|Suddenly she noticed a slight movement between to rocks just ahead of her.||
She dragged her feet as she made her way down the footworn track from the cottage to the shoreline. She was bored and listless. It wasn't that she liked school but a week into her summer holidays and Lulu Fitzgibbon didn't quite know what to do with herself. She would see a few school friends from time to time as the holidays progressed but they lived miles away. She did what she could for her mum each morning but she had most fine days to herself as her mum said she wouldn't be ten forever.
She wished her dad could be home. He worked all the time and when he was home in the evenings he just sat by the fire dozing. Recharging, Lulu thought. Her mother always seemed to be busy too.
As she reached the rocky shore she turned west and out towards the point. Her fair hair, golden from the sunlight, matched her yellow dress.
The cattle in the field to her left poked their curious heads through the gorse bushes. Lulu walked cautiously over to stroke their faces. As usual when she got within inches of them they jumped back skittishly. Then some of them did a jittery dance around the field as if she had reminded them of the tormenting flies.
It was hard on her feet walking on the stones but she couldn't stand the squelchy seaweed down beside the water.
Orange-billed oyster catchers fed by the shoreline while seagulls floated overhead like large pieces of white paper, their sporadic wailing piercing the calm of the summer day, the only hint of survival's demands. Often one of the myriad of stones about her feet would catch her eye. She picked a green one with a white crescent across and put it in her pocket.
Relief came for her feet. A grass path appeared where the sea had eaten into the bank of the field. Furze bushes with their heavy odour were thick in parts of it. Lulu ate the flowers. Old Mrs. O' Reilly said they were good for your heart. Lulu just liked the taste. Where the path was sheltered by bushes on either side occasional clusters of flowers grew. Daisies, violets and primroses beneath the sun splashed gorse. In these sheltered places little land birds sometimes hopped: blue tits, blackbirds and the occasional finch. Sometimes she saw a goldfinch. With their starkly contrasting yellow and red plumage Lulu thought they were the most beautiful birds she had ever seen. The path ended abruptly.
Ahead of her now she could see the brown peninsula snaking out through the sea. A strange unearthly place where only seaweed grew. The way it disappeared when the tide came in added to its mystery for Lulu. Almost unknowingly she found herself setting out along it. Its hooklike shape was completely visible now that the tide was fully out.
Along the centre was solid rock with small areas of sand by the water's edge on one side. Elsewhere it was stones and seaweed. As she walked Lulu disturbed little flocks of dunlins feeding along the shoreline. They would all rise together and fly perhaps twenty metres as if disdainful of the intrusion. They reminded Lulu of wagtails, who, when disturbed, also flew just out of range, always seeming relaxed and only mildly irritated.
The sun beat down mercilessly. Lulu wiped the sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her dress. Suddenly she noticed a slight movement between two rocks just ahead of her. She tiptoed cautiously forward. She stared, almost disbelieving. A baby seal lay stranded, sunbaked and seeming barely alive in front of her. She could feel her heart beating wildly as she slowly leaned forward to stroke its back. It didn't move but Lulu could tell it was alive. She moved around to its front. The little seal's eyes pleaded with her for help. She continued stroking along its back then its neck and on to the back of its head. She could sense the pup wasn't frightened but knew she needed to get it to water quickly.
Summoning all her courage, she gently slipped her hands under the seal's stomach, lifted it slowly to her chest and cradled it like a baby. The little creature seemed to relax in her arms. With her heart still thumping, she gingerly made her way to the water. It seemed to take forever, she had to be so careful and gentle. At last she was there. Squatting by the edge she slowly placed the baby seal in the water. While it lingered, regaining its strength, Lulu stroked its back again. The seal turned its head and looked at her as if to say thank you. Then it slowly moved its back flippers and began swimming away.
As she watched it making its way Lulu noticed three adult seals had surfaced further out to sea. Now they were making their way towards the baby. As they reached it, they swam around playing and diving. Watching their display Lulu felt a warm glow. She could have stayed for hours.
Reluctantly she tore herself away from the happy scene and began her journey homeward. The operation had taken quite a while and she was tired and hungry. Besides, her mother might soon begin to get anxious.
The sparkling glare of the sun dazzled Lulu as she walked. A soft barking sound reached her ears. It was the little seal's mother calling from the water's edge. The sounds were now words to Lulu. The mother said the tide had covered the path home but she would carry her. Lulu was thrilled. She thanked the mother seal and climbed onto her back. "You have shown yourself as our friend," the mother seal said as she glided through the water. "You see we usually can't tell whether land creatures are enemies or friends and unfortunately many people are our enemies. We trust you and would like you to visit our home." "Is it far?" Lulu asked. The seal pointed with a flipper towards a small island just ahead of them with a large mound in its centre. "In there," she said. "Hold your breath and hold on tightly," the seal said as they came abreast of the island. Lulu did so.
The seal dived and in a matter of moments they broke through the water's surface again into a gigantic dome shaped room. They were, in fact, deep within the mound on the island. Lulu had never seen anything like this. Its walls and roof were green glowing rocks adorned with the most elaborate designs imaginable. It was like a magnificent cathedral. Around the water through which Lulu and the seal had come was a pathway about two metres wide. Stretching from this pathway to the wall were stepped terraces with seals frolicking and lounging on them, the youngest ones playing around the edge of the water. Lulu stared in amazement.
The mother seal introduced her to many of her relatives. As Lulu walked across the terraces seals greeted her, some of them reaching out to touch her skin. Everywhere was bathed in an enchanting glow from the green light. The baby seal came to her and again Lulu cradled him in her arms.
Sadly the time to go came all too soon. As she prepared to depart all the seals turned towards her and, starting with a low humming, they slowly built up to the softest, most melodious singing Lulu had ever heard. With little tears of joy in her eyes Lulu again mounted the mother seal, held her breath and wrapped her arms firmly around her neck. A last wave and down they dived.
As she came through on the outside Lulu opened her eyes. She was home. There was the track up to the cottage. Had she been dreaming? She didn't care. She danced and swirled up the path. This was the best day of her life. As she leant to open the cottage door, she never noticed the single drop of water fall from her hair to the warm flagstone, then spread and disappear like magic.
Donagh Healy lives in Oranmore, Galway.