The Girl On The Bench
I glanced sideways at the girl on the park bench. She was smiling for no apparent reason that I could detect. The day was overcast, with a threat of rain hanging in the air. Noisy children and barking dogs were everywhere. The air was hot and humid, leaving my hair damp and limp. My clothes stuck to my body.
But the humidity didn’t seem to bother her. Her mind was somewhere other than this noisy, dirty little patch of green that was wedged between a housing development and a row of old vacant store fronts.
The view was pretty grim, with one side being the back of three brick buildings that loomed four storeys high. The windows, doors and fire escapes were all in the same identical places, leading down to an untidy concrete yard. The only thing different about them was a patch of color here and there at some of the windows.
On the other side of the park, were storefronts that, at one time, back when the city was young, used to be hustling and bustling with humanity. Now, they were old, rundown and vacant for the most part, with only a few dingy apartments overhead still in use.
My attention wandered back to the girl again. She could have been from anywhere. She was at ease in her surroundings, but yet she didn’t quite fit in with the other women who were talking, laughing and yelling at their children. The women were in groups of two or three, scattered throughout the park. Most of their conversations were very loud, even though they were painfully personal.
The girl appeared to be alone, and preferring it that way. But then I noticed a child break away from the group of children that were playing near by and run to the bench. The little girl climbed up on the seat and rested her head on the young woman’s lap.
She reached down and fondly stroked the little girl’s hair. I could see no ring on her left hand. I immediately assumed this was a young unwed mother who had been left on her own to raise a child, but then the little girl asked a question beginning it with the words, “Auntie Jean.”
This aroused my curiosity, and you know how nosy some women can be. I made my way to the bench and asked if the other end was free. I was greeted with a smile and a nod. I pulled out my journal and reread a couple of things I had written the day before, and then took out my pen and began to write.
The little girl watched me through big, beautiful brown eyes. A few minutes of silence passed with only the sound of my pen scratching the paper. Remember what I said about some women? The little girl asked me what I was doing. I explained that I write about what I see and experience every day.
I asked, “Could I write about you?”
Her eyes grew large and her mouth became a little O with the intake of a big breath. Her gaze flew to the face of her aunt. “Can she write about me, Auntie Jean?” She proceeded to tell me her name and age and the school she attended. Her favorite color was blue. Her favorite animal was the tiger, even though she admitted that she got scared when they growled very loud. And, of course, her favorite food was spaghetti with lots of cheese sprinkled on top.
Lou Wana was almost six and very, very bright. She was small for her age and had a vivid imagination. I asked her if she believed in angels. She answered without any hesitation, “Yes, because my mommy is an angel and was in heaven with God.”
I carefully scrutinized Jean’s face before delicately asking Lou Wana when her mommy had become an angel. She answered matter-a-factly that it was not long after she was born.
Jean shooed the child back to the group of children to play again. A dark look clouded Jean’s face for a second, and then it was gone. She told me Lou Wana’s mother was her older sister, older by almost five years, and had already left home, and was on her own, when Jean started high school.
She described a life of bad relationships, drugs, alcohol and, finally, prostitution. She concluded by saying that her sister had overdosed while eight months pregnant, and Lou Wana had had to be taken by cesarean section to save her life. She was small and sickly, but she was a fighter. She overcame great odds, and was now a bright, beautiful healthy child.
I asked her what I thought was an obvious question. “If you have been raising this child since she was born, why not have her call you mother?”
She acted as if shocked that I would even consider asking that question. She said she didn’t give birth to the girl and never wanted to take her sister’s rightful place.
Jean rose to go. I told her how glad I was to meet her and Lou Wana. I wished her the best for the future ahead.
She walked over and took Lou Wana’s hand. She turned and waved to me and I waved back.
As they walked away, I thought to myself, God knew what he was doing when he picked this wonderful young woman to be that little girl’s mother, whether she used the title or not.
– Dee Pacheco