I knew there was a small duck pond just over the rise, so I put my labrador on the lead. I didn’t want a wet dog in the car going home.
What I didn’t know was that soon after we arrived there we would be joined by a young boy, aged maybe six or seven. Wobbly training wheels were attached to his two-wheeler bike. An impossibly large safety helmet was strapped onto his small head.
He dismounted carefully on arrival. Now he was holding the bike upright, standing beside us, staring at the pond.
My dog leaned towards the water. Insects scatter bombed the surface. We were alone. Just the three of us.
I looked around for the parent. The adult. But I could see no one. I imagined a young mum or dad still in the car park. Maybe struggling with a pram and another offspring.
I imagined that he or she had issued firm instructions about how far the boy could ride along the path and before he had to stop.
The child spoke, taking me by surprise.
“Do ducks hurt you?”
I looked around again. I stepped slightly further away.
“No,” I said. Where was the parent? “Well, I guess not. Not unless they are hurt and really frightened. Then they might nip you. But, no. Not usually.”
My labrador made a curious sniff in the boy’s direction, but received no attention. The boy kept his eyes on the ducks.
“Can you pick ‘em up?”
I felt a flutter of pride and anxiety at being given this, my second moment. Clearly, someone remarkable had raised this child to consider fundamental matters during new encounters.
Never having had children myself, I’d never had to navigate the Big Questions. I’d never had to present the logic of a world where something strange and different should be approached with an open heart. But nonetheless perhaps always with some caution.
“No, well, yes, actually. We used to have ducks on our farm. If they know you and feel they can trust you, you can pick them up. Especially the baby ducks. The ducklings. We used to pick those up.”
I stopped. Had I been babbling? The boy’s fixed gaze on the pond suspended my words in mid-air.
A long minute passed. Then I think I saw a blink. Or maybe it was just the briefest of nods, before he turned the bike around. Head down, he was just starting to push off when I heard a loud sigh of frustration.
He looked at me directly for the first time.
“Do you know how to do shoelaces?”
“Yes,” I said. “I do. I DO know how to do shoelaces.”
I knelt and tied them, much relieved. My last chance at being a Good Spirit Guide.
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