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“That must be a white swan over there and that one will be a teddy bear” thought little Ria as she stared at the while cottony clouds flying by her aircraft window. While her parents dozed off next to her, Ria spent her time making up imaginary characters out of the shapes of clouds that floated by her window.
It was her summer holidays and she was off to visit her Mother’s uncle who lived in the United Kingdom. Ria had heard about the UK in her class when her teacher talked about real life kings and queens who still lived in huge palaces. She was excited but nervous. As Ria was a shy girl she was a bit apprehensive about meeting her mother’s uncle with whom they would be staying for the entire duration of the trip. What would she do if she was spoken to? That was what scared Ria the most. Anyway, her mother quelled her fears and raved about the unknown uncle so much that Ria felt slightly at ease.
On alighting at the Heathrow airport in the city of London, Ria was awestruck. As they stepped out of the airport arrival terminal and got into the waiting taxi, Ria held on to her mother’s hand tightly. As the taxi sped towards their hotel, she stared out of the taxi window dazed at the sights and sounds of the city. Is this really where kings and queens still lived? Where were the carriages then? She wondered as she imagined the ancient transport medium to be still parading around the city. When she asked her mother about them, she was answered with a laugh. “Sweetheart, the Queens have their own cars now and do not need carriages anymore”. The first fantasy broken, Ria slumped back into her seat, too tired to think of anything. She soon dozed off as the initial bouts of jetlag came crashing down on her.
Her first day in London was spent in a daze. She was too tired to take in anything. Her parents didn’t bother her and let her rest. Early next day, they boarded a train to reach Liverpool from where they would be picked up by her mother’s uncle. Ria, wide awake now, thoroughly enjoyed the train journey. The landscape they passed was amazing. “Mummy look there’s Shaun!” jumped up Ria as she saw the quintessential English lambs resembling her favourite cartoon character lazing around in the meadows. Her mother looked at her indulgently as she remembered her own first trip to visit her uncle.
As they got off at Liverpool station and waited at the platform, Ria suddenly jumped as her mother squealed and melted into the arms of a tall bearded man wearing a huge greenish jacket. After a joyous beary hug and a hearty handshake with her father, her mother’s uncle turned to Ria.
“So this is the pretty lady we have been waiting for is it?” he said as he kneeled down to reach Ria’s level.
“Hello!” he said heartily extending his hand, “Call me Uncle B.”
That floored Ria. The deep voice, bushy beard and the twinkling eyes reminded Ria so much of Heidi’s Alm uncle about whom her mother read to her often from the book on her shelf. She knew from that moment that this was a man she could trust with her life. However, Ria being Ria was too shy to make the next move. She hid behind her mother looking shyly at Uncle B. Knowing how to get his way Uncle B packed them all into his car and drove off to the nearest ice cream shop. “Which is your favourite Ria?” asked Uncle B with the twinkle in his eye. “Strawberry” quipped Ria excited at getting the first choice. “Oh we’ll get more than that, don’t worry!” he said as he handed Ria a huge cone holding two large scoops of strawberry topped with crunchy nuts and a real strawberry. Ria was ecstatic.
As the car left Liverpool town limits and sped towards Hoylake, Ria savoured the last crunch of the nuts and the squished the syrupy berry between her teeth. She looked out of the window and soaked in the sights and sounds of the place which was to be her home for the next few days.
Hoylake is a pretty little seaside town located where the River Dee meets the Irish Sea. It is a quiet, peaceful town and falls within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, on Merseyside, England. As Uncle B told them a little about the history of the place, Ria learnt that the place derived its name from the Hoyle Lake, a channel of water that stretched between the Hilbre Island and Dove Point. Protected as it was by a sand bank known as Hoyle Bank which had water measuring about 20 feet in depth, the place provided a safe anchorage for ships that were too large to sail till Chester through the River Dee. Uncle B stopped at the place where the lighthouses once stood. These he said were built in 1760 to provide safe access to the Hoylake anchorage.
