I was lying on Tofo Beach in Mozambique with my shirt shielding my face from the sun when I heard the distinct plop of a human sitting down next to me. I peeked from underneath my shirt to find a boy of about six years old holding a beat-up surfboard with only one fin still attached.
The boy was smiling at me.
Mozambicans are friendly but not pushy. Even the men hawking jewelry and cashew nuts introduce themselves by name first, ask for your name, and then if you say no, they easily relent.
I tried my Portuguese on the boy.
"Como te chamas?"
"Grisoldo," he said.
But that was the extent of my knowledge of Portuguese, so Grisoldo and I smiled at each other until it became awkward, and Grisoldo stood up and took a closer look at my surfboard. I'd rented it at a shop up the beach. Tofo also has a few companies that will take you out to dive with whale sharks and manta rays, yet tourists don't overrun the place. The locals still outnumber the visiting South Africans and Europeans and North Americans.
"Let's go surfing," I said in English to Grisoldo, and once I was up and grabbing my board he understood what I wanted.
He took his shirt off and left it next to mine and followed me toward the water. I looked back to check that he was still behind me and saw that his shorts were falling off his waist. With each step they slipped lower. Finally he stopped and let them drop. He still had on some purple underwear.
I waited for Grisoldo where the water was knee deep – chest deep for him – and he was already paddling. Before I jumped with an oncoming wave I said, "This one." And Grisoldo jumped into it too. We rode it on our stomachs, Grisoldo looking to the side at me, beaming another smile. The kid was happy and how could he not be? He played in warm waves next to a white sand beach that is buffered by land covered in wild coconut palms, mango trees, papaya and banana.
I was smiling too. I was here on my honeymoon. Grisoldo looked to the next oncoming wave and said, "Esa!" I jumped into it with him and rode it to the beach. I filed the new Portuguese word away: esa means "this one."
Before my wife and I left Tofo a few days later I saw Grisoldo one more time surfing. From afar, I pointed him out to my wife. "Isn't that great? The kid just drops his shorts and surfs all day in his underwear," I said. But then Grisoldo stood up in the shallow water and his whole little brown body glistened in the tropical sun. Today he was probably smiling even wider; he’d let his purple underwear drop too.