Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Portrait of a sulking girl

[From a sight I saw on 10/7/05, on the ferry from Kangaroo Island, South Australia, back to the mainland.]

After parking our rented car in the ferry’s vehicle hold, I meandered through various corridors, bulkheads and stairways to arrive at the main passenger deck.

A small counter operated at the rear end of the passenger lounge selling candy, coffee, pastries and drinks. Around it, a loose clump of passengers lingered- some waiting for their lattes, others contemplating the pastries on display in their display case, yet others simply tagging along with someone else. A coffee machine hummed as it percolated shots of espresso, and hissed as its steam jet helped froth a mug of milk. The cash register’s drawer rolled back and forth with rumbles and clicks as transactions progressed. Cappuccinos, pies, sausage rolls, beers, lollipops and juices went over the counter; cash came in return. Wallets folded and purses zipped, coins clinked, notes rustled.

I found my friends seated at the front row of the passenger lounge, facing several large windows that looked out onto the fore deck and the sea.

At a window nearby, a young girl of about 7 sat on the window sill with her back leaning against the reassuringly thick glass pane. She appeared to be brooding with a slight hint of annoyance, sulking slightly at some minor irritation. Her father leaned forward from his seat to speak to her. She turned to look at him, listening with a distant expression, and gentle shook her head once. He made another attempt to convince her to sit on the seats, and she rejected him with the same serenely concise shake of her head. After a while, the father decided to let her annoyance mellow out, and he turned to tend to his other children.

The girl continued sitting on the window sill, hands resolutely crossed over her chest, observing passenger activity in the lounge. She appeared to be reluctant to look at her father, but instead stared alternately at the fuzzy TV images, the coffee counter and out into the cloudy morning sky.

Passengers continued boarding the ferry. As they entered the passenger lounge, they would slow down with their eyes looking this way and that as they evaluate the desirability of various available seats. Is it near the window? The man next to that seat doesn’t look pleasant. I do not want to be near to the toilets. I prefer a forward facing seat to a backward facing one. There’s a pretty girl! I don’t want to sit unnecessarily close to strangers.

At that moment, the dull and water sodden clouds stirred, parting to reveal the morning sun. The sun’s rays painted the cabin with elongated strokes of rich yellow shafts that came through numerous windows, suffusing the entire cabin in a light golden tincture. The mood in the cabin appeared to lighten considerably.

Sunlight entered the girl’s window obliquely, illuminating her wavy blonde-brunette tresses from the side, highlighting some, shadowing others. Something caught her eye, and she turned her head slightly towards it. Golden rays from the sun shone on her eyes at an acute angle, too slanted to enter her pupils. Nonetheless, the light did hit her irises, illuminating their brown colouration with a brilliant wash of gold. In the sunlight, her brown eyes shone with a colour of light wood gently coated with diluted caramel.

She continued looking, her face set in that same expression of calm mild annoyance, hands still crossed over her chest, the sun highlighting her hair, and eyes shining with a golden brown light. Beside her on the window sill, a toy stuffed horse lay in a limp heap, not entirely forsaken but temporarily ignored.

* * *

It would have been a dramatic portrait if one could capture the image without disrupting the lass’s facial expressions. Of course, that would be extremely difficult. So I had to be content with taking occasional glances at the extremely rare scene in front of me. Staring would not do- it could possibly freak the girl out and she would… who knows what she might do. For all we know, she might hop down from the window sill, goosestep march towards me and give my shin a good hard kick with her steel-toed sandals, transferring all her momentum through the steel-toe.

About 15 minutes into ferry ride, the girl softened up and moved from the window sill to the proper seats next to her father, which happened to be next to my seat.

I turned to her, and greeted her with a cursory “hi”. When the surprise melted from her face, she smiled brightly and waved in return.

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