Thursday, November 8, 2012

Unfinished Braids

I was on the phone with the auto-body shop, seeing about repairs to my car from the recent hurricane, when there was a knock at my front door. I wasn’t expecting anyone, and on my rural Maryland road with no street lights and no sidewalks, surprise visitors after dark are a rare occurrence. Maybe it was my imagination. I kept talking to the man on the phone. The knock came again, more urgently this time. I excused myself from the phone, but asked the body shop man to wait while I answered the door. It was November 1, after all. Mexico’s Day of the Dead. The night after Halloween.

When I cracked open my front door, a young girl stood before me, clothed in modest, school-day garb and no jacket against the chill evening air, with a light blanket draped over her shoulders and a large electronic keyboard tucked under her arm. She was crying. "Can you help me?" she sobbed, tears running down her cheeks. "I need help." I told her to wait a minute because I was on the phone. I went back to the auto-body man, explaining apologetically that I needed to hang up so I could call the police. My spine tingled with apprehension. I dialed 9-1-1 as I returned to the door, wanting to be connected with authorities in the event this turned out to be some elaborate ruse with nefarious accomplices waiting in the bushes.

I invited my young guest in from the cold and asked her to take a seat in my living room as I gave the police dispatcher my name and address and a description of the girl. "How old are you?". "Twelve", came the reply. As I coaxed information out of the youngster, I learned that she had only been in this country for about five years.  The dispatcher told me the police were on their way.  I hung up the phone and asked my sudden guest, who I’ll call "Adamma" *, if she was hungry.

I led Adamma into my kitchen and perched her on a stool at the counter.  I warmed up a bite of homemade Ratatouille, assuring her that if she liked the way it tasted, I would heat up some more. She loved it. I fixed her a bowl and then warmed up some green-tomato gratin, prepared the previous day with the last tomatoes from my garden. Adamma liked that, too, so I fixed her a plate. As she ate, I asked her questions and took notes.

She recited her street address but it wasn’t a street nearby so I knew she must have walked quite a distance. I asked her how she happened to choose my house after walking so far. Adamma quietly explained that she knocked on many doors, but no one answered.  No one would come to her aid.

Pretty soon I had Adamma laughing. She had an enchanting smile.  When Adamma finished eating she took her plate to the sink and washed it without being asked. I explained that I had some work to do on the computer, and asked if she would she like to play her keyboard in my living room until the police arrived. Her face brightened.

I turned up the furnace to ward off the chill and settled my houseguest in the living room with her keyboard positioned on my coffee table. As soon as Adamma began to play, all three of my cats came in to watch. It was as if Adamma had her own little feline fan club. We both laughed. I explained that all three of my cats are "rescue kitties" who have been given a loving home here with me. Adamma beamed her magical smile at Ember, stroking her silky black fur. I draped another blanket over the little girl's shoulders and returned to my computer in the adjoining room while Adamma softly pecked at the keys on her electric piano.

When the officer knocked on my door, I greeted him warmly and invited him in. When I asked Adamma if she wanted to have privacy with the policeman or if she preferred that I stay with her, she looked at me anxiously and asked me to stay. I handed the officer my notes and he continued the questioning.

The officer explained that he would have to go out to his patrol car to radio all the information into headquarters and would be back in a few minutes to tell us what would happen next. As I sat quietly with Adamma in the living room, I asked who had done her braids. Her aunt braided her hair, she said.  They look nice, I told her. "But my auntie didn’t finish…" Adamma’s voice trailed off.

When the policeman returned, he said he would be taking Adamma home. I was more startled than Adamma was, believing, in my limited exposure to this sort of thing, that she would be taken somewhere else, not returned to her previous environment. I asked the officer if he would be talking to the family. Yes, the officer replied, and detectives would also be paying the household a visit.

I helped Adamma gather up her keyboard and hugged her goodbye as she walked with the officer to his patrol car. Such a precious soul, that beautiful child, who chose my porch on a chilly November evening. I will wonder often of her fate, and wish her well...

*  Adamma means "daughter of beauty" in Igbo.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. What a beautiful story. Please let us know if you learn anything more.