I sat in my idling car at the tail end of the school’s carpool line, with an open book in my lap. My mind was elsewhere, mulling over this and that.
I noticed a bright flash of color through the corner of my eye and turned to my left. I saw a little girl, clad in a pale pink blouse and a pink-and-blue plaid skort, streaking down the short flight of steps at the front of her house and down the sidewalk. Where is she going all alone?
As I watched, mildly interested — in that way we do when our mind is engaged somewhere else, but it still registers the sights and sounds around it, with a bemused nonchalance – the girl skipped up the steps of the house next-door. She rang the doorbell twice, pressing it hard. She then turned her back to the door and began to worry the bracelet on her wrist with jerky, little movements. The jaunty, orange imitation of a hibiscus in her wavy-blond hair fluttered in the afternoon’s breeze as if signaling its wearer’s emotions.
A few seconds later, the door cracked open a little and out peeked two identical-looking girls attired in brightly-colored leggings and black t-shirts with messages scrawled across them. The girl in pink turned around tentatively and spoke to them. One of her feet hovered over the threshold and the other was planted firmly outside. They carried a soft conversation, and then the three of them skipped outside and continued their dialogue.
A fourth girl – in a white skirt and a sparkly black blouse, with shiny black pumps to match, no less :-) — waltzed out of nowhere and joined the little group. She was received by the identical girls with squeals and hugs, while the first girl stood slightly apart, looking uncertain. It was obvious that the girls, all of them, were friends. But, the girl in pink, even though she was part of the circle they all formed now, stretched the circle into a sort of an oval; as if she felt just a bit removed from the situation and her friends.
Curiously, I felt like I was viewing a miniature rendition of the complex mechanics of an adult world. What are they talking about? What is it that made the one girl seem somewhat aloof from the rest?
The carpool line gobbled up a few students at the head and moved on sluggishly. My car, too, slithered ahead, away from the curious happenings in which I was by then fully immersed.
It was not really an incident to write home about. So, I wondered later, what made me pay that much attention to such an everyday, innocent thing?
I realized it must have been because of the book I’d been reading earlier, called “Autumn Street” by Lois Lowry. It’s narrated in the point of view of a precocious six-year-old, who, along with her mother and her sister, has to go live with her grandparents for a year, because her father has gone away to do his bit for the war effort.
The book is all about how that year affects her whole life. It’s one of the more honest and empathetic — though the diction is at times incurably adult even for such a smart girl. I mean, what child uses words like interstitial and viscid? — peeks into the bigger-than-life wonders, joys, and fears of childhood, all colored and outlined by the undercurrents of those times.
The book reminded me of the complicated world that children’s minds reside in, and how indelible an impact the actions and (sometimes careless) words of adults have on them.
I’ll leave you with one beautiful passage that Lowry uses to ‘show’ both the empathy and naughtiness of the main character at the same time. The ‘he’ in the passage is the MC’s grandfather, the head of the family in the real old sense of the word, who has recently suffered a stroke that took away most of his faculties.
Carefully I sprinkled cinnamon on his damp fingertip and lifted it to the wet black shape that had once been his fine proud mouth. It touched his tongue, and with his mouth he shaped what I understood to be a smile. I dried his finger with the hem of my dress, put his hand back into his lap, and crept away. Grandmother never knew.