"No one's in the water. We found nothing."
The voice of the boys came out of the darkness faintly, as their bodies emerged into the light provided by the lantern the girl held high in the air. I couldn't discern the look in her eyes. Perhaps, she had overcome the shock and was now trying to be useful, in her own ways. Did she think that others could help her out of her misery? I didn't want to face her, but she kept looking into my direction.
"My little brother and I, ...we were playing hide and seek, when it started to rain. And then there was the storm. I ran here and there, calling out his name, but he was nowhere to be seen." She kept repeating the same sentences, as if to let reality sink into her consciousness.
"He's just four years old, and is much smaller than me. I was teaching him the game. Yes, he was wearing ... a light blue shirt and black shorts..." her voice trailed off. It pained me that there was hope in her voice.
It upset her a bit when the two boys, who were playing with them, suggested that they search for him in the water. It seemed she was going to cry, when the possibility of her brother's death by drowning dawned on her. But she didn't cry. There was a resilience in her that ruled out whatever she couldn't bear.
I had to find a way to deal with her. My colleagues pretended to strike a conversation with the boys, and distract them away from the scene. We didn't want to make things difficult for this young, courageous girl, all alone in this secluded place. It would be cruel to shatter her hopes in one sweeping gesture.
The cold, lifeless body of her little brother that we found on the other side of the stream was hidden in the ambulance. It was a bit cruel of us to make the boys continue with the searching in the water. To make things look natural, my colleagues also pretended to do some searching, while I stood near the girl, knowing not what to do, or what to tell her when she found out the truth at last. All I could think of was to let her be with her parents first. We needed to take her back to her home, but she kept refusing to move from the place where she stood, with the lantern held tightly in her tiny hands.
"I think we should take her away by force. She just keeps recounting the incident and stands there, insisting on further searching around the place. And it's been an hour, almost..." One of my colleagues mumbled. The girl threw a glance at us, sensing some conspiracy. I could see a glow in her eyes. Had she started crying at last? Yes. She seemed a bit shaken, and her trembling lips betrayed her sense of insecurity. This gave me the confidence to walk closer towards her.
"Isabel, look here... I will keep my friends Joe and Asim here. They and your friends will continue looking for your brother. I'm sure that they will find him. But we have to go home now. It's getting dark, and your Mom and Dad will get worried."
She just stared at me and started to sob. When I held out my hand for the lantern, she hesitated for a moment, and then handed it to me. I gave it to Asim and moved closer to her. Then, without giving myself or her any time to think, I just lifted her up in my arms. She didn't resist. I could feel her shivering through her wet frock. Her hat fell down, and one of the small boys picked it up from the ground and held it towards me. I took it from him, thanked him, and moved fast towards my car.
I didn't know how to console the girl who was sobbing silently to my shoulder, her arms held weakly around my neck. Her body, despite being wet, felt too warm and I wondered whether she had caught a bad cold.
"Please calm down Isabel. We'll see what we can do." I kept murmuring to her ears, like an idiot.
Image Courtesy: http://creativewriting.ie/2011/10/24/writing-prompt-october-24th/