As they moved more into town, they realised that Hoylake was a large residential area with a whole host of shops and recreation centres. Ria spotted a pottery shed which seemed quite attractive. Following her gaze, Uncle B realised what she was looking at and went on to explain that the shop let people do their own pottery painting. If Ria wanted they could go over sometime and pay them a visit he offered. Painting was Ria’s favourite pastime and she looked expectedly at her mother.
“Don’t look at your mother Ria” hollered Uncle B “When you are in Hoylake you don’t need your mother”. Everybody had a hearty laugh at that.
Soon they turned into their house and Ria fell in love with it at first look. It was just the type she had seen in her story books. Her fantasy had already begun. They pushed open the door to be thrown into the arms of a tall, slim lady with a shock of golden hair and a pair of bright twinkling eyes she had ever seen on anyone and who to Ria looked just like Cinderellas fairy god mother.
After all the hugging and kissing was over, Ria could feel something cold and wet on her her fingers. She looked down to see a pair of black beady eyes staring up at her expectedly holding a mangled mass of rubber and foam which seemed as if it had been a ball at some point of time in its existence.
“That’s Joey” said Auntie B, Ria’s fairy god mother, looking at her with those kind eyes which now twinkled as they spoke to her. “He is always looking for friends to play with and I think he’s found one already” she went on to explain. “Come Ria, let me show you how you can become the best of friends” she said as she led Ria towards the deliciously smelling warm kitchen. She gave her some doggy treats and warned her to be thrifty with it or else he would fall sick.
At Dinner, which started pretty early, Ria felt a new sense of importance. She sat with everybody else, was being spoken to as an adult and had her meal all by herself. For a change she found mummy to have absolutely let go of everything and not even bothering to look at what she was eating. This to Ria was an amazing feeling.
So long as she finished whatever was there on her plate, everybody was OK. She tried sneaking some vegetables under the pasta but Auntie B soon caught her in the act and made her have them but in her own way, very unlike the way her mother forces them down her throat.
Early next morning Ria woke ahead of everyone with the thoughts of playing with Joey. She tiptoed down the long staircase whispering Joey’s name, careful not to wake anybody up. As she came down the stairs, Uncle B walked out of his study with the playful Joey waving his tail and following him.
“So we are early risers are we? Would you like something to munch on before we get breakfast ready” he asked. As Ria nodded he led the way to the kitchen and picked up a glass of milk and some amazing cookies, the best Ria had ever had. As both of them sat in the cosy dining area, he sipping his tea and Ria her milk, slowly and steadily Ria began to lose her shyness. She began chatting with Uncle B about her school, her friends, her teachers, what she likes to eat and what her friends like to eat. She also poured in to his sympathetic ears, her ardent desire to get a pet for herself which her mother was always opposing and how sad that made her feel. She agreed that her mother did have a point as they lived in an apartment and it was difficult to maintain one in city apartments, but then you do feel the pain don’t you. As Ria rambled on and Uncle B listened, the sun poured in through the glass roof of the dining room. It seemed as if the heavens were blessing such an amazing cementing of friendship between two individuals who were two generations apart.
Every day from then, Uncle B took Ria for short walks to show her around Hoylake. They visited the quaint little railway station which had a colourful Thomas engine which Ria loved to ride, they ran around the Hoylake Beach playing catch with Joey and visited the sailing and sand yachting clubs.
One evening when Uncle B took Ria out for a walk with Joey, she slipped her small fingers into his. The old man looked down at the little head bobbing up and down in animated discussion beside him and a glow spread through him making him feel warm and comfortable with this new found trust which he had worked so hard to earn. Over the years, his wrinkled skin had been touched in many different ways, but the touch of a child’s innocent love and trust is possibly the most precious.
It had been sometime since he was genuinely happy. Ever since another little hand had slipped from his grip and was lost forever he had forgotten what it was to feel the comforting warmth of happiness in his heart. It had now returned in the form of the little joy walking beside him. Uncle B wiped the errant tear threatening to drop from the corner of his eye and firmed his grip over the little fingers as they both walked back home.