i sat, outside Starbucks’ coffeehouse, with a latte venti in my left hand and a Camel Turkish Royal in my trembling right. dissolving beneath the South Carolina sunshine, i inhaled deep. i tried hard to put the events of the day into some semblance of order, pitting myself against the tears of frustration and rage that prickled the back of my eyes.
it was barely ten a.m. but the sun was already bold, brash and resplendent; beaming down with unearthly ferocity.
a sudden, small and new shadow contravened my thought, catching me off-guard. i looked up to see a little girl with big blue eyes as wide as the summer sky standing before me, staring.
“sometimes when you are travelling with other people you can still feel alone…” she told me, as if reading my mind.
“don’t be sad – you don’t have to feel so alone… i am Evangeline” she said softly, moving closer, studying me.
she told me she was seven years old and that she was taller than most of the boys in her class. her hair was long, shining and the colour of sandcastles. she had violet blue eyes – the bluest i had ever seen. her mouth, like a tiny rosebud, looked sticky; stained cerise from the cherry popsicle she held, melting, in her hand. she stood before me; her eyes held me, still. a tiny rivulet of thick cherry syrup slowly trickled down over her soft dimpled fingers, dripping onto the pavement between our feet. we both looked down at the tiny little pools of pink.
“my name is Kat” i told her, smiling.
“where’s your Mom?” i asked, anxiously scanning the car park, squinting in the glare of the sun; peering inside the coffeehouse – straining to refocus and readjust from the blinding light to the cool shadowy interior.
“my Mom knows i like to make new friends” were the words she entrusted me with.
i grew more anxious and feared for her safety. perhaps sensing this, she spun around and flung open a freckled arm, nonchalantly pointing to a big red pick-up truck parked nearby. behind the wheel of this muscular vehicle sat a plump round-faced Mom; wearing a Slipknot t-shirt. her long thick dark bangs fell heavy upon her tanned shoulders, like a shroud or veil. glancing out towards us, she threw her hand – a gesture – a wave – and smiled; yet never breaking contact with the mobile phone she had squashed between her soft chin and shoulder. i let go a sigh of relief. i relaxed inside. this must be her mother.
that perfect little girl could have been an easy, trusting target for evil human beings. i shuddered. went cold
[oh, Evangeline… Evangeline]
i smiled as she stood on one leg, precariously balanced, and told me:
“we’re a long way from March”.
both mesmerised and stunned at her astuteness – a wisdom that betrayed her age of innocence – i agreed with her.
“my Daddy is coming home from Iraq in March – for my birthday. i will be eight!”
[f u c k !!! f u c k !!! f u c k !!! – oh child… what do i say…?]
i searched, fumbling desperately like a blind man lost in a forest, for the right words to say. shocked, moved, i tried to hide the tears and turned to extinguish my cigarette.
“all i want for my birthday is for my Mommy to be happy again and stop crying at bedtime. all i want is for Daddy to come home to us. Mommy misses Daddy – that’s why she wears his T-shirt. but it’s way way too big for her.”
[f u c k !!! f u c k !!! f u c k !!! – what the fuck do i say…?]
i smiled to her and squeezed her little sticky hand to reassure her. i could not speak. i could barely breathe.
“oh he’ll be home soon – i am sure – he wouldn’t want to miss his favourite girl’s birthday…” i said inwards – to myself. sub-consciously re-assuring myself.
[what do you say to child in times like these…?]
“you see? you don’t have to be all sad and alone here – we’re friends now” she said as she suddenly flung her arms around my neck and squeezed me tight. as she kissed my cheek, her breath smelled of sweet cherry pop. her eyes wide, innocent and yet so knowing and unwittingly astute.
“you won’t forget me – will you?” she whispered in my ear – still holding me tight.
“no sweetheart… i won’t forget you” i said… “how could i..?”
and how could i?
how could i possibly forget?
i was humbled. this put everything into perspective, reminding me of an ancient proverb:
“i grumbled for i had no shoes – until i met a man who had no feet”
a chance encounter with a stranger. a child. a wide-eyed little girl. eyes wide and deeply perceptive.
i will not forget her.
and i will not forget her words – those words which, at first, would seem random to those around me made sense.
[oh Evangeline… Evangeline…]
how could i forget you…?
words (c) Kat McDonald, and Evangeline
*written while on USA Tour with Little Buddha, July 2009