She wandered beneath the green and by the green, the green of the willows and the green of the river. She had lost track of where she was – not that she was lost, she just had to turn and follow the water back to where she had begun. The green gave her peace, and quiet; it was quiet but not silent, even rivers have voices, the soft lapping in the sedges and reeds, the unexpected gurgle, a slurp of sound. The creatures of the river added their sonance, ducks splashing, fluttering their wings and shaking their tails as they groomed their feathers, the plop of an unseen water rat, fish blowing bubbles. The moorhens dived silently, and emerged as silently, sprinkling droplets of water as they shook their tiny forms.
Marissa was freed from her fears and worries; her anxieties had melted away and she felt calm and happy. Her fears and worries were commonplace, and she knew that, but even so, to walk this tranquil path beside the little river somehow revived her, refreshed her, energised her. She was walking upstream; maybe she would return another day when she had more time and walk all the way to find the source of this gently flowing water.
The river seemed to disappear beneath the draperies of willow, but it was merely going round a shallow bend. Birds in the undergrowth were singing merrily, and above she could hear one in full voice; she looked up to see if she could identify it, but no, she couldn’t even see it. She bowed beneath the shady curtain of willow branches and then it was as if she emerged into a different world, coming out into vibrant sunshine.
“Oh goodness! I didn’t expect to see anyone! You made me jump!” which was a silly thing to say as she had only been startled and hadn’t jumped at all.
The young girl sitting on the river bank, half in the water laughed at her.
“You made me jump too! You came out from the willow tree like a swimmer!”
“And have you been really swimming?” Marissa asked. The girl was wearing a colourful costume, jade and malachite, emerald and moss, and Marissa remarked how pretty it was.
“I swim all the time,” the girl replied, as she raked her fingers through her long, dripping hair.
“Are you sure it’s safe to swim on your own? The river doesn’t look very deep, but you might catch yourself on something under the water.”
“Have you come far?” the girl asked, ignoring Marissa’s worry about swimming – children don’t think about such things.
“No not far, I come from…” Well, how ridiculous, she couldn’t think where she had come from. She had parked her bike in some bushes and then somehow found this river path… but how had she found it? How very silly she couldn’t remember that either. “Do you live near here?” she asked instead of answering the girl’s question.
Marissa felt as if she was looming over the child so, surprising herself more than the girl, she sat down on the river bank and took off her sandals. How utterly peaceful, not just quiet, but peaceful. As if to emphasise how not quiet the river really was, a swan prepared for take-off, noisily flapping it’s wings as it paddled furiously until suddenly airborne. It lifted away from the dappled surface of the water. The sudden clatter of the fierce bird was somehow comical, and Marissa spontaneously laughed, and the girl did too.
Marissa asked the girl if she lived nearby, and she waved her arm upstream, beyond the bull-rushes, she said. By the river? Marissa asked but her reply was lost in irate squawking as a grebe and a coot fell out over something before swimming away, seemingly indignant, in opposite directions.
Silence fell and Marissa enjoyed it; her life was so full of noise, noise of a different kind from this verdant world. The girl, a very peaceful, almost serene child, was plaiting some bright green water weed. She twisted it into a circlet and put it on her wet hair at a jaunty angle, smiling mischievously at Marissa.
“You look like a princess, or a mermaid,” Marissa said and the girl laughed and suddenly lent forward and plunged her hands into the river and flung a diamond rainbow of droplets into the air.
“Enjoy your walk!” the girl said and slipped like an otter into the water.
Marissa jumped to her feet in alarm, the child had disappeared completely under the surface; a circle of bubbles rippled and the green weed crown bobbed as it floated.
What should she do? Jump into the river? Run for help? but even as she dragged off her jacket there was a splash and the girl appeared upstream, laughing at her, and calling goodbye.
“Be careful! Rivers can be dangerous!” Marissa cried.
“Not to me! I live here!” and there was a sinuous movement, a roll of iridescence and the girl vanished beneath the surface once more.
Marissa ran along the path to the next bend in the river, Her way was blocked by bull-rushes but she could see a small hand waving, and she heard a last call of farewell.