Copyright is held by the author.
HOLDING THE sleeping baby on her shoulder, she breathed in slowly and gazed anxiously at her surroundings. People, likely tourists, wandered in and out of the shops that peddled hats, postcards, and chocolate. An old man was setting up his easel close to the water, jars of paint scattered at his feet. A pastel-blue balloon that floated past her, dancing on the light sea breeze, was tailed closely by a crying boy of about three, and then a man in the tiniest of swimsuits, shaking his head while smiling, enjoying the hunt. Nearby, a family shared a shady patch of grass, along with chunks of cheese and long loaves of French bread. French bread, she giggled at the thought, knowing that here, it would be just bread. She was starting to relax a bit.
Seeing that the afternoon sunlight had shifted directly onto their end of the ornate iron bench, she gently tugged the pink baby blanket over and up, bridging the gap between it and the darker pink floppy hat, protecting the young skin, hoping to protect much more. The baby didn’t stir. She fingered the rosy blend of fabrics and promised herself no more pink, soon. She smiled at the thought. Breathing more easily, she freed her right arm and rummaged through the diaper bag in the stroller. As she leaned over to finally reach her bottle of Evian, her eye’s corner caught her warped reflection in the shiny bits of the stroller. The black hair, waving with the bends of the metal frame, stunned her briefly. She was not at all used to the darkness, only days old, applied hastily at the airport hotel back in Toronto. It will be gone soon too. She will bring back her familiar sun-kissed hair. She’ll bring it back at the same time that she throws out everything pink. Soon. A couple more days should do.
A moment later, she looked up as a few shouts, words she didn’t know, startled her and the baby. Some people were running in her direction. On the beach, topless women stood from the towels and pointed. Kids dropped their balls and looked. The men gathered on the promenade and discussed. She panicked. How did they know? How could they know? The baby quickly settled back to sleep but the woman’s heart continued to pound beneath the bundle. She fumbled with the bag and the stroller and the baby, readying them all for a quick escape. Some of the people around her had pulled out their cameras now. Why? What were they going to do with the pictures? Had news reached here? Was there a reward?
One man with an oversized camera, a professional-looking one, ran right up to her on the bench. He primed his camera and aimed. Tears threatened as the colour drained from her cheeks. She squeezed her baby tightly.
Click. Over her head. Not at her. The photographer was interested in something behind her. Not her. The people, she realized, were looking behind her, not at her. Urgently, she stood and turned to face what they were facing. It was a woman in a long emerald green dress and matching sun hat. People were snapping shots on their phones and a couple of girls giggled shyly as they ran up to lady, pens in hand. The lady smiled, a big, wide smile, and obliged, scribbling her name, maybe a friendly message, on scraps of paper.
Célèbre, a word she recognized from the crowd, and chanteuse. Maybe a local star, or even a national star? Could it be that the pretty famous singer was an international star that she just didn’t recognize? It didn’t matter. When she realized that the people were not running and pointing towards her and her baby, she breathed in and exhaled, cautiously easing her hold around her child and resuming her position on the bench, in the warm sun, amongst the tourists and festive locals. The pretty woman in green slowly made her way along the beach, graciously greeting fans old and young. The crowd near the bench dispersed, returning to picnics, novels, sandcastles. Silly, she chastised herself. Nobody noticed her at all. She was here. Her baby was here. They had made it. Together they were here, by the sea. With dark hair and pink blankets, they had made it and they were here.
Breathing more freely and lightly now, she gently placed the baby in the stroller, stood up, and took off her own sundress, revealing the new orange and yellow bikini, purchased yesterday from a shop up the beach. Her damp skin lapped up the warm breeze as she bent over to spread out a blanket on the sand. When in Rome, she thought, or when by the sea in France, as she reached back and untied her bikini halter.
Having dropped her guard along with her swim top, she at first did not notice the man standing beside the stroller. When she turned back to grab her bottle of water, she saw him there, his dark suit and tie starkly out of place in the midst of the immodesty of the seaside. A security guard for la célèbre femme, she thought as she eyed him calmly and turned back to face the ocean.
“Madame,” he said. “Madame.” He was talking to her. She was the madame to the French man in the suit. Barely breathing now, she slowly turned towards him, her pale breasts, and her identity, painfully exposed.
“Madame, s’il vous plaît venez avec moi. Come, come with me, s’il vous plaît. Nous devons parler d’un enfant. Un jeune Canadien. Un garçon. Le bébé. We must talk about the baby, from Canada, the boy who is missing.”