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The Ball

That summer, as usual, little Papa and his parents were staying at their summer-cottage by the Black Sea. Well, actually little Papa and his mom and grandparents were living there all summer long. His dad had to stay in the city for his work, but he came down every weekend. Little papa and his mom Yana would go to meet him at the train station.

One day, little Papa’s dad brought him a beach ball. Little Papa had never had a beach ball before. He loved it. It was perfect, white and yellow and blue, and just the right size. He couldn’t wait for the next morning, when he could take it down to the beach and try it out.

In the morning, they walked down to the beach, little Papa proudly carrying his new ball. Now little Papa understood why it was called a beach ball. It was blue like the water, white like the sand, yellow like the sun. It belonged.

For a while, little Papa and his parents and some of their friends tossed the ball around. Then the grown-ups got tired and went back to their beach-towels.

Little Papa took the ball down to the water. He waded in waste-deep, as far as he was allowed to go by himself. (This was before little Papa had learned to really swim and snorkel and catch crabs with his bare hands.) He stayed there in the warm shallow waters, happily throwing the ball up and trying to catch it, or hugging it with both arms and kicking his legs.

Then the ball slipped out of little Papa’s hands. He tried to grab it, but it was now too far to reach. “My ball, my ball!” cried Little Papa. The grown-ups back on the beach lifted their faces from their card game. His dad came into the water and patted little Papa on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll get it back,” he said, and dove in.

At first it looked easy. The ball was still just a short swim away. Strangely, though, just as little Papa’s dad came within reach, the ball floated a little further away, as if teasing hom, playing a game with him. Still, he was a good strong swimmer, and it would be just a matter of time, just a few more strokes, before he caught up with it. Besides, he knew how disappointed little Papa would be if he came back empty-handed.

This went on for quite some time. Little Papa’s dad kept swimming after the ball, and the ball kept floating away, and no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t catch up with it. By now he was getting really tired. When he finally stopped to take a breath, he turned to look back at the beach. The beach was a thin line, unbelievably far, and the people on it were tiny specks. He realized he was too exhausted to swim. What’s more, his legs were getting cramps. And cramps are the worst thing that can happen to you when you are in the middle of the sea.

Little Papa’s dad started to panic. He suddenly knew with perfect clarity that there was a very good chance he might not make it. Wildly, he began to thrash in the water, looking in all directions for any sign of help. He was lucky. Not too far off, out in the sea, he spotted a fishing boat. “Help! Help!” he shouted. The next thing he knew, two pairs of strong hands were lifting him out of the water and into the boat. He was saved.

When little Papa’s dad got back to the beach, everyone was very relieved. He had to lie on the warm sand for a long time before he felt himself again. Little Papa had missed all that. He was too deep in his misery over the lost ball. “But where is my ball!” he kept asking his dad. “I want my ball!”

“I’ll get you another ball,” said his dad weakly.

“But I don’t want another ball! I want this one!” cried little Papa.

Then his mom got very angry with little Papa for some reason, and they all went home.

Years went by. Little Papa became big Papa. He now had a family of his own, and every summer they returned to their little cottage by the Black Sea. One day, as he stood on the beach watching the sunset, he saw something colorful and round bobbing up and down in the water. You will never guess what it was! Believe it or not, it was the beach ball! The same one he had lost years and years before! Papa fished it out of the water, and everything that had happened that long-ago summer day came back to him. Back at the cottage, he gave the ball to his kids and told them this story.

Yep, this would have made a great ending. Unfortunately, this is not what really happened. For one thing, little Papa and his parents moved far, far away, and they never went back to the summer cottage again. And the ball – the ball disappeared for good, wherever it is that things disappear. Of course little Papa had other beach balls after that, but none of them ever came close to the one he had lost.

Here is an interesting thing, though. To this day, little Papa’s dad is very careful of the sea. It is another sea now – an ocean, actually – but he doesn’t trust it anyway. He still likes to swim, but he doesn’t go further out where the water is deep. And when Papa, who is a grown up man now, goes in for a swim, his dad paces the shore, shielding his face against the sun and shouting: “Don’t go too far! That’s quite enough! Come back!”

Papa doesn’t listen though. He waves to his dad and just keeps on swimming, further and further away.

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