The concrete sighed under the relief of darkness as the day’s heat gave way to the sticky softness of humidity riding on a slight, cool breeze. The young boy, wide-eyed, his senses overwhelmed, peered down the vibrant street with its neon storefronts and pulsing crowds. The cacophony of chatter and slow-moving cars buffeted him like the waves of the pool had earlier in the day.
He looked to his left and right. His parents stood on either side, walking slowly to accommodate his short legs. His mother smiled down at him. She seemed so tall to the short boy. His dad rustled the boy’s curly hair with his free hand and chuckled. The sparks of copper brilliance didn’t shine so much without the sunlight, but occasionally a street light or the glaring lights of the store fronts would hit his head just right and set off an explosion of brilliant reds.
He bounced as he walked, a relic of his toddler days, and with him his hair bounced too, a fluff of curls tightly entwined in an erratic wave that ran from his forehead down to the back of his neck. His dad pulled his hand back and smiled. With his other hand, he put a cigarette to his mouth and took a long drag before he exhaled up and away from the child. The small family walked toward the din of the busy shops awash in tourists looking for souvenirs or searching for a late dinner.
Unfamiliar and familiar smells greeted the young boy. Sunscreen, sweat, taffy, popcorn, and chlorine stolen from the surrounding hotel pools all converged upon him at once. His dad’s cigarette smoke, as common as the man’s aftershave, wafted above him. He inhaled, and the memory of the smells solidified itself in his mind. He would forever associate the mixture with the time he spent with his parents on a rare vacation.
His mother held his tiny, pale hand in hers as they walked and looked through the store windows. The warmth of her hand conveyed a protectiveness and maternal love that he innately understood. Content and happiness rolled over him. Each store front brought new surprises, visuals, and smells that he quickly catalogued in his mind. He looked on in wonder as a man demonstrated a tiny puppet suspended from invisible wires. The man smiled and gawked at the young boy, but his parents weren’t interested in the pitch.
They continued their stroll down the street as the young boy looked back at the puppeteer, disappointed that he couldn’t have his very own puppet. A few more windows passed, some interesting, some not. The boy perked up when he saw the next window. Inside the smudged plate glass, large, caramel-colored apples floated on a carousel. The sweet smell of the honey-brown goodness greeted him. An eagerness swelled within him. His eyes pivoted expectantly from his mother to his father. An initial unwillingness gave way to acquiescence, and the boy hopped in excitement.
His father approached the counter and paid for a candy apple. The boy watched the old man behind the glass case carefully place the cash into the register and slowly retrieve a treat from the carousel. Anticipation overwhelmed the young boy as his mouth watered at the prospect of biting into the tangy sweet apple.
Finally, his father handed him the treat, which dangled from a wooden stick driven into the core of the fruit. The boy balanced the weight of the apple in his small hand and took an outsized bite. Caramel smeared on the tip of his nose and around the edges of his mouth, but he didn’t care. He took another bite inhaling it like it was his last meal.
His mother dove in between bites with a napkin to wipe away the residue on his face, but her fruitless efforts were greeted with more caramel spread on his cheeks and, eventually, the front of his shirt. She shook her head at his father for the mess he had created, but he just smiled in between puffs on his cigarette. The boy looked up to his parents and smiled too from behind a mask of sticky caramel as they continued their stroll among the crowd and the shops with a messy little boy in tow.