I’m sure the sand never felt this cold before. I try curling my toes in deeper but there’s no warmth. Seems like pleasure is a fading memory. I’m still yet to eat, something my stomach shouts about. It’s not like I’m starving it on purpose, I just don’t have the energy to forage. I don’t even have the energy to think of tomorrow.
A man I don’t recognise joins me on the wall. I know he’s picked up on my despair because he fidgets as he searches for the words to help. At least he can find the courage to speak. “You look down my friend. Is there anything I can do?”
I find it hard to stay in control, I can’t let go now, I’m an Englishman. My feelings are my own. I mustn’t let them betray me. I must remain steadfast and civil. “I’m fine thank you.” I stare at the seagull scavenging amongst the seaweed in front of me.
He sees my bucket lying between my legs. He gestures towards it. “That’s a nice looking bucket you have there. I can see you look after it well.” His voice was soothing, his words providing some comfort.
“Thank you.” I nod in appreciation. “I’m sorry that it’s empty.”
“There’s no need to be sorry. Why would you feel that way?”
I could feel his genuine concern. It unnerves me, catching me off guard. I don’t accept kindness too well. “I was out here early this morning. I beat the incoming tide and managed to get my bucket filled. It was full of oysters, crabs, razor clams, snails and mussels. But now…” I pick the bucket up and turn it upside down. “…but now it’s empty.” It is impossible for me to not let a tear escape. I quickly rub it away hoping he didn’t see.
“You’ve got no holes in the bucket. It doesn’t look like you lost them or they escaped. Where have they gone?”
“I gave them away.” I know it sounds stupid when I say it out loud. I wanted them so much.
“Why would you do that?” He placed his hand on my shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze. I would give anything for a hug instead.
“My friends and family needed them more. They came to me. They told me of their hunger, told me of their needs. How could I refuse? What man would I be if I couldn’t help them in their time of need?”
The man forced a smile. His eyes look glossy. “You are a great man, my friend. You have a big heart. Let me help you.” He fetches his bucket from behind his back and places it on his lap. It is overflowing. It’s like an aquarium, there is a variety of fish, lobsters and squid. He looks at me, sizing me up. He plunges his hand into his bucket and pulls out the biggest lobster I have ever seen and drops it into my bucket. Its claws hang over the edge, it is almost too big to fit.
“This is too much. I can’t pay you.” I try to pick up the lobster and give it back but he catches my hand before I reach into the bucket.
“Listen my friend. I have plenty.” He shakes his bucket, making the shells beat against the sides while the water sloshes. “If tomorrow my bucket is empty and I come to you when yours is full. Would you share yours?”
“Of course,” I say without hesitation.
“Then you will have paid me.” His smile beamed brightly. He stands up and pats me on the back. “Stay strong my friend.” I watch him walk down the promenade greeting everyone in his path.
I stare into my bucket with the lobster staring back. I know now I will never go hungry. Even my stomach has little to say.