By the Creek
December 2000 – five years old.
‘What’re you doin?’
The boy looked up, mud smeared across his face, mixing in with his already dark skin and already dark hair. The whites of his eyes gleamed up at Ant and when the boy smiled his teeth gleamed whiter than any teeth Ant had seen.
‘Playing,’ the boy said. ‘Wanna play too?’
Wind ruffled Ant’s hair, straining against him. Pushing him toward the boy by the stream. He shifted, glancing back over his shoulder at the park where two women sat on a bench talking.
Ant’s fingers twisted in the hem of his shirt. ‘My Mum’s waiting,’ he said.
The boy shrugged, returning to the sticky mess he was creating now that the prospect of a playmate had past on. Water trickled across the miniature dam he had built. There was a little ship made of leaves stuck on the other side.
Ant shifted again, edging closer to look. Fingers, though slick with mud from dam building, had no trouble manoeuvring a long thick leaf around a small twig. Ant’s feet inched forward through the mud, clean white sneakers coming dangerously close to the watery mud the boy was happily playing in.
A rock, dislodged by Ant’s curious feet, tumbled down into the stream.
Dark eyes flickered up and Ant stopped, caught in the gaze of the other boy. He wondered how eyes so dark could look so bright. They were a nice colour. Like melted chocolate. The boy smiled and gestured toward a pile of sticks.
‘Grab one of those, wouldja?’ the boy asked.
Ant’s eyes went wide and he nodded quickly. He took careful steps, not wanting to disturb the boy’s creation. When he returned, he crouched down and held out the stick.
With the little ship finished, Ant leaned forward to watch the boy place it carefully in the water. His face lit up in success as it began to float until the water swept it against a rock and it tipped over. He scowled and sat back in the mud with a huff of annoyance, digging little rocks out of the mud and chucking them into the water.
Ant stood up and went to salvage the little boat. It was almost right, but Ant thought he knew how to fix it. His older brother was very good at making things. He’d shown Ant how to make a leaf boat once.
The boy’s dark gaze tracked him as he crouched back down by the edge of the water to fix the little boat. When he was done, he hesitated, looking over at the boy. Maybe he would be annoyed that Ant had taken his boat?
But the boy only watched him, eyes bright with curiosity. Ant held it out to him.
‘Want to try it?’
The boy grinned, a dimple forming in his left cheek. He nodded to Ant. ‘You do it,’ he said. ‘You fixed it.’
He watched as Ant placed the boat steadily in the water. They both held their breaths as the water took the boat out of Ant’s hands. A leaf came loose, sending the boat into a spiral, and Ant dropped his gaze down to his sneakers.
‘Aw, dang,’ the boy said, and he nudged Ant with his elbow. ‘C’mon, let’s try again. You almost got it!’
‘Okay!’ Ant said, then he blurted, ‘I’m Ant.’
The boy grinned, grabbing Ant’s arm and dragging him down the stream, ‘Tim.’