by Meghan Bellamy
I was walking down the block not two days ago, my eyes fixed upon the ground and my head in the sky. My steps started to seem rhythmic to tired eyes, and I remember a distinct fear of breaking that rhythm. I watched each toe fall to the ground and though it made no sound amongst the ambient city noise, I heard it.
My meaningless meditation was broken by a small child in a light blue dress when she bumped into my leg. I smiled and told her it was okay. I began to walk away when I realized she was alone. I turned back to her and I saw something in her eyes I had never seen before but also recognized with deep familiarity. They were big, desperate almost. Her petrified muscles told me she was scared, like she might start crying soon. I relaxed my body to complement hers and I approached her with total ease and vulnerability.
“Sweetie, where’s your momma?” I asked, to which I received no reply.
She stared at me so intensely I began to feel as though I was made of glass. Like she was seeing right through me and like her piercing glare may shatter me at any moment.
“Do you need help? I can call someone, or take you somewhere. Why don’t we go look for your mom.”
As I spoke her gaze softened and she walked closer to me. She gently wrapped her limp, chubby arms around my hips as far as they could reach. The side of her face rested upon my thigh and she began to weep. I stared down at her, in awe, mostly, of her poise, her composition. She was no older than three or four, and yet this child could scare me with a look, and her tears were barely audible.
I crouched down and I hugged her back. Her muffled sobs upon my shoulder left my shirt drenched in tears and snot; and sweet, sympathetic looks from passers-by indicated that everyone understood me to be her mother. The girl still had not spoken. I did not know if she could. She seemed old enough; and her freshly brushed honey locks that poured down her back indicated she was no orphan or street child.
She was still on my chest, and I could feel her heart beat faster and faster, and her breath on my neck with each sob grew heavy and rapid. As I wondered about this ghost child, if I should even be holding her as I am, I began to feel something in my chest. Like a knife, but slower, and less sharp. I inhaled deeply and my eyes grew wide, my head emptied and my body went numb. The arms that were holding this lost child dropped to my side and I sat heavily on my knees dumbfounded by the excruciating pain I could not identify in my chest.
Through blurred vision I watched this angelic child step away from my body, and she was no longer crying. I felt good because I had helped her. But I couldn’t go to her, I couldn’t do more, I couldn’t make sure she would be safe. My eyes grew teary from the pain and the blurriness, but I could see she was holding something, something I did not notice earlier. It was dripping onto the dirty city sidewalk, and it was leaving a dark pool beneath her hand.
I wiped my eyes and I crawled to her with what energy I could muster, and again her eyes were piercing, perhaps more sharply this time. Her face was not swollen and it was not tender and pink like a child’s usually is after she cries. Her face was pale and angelic and calm. I traced the cherub’s skin down from her eyes to the fingertips of her right hand, where chubby and unscathed knuckles had gone white in a tight grip. I watched as she clenched tighter and tighter my beating heart, the one she had stolen from my chest, and she let it drip, drip, drip, leaving stains on the city street where she found me.