“I’m going for a walk up the hill,” she announced nonchalantly. And because we live in a safe neighborhood and I can see the path that runs all the way up the hill from our kitchen window, I nodded at her with a reciprocal degree of nonchalance. My daughter had woken up this morning believing she was old enough now for independent strolls, and had announced this belief over breakfast. She is five years old, and was born knowing her mind.
She slipped into her bright blue flip-flops and reached for the door handle, looking over her shoulder to give me a quick, grave and wordless nod. Such a mature,eloquent gesture it both amused and astonished me. I looked down to hide a smile.“Enjoy the sun,” I said. “And the clouds,” she added, “They look like pillows today. My favorite kind.” “Mine too,” I said quickly. I don’t know where she gets a lot of things from, but this particular fondness of hers comes directly from me. There must be a gene for it. “Enjoy the sun and the cloud pillows,” I say as the door closes softly. She was never a loud child, always careful beyond her years with inanimate objects.
I can see her walking up the hill. Leaning a little forward into the angle of the slope. In her white shorts and red and white striped shirt with the long sleeves she looks like an unseasonable candy cane. Long sleeves because she doesn’t do short sleeves. She told me last summer in all seriousness that her arms were too skinny for short sleeves, that they made her look silly. I am not sure who she gets her sense of fashion from.
There is no one else on the hill today. The path is flanked by tall apartment buildings like ours, and identical tall buildings stand guard at the top of the hill. The hill, the buildings, the sky above – they are so big and in their midst my tall-for-her-age, solitary daughter looks unutterably tiny. And so brave. Every now and then she pauses, flings a glance up at the sky or back over her shoulder. She can’t see me from where she is, and cannot possibly know for certain that I am watching her. And from this distance I can’t read the expression on her face. Sometimes when I watch my daughter – even when she is right next to me, I feel like I’m looking at her through plate glass. I don’t think she tries to be unreachable. But her thoughts often wander places my mind can’t follow, at such times I have no idea where she is thinking.
Suddenly she stands very still, and I sense, the way only a mother can, that
something has happened. Her hands have flown to her face. She kneels on the
pavement and I wonder with some degree of astonishment, if she is praying. I am
not a religious woman and if she is indeed offering her genuflected salutations to her Creator or the Universe it is not a custom she picked up from me.
Now she has risen and is returning down the hill, not running but walking very fast, so fast that I fear she might trip on her own flip-flops. She has not yet mastered the art of simultaneous speed and steadiness. But she doesn’t trip. As she gets closer I can see her face and I can see she has been crying, is in fact still crying. Her hands curled into fists by her side.
I meet her on the sidewalk. She walks straight into my arms, not questioning my presence, nor how I knew to come find her. “What happened?” I ask, holding her close, unsure of what metaphysical realm she may have inadvertently stumbled into. This intuitive, quaint and extraordinary child of mine.
She tilts her head up, tears still leaking out of the corners of her eyes.
“I bit my tongue,” she says sorrowfully.