“Hurry up, mommy! We gotta find that beach!”
“Why should we hurry, my dear? We’ve got the whole day!” I hear myself laughing.
"Yeah, but we need to spend the whole day there instead of wasting our time on finding it."
I so truly and deeply admire my daughter for being such an ambitious and unbending young lady. She reminds me of Lila.
We half–walk, half–run, through the maze of trees and rocks in the Big Mountain. The last time I was here, there was no forest at all. A wildfire had destroyed the whole ecosystem. But I remember how Mrs Marcley set up our “superhero club”, as she called it. We met every Sunday at the town’s cafeteria and hiked the four Big Cliffs with tiny little trees on our backs. Those tiny little trees I now see so big and strong and yet somehow… old.
Which of those trees have I planted? Which of them could I consider, childishly, mine? And which were Lila’s? Oh, if only she could see them now! If only I could see her now! Would she still bear such a strong resemblance to me? Or would her life have changed her? She would most definitely leave her hair grow long so that she could braid it in a different way every day. But the long hair could also hinder her surfing. But would she care? A tension in my chest interrupts my daydreaming and I feel a sob tearing from my throat. No. I shouldn’t think of her. Not now. Not before her. Later. Maybe.
We are now completely running. She seems eager to see that beach. To walk on the sand. To feel the ocean – the salty water in her hair, the kiss it leaves on the skin. I totally understand her. Lila felt the same way. So I run with my daughter, leaving her to lead me, but then she suddenly stops and I almost hit her.
“Honey, what’s going on?” I ask gently.
“Oh, nothing really,” she responds quickly. “But look at that tree. It is so rotten!”
“Rotten? No, sweetheart, it’s just ebony. The ebony wood is naturally black.”
That taken–aback look on her face brings me so much joy. I find it extremely impressive how much little children are amazed by something such normal as an ebony tree. But c’mon, was I any different? Probably not. Even though Lila would tell otherwise.
My daughter steps carefully as she approaches the tree and touches its trunk so lightly that she barely feels it. As if she is afraid of its color. Then she screams and runs away. She hides behind my back.
“What’s going on, honey?” I inquire and look over my shoulder to her.
“That tree… it just couldn’t be naturally black,” she clicked with her tongue. “I think it’s cursed by the forest demon.”
“What’s the forest demon?” I wonder, even though I am already suspecting what it might be.
“It sleeps in the Big Mountain and wakes up every time it hears little children maundering about. It hides in the trees and eats them.” Her voice cracked. “Save me, mom! I'm scared!”
I hug her in order to calm her down and try not to think of when and from whom I last heard that story. I was her age back then. But I didn’t believe it.
“Oh, sweetheart, that's just an old town legend! You see, legends are like scarier fairy tales. But neither is absolutely true. ”
“You mean Cinderella and Snow White aren't real, too?!” She seems extremely shocked, but at least she forgets her fear.
“Yes, honey, they aren't. And so is the forest demon.”
“Well...” she shakes her head. “You see, I cannot believe you, for I saw them both on Shaylee's birthday party last week. Cinderella and Snow White I mean.”
I am once more stunned by her way of thinking and as I am about to tell her those princesses were just actors, she smiles at me and I see nothing but Lila. And I remember how Lila would never spoil the fairy tales like I just did. She believed in them, too. Well, she was only ten, but so was I and I've never believed in fairies.
“Let's take a closer look to that tree together. You might find a dryad house in there.” I decide to act like Lila would have if she was me. She would definitely say something like that.
“What's a dryad, mommy?”
The light in her eyes, that curiosity, is something I would die to defend. I must keep her curious and creative. Like Lila. Otherwise she would become like me. Failure.
“A tree fairy, dear.”
“That sounds amazing! I love fairies! Besides, they will use their magic against the forest demons!”
“But forest demons...” I sigh. “Nevermind. Let's find some dryads, shall we?”
Lila used to accuse me of being boring and unimaginative. And she was totally right to do so. I've always been that kind of person who lives only in reality. But I understand my mistake now. With my dearest daughter. Creativity enlightens you, broadens your horizons, and makes you change reality instead of just seeing it. Now that I know that, I try to read more, to think of other worlds and boost my creativity and my curiosity, but it’s just so ridiculous. Isn’t it even ludicrous to think there are fragile fairies hidden in the trees? Of course it is!
As we get closer to the tree we see some strange markings on it. As if a wild beast sharpened its nails on the bark.
“What is that, for ocean’s sake?” I can’t refrain from asking.
A huge smile glows on her face.
“I have good news and good news. Good news is, there is no forest demon here. They have claws and leave three–lined–tracks. Those are only one–lined. Good news, I figured the meaning of those markings. It’s a hidden message.”
“A hidden message? How did you understand that?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Those lines are actually letters spread around the trunk. Look what they say! We have I, then L, then A, then L again.”
She follows the tracks on the tree with her fingers and after a while I finally see the letters, too.
“I only need to figure out what they stand for…” She speaks more to herself than to me.
I suddenly realize what’s written on that ebony tree. The cuts have changed with time, grew bigger as the tree got older, but I knew exactly what they said, now as my smart daughter showed me the letters.
“Mom? Are you alright? You are very pale.”
“Oh, I’m fine, sweetie. I just… cracked that code.” I force a smile.
“Really? And what is it? I think I stands for ‘imagination’, the first L for ‘leads’, A for ‘amazing’ and the second L for ‘lands’. So it says ‘Imagination leads to amazing lands’. Or have you figured something else out?”
Oh, her guess is adorable, but I know what it really means and it breaks my heart, because it says LILA. And I can now see her face, smiling at me, while she writes her name on the sapling of an ebony tree, that very same ebony tree I am looking at right now, telling me I need to relax. I told her she is no superhero, for she destroys the tree by writing on it. She smiled and said she just marked her territory like a hungry tiger.
