Chasing Joy (1500Words, Round 3, Week 2, 2/25/18)
The streetlights came on with a soundless pop that drew her attention outside. When she’d arrived, she had to weave her way through the kids walking past on their way home from school. Now, the passerby were mostly adults and the sun was down just enough to give a muted quality to the scene. She had been sitting there, hunched over her notes, for almost an hour. As she watched the cars driving past she noticed that only about half of them had felt the need to turn on their headlights. If she left now, she could be home before it was truly dark.
“Can I get you anything else, ma’am?” The waitress had appeared out of nowhere, somehow sensing that she was ready to go.
“If you could wrap this for me that would be great.” She handed over her barely touched meal. “And I’ll take the check when you have a moment.”
“Was everything ok, ma’am? I can get you something else if you’d like.”
Plus one on the tip, she thought, while she answered, “Everything was fine. I guess I’m not as hungry as I thought.” It had been a few weeks since she’d been able to finish a meal. It wasn’t the restaurant’s fault though the waitress looked unconvinced.
Turning her attention back outside, she was rewarded with one of the best sights of her day. Three girls were coming down the sidewalk chatting and giggling. Their dark skin shone in contrast to their shockingly bright jackets. There was so much color and brightness emanating from the three of them that the streetlights seemed to dim as they approached. It wasn’t so unusual to see a gaggle of black girls walking past – the neighborhood she was in was proud of its diversity. That the three of them were carrying kites was unusual. And that they had kites were as bright as their jackets was unusual. And that the colors in the kites matched the colors in the girls’ hair was unusual.
She sat there, mouth open, watching the girls make their way down the street. The noise inside the restaurant was enough that she had no idea what they were talking and laughing about. She didn’t hear their laughter, though she was sure it was happening. While the girls were in view, she felt a huge pull to join them. She wanted to run outside and catch up with them. She wanted to be a part of their joy.
“Here you go, ma’am. I can take it whenever you’re ready.” The waitress had materialized again, this time with her check and her leftovers, pulling her focus from the compelling girls. Minus one for distracting me, she thought, as she dealt with the business of paying for her meal.
By the time she looked back into the street, the girls and their kites were gone. She swore softly under her breath as she packed up her things to go. It was silly to be upset, she told herself. It wasn’t like she really was going to run outside and fly kites with three girls she’d never met. That thought made her chuckle a bit. She could almost imagine it – dropping everything to go and play in a field with strangers. She shrugged into her coat, wincing as the fabric moved across her chest. She needed to go home and save the dreaming for another day.
She felt the pain before her brain had time to understsand what caused it, and before she found herself on her knees on the sidewalk.
“Lady! I’m sorry, lady! I didn’t mean it! I can help you stand up, lady.”
She heard the words through the pain and wanted to respond. It took a few deep breaths to push the pain down enough to get a handle on what was happening. Looking around, she put together that this concerned looking little girl must be related to why she was kneeling outside of the restaurant. “Are you ok?”
The little girl tilted her head and answered, “um, yes. You’re the one who fell, not me. Are you ok?”
She reached up to feel her chest, checking for blood – everything there seemed ok, and the pain was fading away. “I think I am ok, though I don’t know why I’m down here and I do know I’d rather be standing.”
“My kite bumped into you. I’m REALLY sorry. I don’t know why it made you fall down. I can help you stand up. I’m stronger than I look.” The little girl stepped forward and offered up her shoulder.
She smiled and put her right hand on the little girl’s shoulder as she carefully lifted herself up to standing. Once she was on her feet again, the smallness of the little girl was startling.
“I can walk you home, lady. I want to help to show you I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bump into you.”
“I may take you up on that in a few minutes. Right now, I need to sit for a bit. I think I’ll go back inside the restaurant for a few minutes.” She turned to start gathering her things off of the ground. The little girl dropped her kite and dove for the scattered belongings.
“I can carry your things inside, lady. I can help. I’ll get the door for you, too.”
She smiled as the little girl collected everything, and her kite, and pushed the door to the restaurant open with her behind. As the two of them entered the restaurant, the waitress from before came and ushered them into a table close to the door.
“Oh, my – I saw you go down out there! Have a seat and I’ll bring you a cup of tea.” The waitress turned to the little girl and added, “and some hot cocoa for your helper, here.”
As the waitress hurried away, she turned to the little girl. She wasn’t one of the three girls she’d seen before getting ready to leave, though she must have known them. She had the bright jacket, and the colorful streaks in her hair, and the matching kite. “You don’t have to wait with me if you don’t want to. I’ll be ok if you want to catch up with your friends.”
The little girl straightened up in her chair. “I knocked you down. I need to stay and make sure you’re ok.” She slumped just a bit and added, “and those aren’t my friends.”
The waitress returned then, with her uncanny timing, with their drinks. Silence fell as they both tended to their mugs.
“I have a question for you, lady.” The little girl didn’t look up from her cocoa while she waited for a response.
“I have a question for you, too.” That got the little girl to look up. She smiled and said, “you should go first.”
The little girl nodded solemnly and asked, “Why did you fall down? My kite didn’t hit you hard enough.”
Her hand drifted to her chest before picking up her spoon to fiddle with her tea. “You’re right – you didn’t hit me hard. You just have really good aim and you got me in my weak spot.” She gently tapped her chest. “The pain is what made me fall down, young lady, not you directly.”
The little girl stared at the spot and nodded as if she understood.
“Ok. Now it’s my turn. Why aren’t the other girls with kites your friends?” She watched the little girl’s face for clues as she asked the question.
“I’m too small to keep up with them. I’m still learning.” The little girl’s shoulders rolled forward and it looked as if she were trying to climb into her mug.
“What is it that you need to learn?” She knew she was being nosy. She didn’t know any of these girls. She also knew she wasn’t ready to walk home yet and didn’t want this little girl to feel responsible for her. Talking about her young problems felt like a much better thing to focus on for the next few minutes.
“I need to learn how to fly.” The little girl’s voice was suddenly so small. She had a hard time hearing her. The little girl continued. “I try every day and I’m still stuck. I’ll try again tomorrow and again and again until I get it.”
“I can help you learn how to fly a kite. I used to be quite good at it, when I was younger. What’s your name? We could meet here tomorrow and give it a go, if you want to.” As she drank her tea she was feeling better, stronger. The sadness that the little girl clearly had around her inability to get the kite to fly was too much for her to ignore.
The little girl looked up at her with a smile that was far older than herself. “Oh, I don’t know that you can help me, lady.”
“Hey, I’m stronger than I look.” The two of them looked at each other for a moment before they both started laughing.
*This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons real or imagined is unintentional