“I have something very important to tell you,” she started.
I turned around because turning around was all I knew.
“I’m quite sure there aren’t anymore crabs on this beach,” she said.
All around the waves tumbled, one on top of the next, spitting out shiny foam and lacklustre sprinkles. I was curious as to how this related to our walk.
“Tell me more about these crabs.”
“Well,” she started, “when I was younger mother and I would come down here. We would squat by the rocky pools and look for crabs. Sometimes I would get tired and just sit down. I didn’t mind the wet sand. Mother would always scream.”
“Scream at you to stand up?”
“Yes, of course. What else would she scream for?”
The sun hid behind white, innocuous clouds.
I was deep in thought as the waves continued to shuffle. What was it about crabs that bothered her? Was it to do with the way they moved about as her little hands tried to grab for them? Was it, perhaps, an instinctive reaction to all that had changed in her life? That even the simplest of things; crabs, for goodness sake. Even the crabs had ran somewhere, further away.
Later as we were having lunch I watched her pick apart a mussel. They were the freshest in town. The beach flowed endlessly along the solid shoreline. Part of her face was in the sun but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Have I ever told you that I really enjoy these walks?”
I looked up from my platter and smiled in acknowledgement.
“Too bad there aren’t any crabs,” I mentioned.
“No, too bad there aren’t. I think they’ve all moved somewhere else.”
I stared hard at the beach. The breeze played with the trees.
“Something bad must have happened. And they had to leave.”
“Maybe a disease or something,” she added.
We finished our meal in silence.
Later we were walking again, her in front of me. The sun was lower in the horizon this time. The breeze still played with the trees. She turned back at me, then looked forward again. She was trying to balance on the ever moving shoreline as the waves came and went. I watched her stumble over this impossible tightrope.
I stepped on something hard, depressing it into the sand.
It was a shell. But no. It was moving.
A tiny one too. It looked up at me with eyes that spoke of countless miseries. They were glossy and black, and incredibly small. In its entirety it was no larger than a packet of chilli sauce.
I bent over to pick it up. It looked at me with a mixture of fear and gratefulness. Its eyes went in and out of their sockets. Maybe that’s how they blink. I looked up and saw that she was further ahead now.
The shell was grey, both claws evenly sized. It hardly struggled as I held it between forefinger and thumb. That in the years she spent walking the beach and finding none I should step on a crab on my first visit.
I walked to her, slow steps traipsing between waves. The sun slapped the side of my face as she urged me to hurry up.
I waved at her and her silhouette waved back. In my hand was her childhood. It was struggling now, and started clawing at my palm.
“I found it!” I shouted.
She turned to look, the waves shimmered.
The crab adjusted its pincer and at the precise angle clamped down on my little finger. I let out a sharp cry and released the creature, watching as a precisely timed wave took it away.
Everything happened very quickly. All that was left was the sound of the breeze.
Perhaps I could have jumped, maybe lunged forward to grab the poor thing. But until today I don’t know why I didn’t. I just watched the damn thing fall out of my hands. Disappear into foamy waves that turned water opaque then transparent, opaque then transparent.
Later she would ask me what I found, and I would tell her a well rehearsed line.
“It was nothing.”
She laughed and continued walking.
And naturally part of me would think that something did happen, something very special, something potentially groundbreaking. It was so close, so close to being a moment we could share and relish and ruminate about in wonder.
And then part of me would think that perhaps what I told her was true. Between salted mussels and the bothered palms, nothing special happened on the beach that day.