“Mom? What do you think it is?”
“Have you considered ordering the letters otherwise? I think it says Lila.”
“Like the name? You think someone called Lila wrote their name on a tree? Why? To mark their territory like a hungry tiger?”
All I can do is nod, because I don’t think I am able to talk. My voice would break. I would break. Then I see the little girl next to me smiling and jumping enthusiastically around.
“You know what? We should stop wasting our time here! Now we have another reason to go to the beach, too!”
“Really? And what is it?” I take a deep breath and somehow manage to calm down.
“I gotta find a shell sharp enough to cut tree’s bark, of course! That Lila’s not the only one who can mark their territory! I would like to have my own tree in the forest!”
I turn around and wipe my tears off as fast as I can. I smile again, she grabs my hand and we continue running down the hills.
“Do you know what I think?” she asks me after a while. “That Lila must have been some dryad! Maybe we didn’t see her house, because she hid it with her magic powers.”
How am I supposed to react?! I wish Lila was here…
I open my mouth to reply, but it appears to me that she forgot what we were talking about. She halts still.
We are in front of a giant rock. A big purple flower is drawn on it. Once more, I know exactly where I am. That rock was the door to our hidden base, as Lila used to call it. For me, it was just a cave. But to move that rock… how did we manage to do that?
“Mom, do you know what’s behind that boulder? And why is there a flower on it?”
“I have no clue… There might be a cave behind the rock. And the flower… I’m sure you already know.”
“What do you mean? Sure, I guess it is a big troll, but what’s the meaning of the flower?”
She doesn’t wait for my response, instead she approaches the entrance to that cave I used to spend hours in. We go silent for a minute. A minute I spend observing her every move and remembering my dear Lila.
“Lila means purple.” She breaks the silence.
“And?” I ask a bit confused and try not to think of the name.
“Lila is the dryad of the ebony tree and this troll is obviously in love with her.”
“Yup, I’m sure that’s how it is.”
I feel both relieved and impressed. Relieved, because I don’t have to explain the meaning of the flower – symbol of our eternal friendship and impressed, for I could never devise such a wonderful story just by staring at a tree and a rock.
“I wonder what’s inside that cave you mentioned.”
I feel pain, but I still reply:
“We could go inside, if you want to.”
To my biggest surprise she shakes her head.
“I would rather go to the beach. If we go in that cave now, we will waste our whole day. Besides I don’t want to disrespect Mr. Troll over there.”
A stone falls from my heart when I hear those words. I just couldn’t stay in that cave without thinking of her. I understand how bad the idea of visiting that forest was. But my girl is just so much like Lila anyway. Could I save her from herself?
“How are we gonna move Mr. Troll away?” I try to joke. “He’s just too big.”
“It would be quite simple though. We only need that tree branch over there. We could use it to move the rock away, after all a little opening would be enough for us to sneak in there. But I am also sure Mr. Troll will gladly let us in. When we come back from the beach, we could visit his home. But let’s go now. We’ve lost too much time!”
Before I could react, she grabs my hand and we start to run again. Soon we reach the beach I wasn’t assuming we’d find – her death place. There are so much beaches on this side of the mountain and we somehow came to that particular one I didn’t want to see. It is the most beautiful of all, though. The finest sand and the prettiest shells are here.
My little girl looks enchanted around. She runs and reposes on the sand. I reach her and realize where she lies.
We found her on that very same place. I will never forget her face. Between the two dark blue rocks. Her blood was spilled around, though she had that huge smile on her face. As if she was in heaven. She might be there now, but I do not believe in god. I remember she died doing her favorite activity – surfing.
I watch my daughter and I see how much she is like Lila. Her thinking is the same. Her mindset. Her ambitions. Her everything. I could never stop her from chasing her dreams. Sooner or later she’ll start surfing, too.
I’ll never understand those dreamer’s hearts. Those free, danger–loving and brave hearts. But I had already tried to tie down such one heart once and it ended up with her death. I find too much freedom dangerous, but that’s what they love. And they are brave enough to never stop. That’s what makes them special. I want my daughter to be important. To be at least as successful as Lila could have been. For she could change the world. She was brilliant, innovative, fearless. Now I know I should be brave for this one time in my life…
“Hey, Lily, remember that dryad Lila?”
“Of course I do.”
She stands up and stares at me.
“You know, that Lila is your aunt. She is my twin sister. And even though she looks just like me, she is a lot more like you. I want you to be like her.”
“So, you say you want me to be a dryad?” She gives me one of those curious looks.
“No, I say that I want you to be strong, ambitious, and imaginative and to never give up. Because that’s what she was like. So tell me, what’s your strongest desire?”
“You’ll never allow me.” She frowns.
“I will, I promise.” I encourage her and wait for the answer I know deep down in my heart. The answer I always feared but now hoped for.
“I want to surf.”
“Then we’ll find you a board.”
You can see the flame in her eyes, as she hugs me. That flame should become fire.
“Thank you, mom. So tell me more about Lila. Is she really a dryad?”
“No, she is a normal human being. Well, she was…”
“So she is an angel now?”
I am once again impressed, but I finally get it. Just let it be. It is normal for the cave to be a hidden base as it is for a girl to surf. Nothing is impossible. Lila did actually succeed. If she didn’t try it, she could have been alive, but would she really live? I don’t think so.
So I’ll just let it be. We all have dreams and though we make mistakes, face danger, and do stuff, often considered crazy, it is that craziness that keeps us alive, even when we face death. That’s why she was smiling and that’s why I’ll smile now. I’ll let that ridiculousness, that insanity, be.
“No, Lily, Lila’s neither dryad, nor angel. She is a nereid – a sea fairy.”