowsily, shifting her slender body into the shade of the tower.
‘Help, someone, please help!’
The scream jerked Faith to attention. Ken almost fell off the tower as he took the steps two at a time. Faith’s gaze fell on the young woman in the red bathing suit screaming hysterically at a small yellow object bobbing in the waves. A quick assessment alerted Faith to a crosscurrent. Seizing a short-coiled rope, she raced down the beach and plunged into the breakers.
‘Wait for me!’ Ken yelled.
She turned her head momentarily and saw Ken dragging the life raft behind him. Her strong legs kicked through the waves. Tolerating her aching limbs, Faith’s eyes remained focused on the tiny head that kept disappearing below the surface. It felt like an eternity of great effort. Her eyes and throat stung from the salt.
Training had not prepared her for the fear she saw in that little pair of eyes of such a small child. Closing the distance, Faith could see the little boy’s eyes wide with fright and gasping for breath. His lips were tinged with a thin blue band. Just a few more yards. Hang on, little one.
She held one end of the rope tightly between her teeth, causing the rope to trail behind, but as she advanced forward it gave her full use of her tiring limbs. Short wheezing sounds escaped her lungs as she convinced herself to breathe.
‘That’s it, Faith. Let him take the rope,’ she heard Ken calling as he approached from behind her.
The small child gripped the rope briefly then lunged forward, wrapping his little arms around Faith’s neck. Gasping from the pressure, Faith twisted awkwardly with every rise and fall that attempted to consume them. She swam with determination to the nearby raft.
Ken reached over the side and picked the boy up by his shirt sleeve.
Faith began to tread water for a few minutes while Ken rubbed and patted the little one’s back. He gave a choking cough and vomited seawater all over Ken.
Faith turned and swam back to the beach.
By the time Faith reached the dry sand she was exhausted but relieved the child was safe. Faith gave a few hoarse coughs before returning to meet Ken and help pull the raft ashore. The boy’s mother raced to retrieve her toddler from Ken’s arms.
‘Thank you! He was so quick. I only turned my back for a moment to get the towels.’
‘Don’t thank me, thank Faith, our newest lifeguard. It’s a trial program and I think she passed with flying colours.’ Ken grinned.
Faith barked at hearing her name and shook violently, spraying salty water over everyone. Ken and the woman laughed. The child struggled from his mother’s embrace and wrapped his little arms once more around his rescuer’s neck.
‘Say thank you to Faith, Ethan.’
Faith barked with excitement and licked the little boy’s face until he giggled with delight.
© Chrissy Siggee – 2016