I open my eyes slowly the second or third time I hear the tiny voice a few feet a way. Standing above me on a rock, my eyes meet a little boy probably 3 or 4 years old, clutching a medium-sized striped ball. He is wearing a cute matching beach outfit including Gilligan-type hat.
He smiles at me and indicates that he is going to throw the ball at me. I press up on my elbows and sit up, brushing the sand from my legs and then arms almost in time to catch the quickly-thrown ball. The boy giggles as I exaggerate my effort at reaching for the ball and miss.
He jumps down off the rock and half runs, half crawls to get the ball.
I lie down and close my eyes again only for a few seconds when I hear, "Hey!" again. On the other side of the rock a few feet away sits his mother, who says something to him in Russian. We are at Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and that is mostly what I hear around me this summer afternoon. I smile at her as if to say it is okay, he is not bothering me, and I sit up and dust the sand off my hands in exaggeration as if to say I am ready to play.
He laughs and tosses the ball right to me, and I catch it. I try to toss it back to him on his perch, but I am not the best aim and I am sitting sideways, not directly facing him. I fling the ball hopelessly five feet to his left. But he is a good sport and laughing again as he jumps down off his rock and scrambles to retrieve his ball.
We must toss the ball over a dozen times and only have a few successful catches for each of us, but he doesn't seem to mind chasing the ball whether he missed it or whether the ball passes my stretching vertical body. My effort is enough for him.
The intense sun on my face and arms tells me I have been out long enough and my stomach feels hollow and ready for lunch; however, I feel a little sad breaking up our game. As I stand and wipe the sand from my body he continues to play our game. I take my time pulling my sundress over my head so as not to miss a ball and I fold up my towel as his mother calls out to him again in what sounds like a gentle, but warning tone.
As I put my bag on my shoulder, I smile and wave to my new friend. He jumps down off the rock one final time and scampers along the sand in circular movements, sort of like a crab, with his head down. I figure he has gone on to another game already. One that does not require a playmate. But then he stands up smiling and reaches his hand out to me.
I extend my arm and he drops a pile of sticks, sand, broken shells, seaweed, and what looks like straw into my open hand. Admiring the offering, I smile and close my hand gently around his gift and give him a wink as I walk towards the boardwalk.