The solid white fountain splashes both of us, its droplets flying through the air and suspending in the dusty rays of sunlight before hitting our skin. A marble cupid, soaring through the air, is cemented onto the fountain’s curved tower. Its wings appear to flap incessantly; the fountain is a delicate hummingbird that reeks of desperation and begrudgingly spits water into a stone basin where the little boy and I sit. The boy smiles slightly and extends his arm to peer at the droplets, our feet caressing the fountain’s water, toes dipping into the pool that surrounds its marble. I kick my feet, muddling the sereneness of the pool, sending ripples that flutter and look down at our reflection. For the first time since he joined me by the deserted fountain side minutes before, I notice the boy’s dirt-mottled shirt, torn at the sleeves with shorts that do not fit around his spindly legs. His black hair is long and matted, mud clinging to chunks that frown to his shoulders. I open my mouth to ask him his name; the words come out as a breath that catches in my throat.
My mother’s wary eye is on the two of us while we rest our mud-clouded feet in the pool. Her back rests against the side of a building, black hair tied loosely in a knot and drapes of rich purple fabric pooling around her knees. Two large paisley cloth bags lie on each of her sides, overflowing with stuff. I close my eyes, light still glowing orange in the darkness. Buildings surround us on all sides, menial chatter bubbling and frothing in the town as the sun seeps in everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. The yellowing walls of the Serbian square are a fortress; our cupid its center. We are there, and the sounds of the square are nothing; they are drowned by the lapping water only we can hear. I open my eyes. The boy does not speak but lifts his face to the spew of droplets that do not interrupt the words that are not said. He merely sits next to me, and I feel a pang as I see his eyes, his eyes which are not bright or young, but that are wells of longing like he has been here, and he has seen here and is proud of that fact.
Suddenly the wells are open. The boy’s hand is in the pool, and he is splashing me with the fountain water. Cupid spit. I shriek, waving my hands through the pool frantically soaking his clothes. His shirt sticks to his body, which moves like a sprig of jasmine in the gentle wind.
The boy’s peal of crying laughter tears through the water and I think he appreciates the shower.
“Draga, vreme je za polazak…”
My mother’s words are the cymbal reverberating through the town. I look over at the boy who turns those knowing proud eyes to me. I think he understands. I watch his face, his shirt that is still mottled and dirty, and see the dust settle from the ray of sun, drifting through the air and scattering across the ground. The boy’s mouth barely opens.
His voice is too little for him. I half-heartedly wave, my hand limp, and scoot back from the fountain’s edge. My feet are soaked and leave prints on the cement as I step down. I glance back at the cupid, which deliberately looks the other way. I’m sorry, cupid. He doesn’t respond.
I walk over to my mother, whose hair is starting to fall out of the loose knot in tendrils. My hand in my hers, we hoist our paisley cloth bags and finally, we leave the square that chatters and seeps. As we stoop through a gap in the town square, I glance back to the cupid fountain, now deserted of any sign of little boy with a mottled shirt. No wet footprints traced his path. I turn my gaze back to the present, shoulder beginning to burn from the weight of our luggage. My mother and I walk until we reach a highway, our feet gradually muddying and dirtying with every puny step. The unveiled fury of the sun does not seep anymore; it cuts divots as beads of sweat roll down my arms. My clothes are now dry and stiff, no remnants of the splash from the little boy as we trudge onto a little gravely sidewalk that lines the highway. We walk for hours, the clouds beginning to drift inwards and shield us from the light. My legs aren’t tired like they used to be; they’ve grown used to the steady churning. I don’t know when I began to notice.
A small forest appears by the side of the road, hours deep into our highway-side hike. It seems to be plopped onto the map by a vindictive tree God; plumes of maple seem to caress the scathing blue sky and stalks of grass brush against one another and owls hoot a lullaby for the day when suddenly, I see the boy. My mother does not. He is perched on a frail branch of a supple green oak, and I think his now-dry shirt is slightly more torn than before. I want to call out to him. What would I say? His tan face is shaded by the tree’s leaves; they sheath and cave, blocking out any trace of his expression. My breath catches in my throat, the words escaping and dying before they reach the air. The little boy stares straight into the now-dusty sun. I still wonder if he saw me, if he could see the dust in my eyes.