So this is how it happened.
One sunny afternoon, when I was about halfway through primary school, we set off to Senica, a hill directly behind my home village.
My father was the leader of the company, my older brother followed and stumbling behind them was me with two friends of mine, Mia and Bine. In those days I wasn’t very enthusiastic about going to hills and mountains, maybe because my father was really into mountaineering and for us, other family members, participation was more or les compulsory. I’ve always disliked compulsory stuff. So the presence of my two friends was a kind of consolation for me, because this time it wasn’t just me panting and gasping up the hill. My brother was an eternal source of desperation for me in this regard. He was running up and down like an unleashed hyperactive puppy with a big happy smile on his face, making twice the distance in the end of the day. I don’t think I remember ever seeing him tired.
A proper nightmare, I tell you.
That day my father and my brother went to climb to the nearest climbing area and because I made this trip many times before, it was my job to get my two friends and myself across the hill to the neighbouring village, Ljubinj. There we were supposed to wait for them, but soon after they were gone, things got complicated. The thing is, you see, that the rocks on top of Senica must be one of the best rocks for kids’ game in the world. They are made to become castles and towers with cursed princesses and dragons in the form of dry clematis and we couldn’t resist them. Soon we were screaming and running through the forest and conquering kingdoms, freeing the imagined prisoners and seizing everything in sight.
You probably noticed that when we have fun, times passes by much faster than when we are bored. It was no different on that Saturday afternoon.
All of a sudden I noticed that the Sun was just above the horizon, the shadows lengthen between the trees and I felt the chills. My friends quickly noticed my worried expression.
-What is it?…
-Nothing… But it’s getting late… We have to find the path to Ljubinj.
I took one look around, but everything seemed the same to me, so I started walking in a random direction, fervently hoping we’ll get lucky. But it was like the path had disappeared!… I started to call my father and my brother’s name. My friends joined in, sensing my growing anxiety and our frightened voices were soon echoing among beech trees.
Nowadays a broad forest road leads through Senica forest to Ljubinj, and there are many hikers daily visiting the fantastic viewpoint on the top of the hill. In those days though, it was just a narrow path and barely a human soul anywhere, with rare exception of a hunter or a forester.
The sun was just setting behind the hill when I realised that we were walking in a circle. With trembling voice and with tears in my throat I asked my friends to sit on a log and wait for me to go for number one behind the bush. It was just an excuse, because I didn’t want them to see me cry. I wandered off a bit, and when I thought they couldn’t hear me, I gave way to my fear.
-Hey… Hey, don’t cry little girl, said a tiny voice behind me suddenly. I turned around bewildered and found myself eye to eye with an itsy-bitsy gnome. He wore a red hat and the kindest smile I have ever seen in my life. (It continues)