Naiya ducked behind a crate, squeezing her small body between the wood paneling and into an empty space amongst a pile of lumpy sacks. The fragrance reminded her of mother’s tea, sweet and spicy all at once. Adjusting, she pulled her bare feet into a sitting position, holding a hand over her mouth to keep the giggles from escaping over the gentle creaking of the boat as it rocked beneath them. He would never find her here!
With bony arms and legs, sun-tanned brown skin and a thick head of short, dark brown hair, she was smaller than most 5-year-olds. Or was she 6 now? Mother would know, but mother was no longer here. Father too. She still couldn’t believe that they were gone. Why would they leave her? She absentmindedly touched the necklace at her throat, a smooth, mysterious stone wrapped in waxed, braided cord. It was the only thing that remained of them.
The soft scuff of worn leather sandals on the ship’s deck outside stilled her heavy breathing and brought her back to the present. Pulling her legs in tighter and closing her eyes, she willed herself to disappear. The footsteps stopped just outside of her hiding place.
“Where could Naiya be?” Narendra’s kind voice carried over the sound of water lapping against the hull of the ship. Opening one eye she could just make out the dark sandaled feet and robe of the old man. He wasn’t actually her grandfather, not really. But ever since her parents had passed into the realm of the spirits, she had decided that she would choose who her family was. Narendra, this tall, bearded and dark-skinned man who had saved her, was family. Stifling a giggle, Naiya kept silent as the man turned around in place. “Where did Naiya go...?”
In a rush, reaching through the gap, she grabbed ahold of Narendra’s robe. “Gotch’a!” She squealed with glee as she wriggled out of her hiding place.
“And I, you!” Narendra laughed heartily, lifting her up off the ship’s deck and tossing her in the air.
Naiya closed her eyes in the bright tropical sunlight as she laughed, her thick dark hair flying up off her face as she flew into the air, landing safely in Narendra’s arms. She felt happiness well up inside her. It was an unfamiliar feeling as it filled her chest, threatening to burst out in more laughter. How long would it last?
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