The Way Home
Copyright© 2019 by barbar
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“I am here early again.”
“My receptionist doesn’t know what to think.”
“Did she say something about you leaving early?”
“No! But I can tell by the way she stares at me.”
“Well, take a seat, please. I’ve been hoping I would get a chance to talk with you again.”
“I see Gianna is with you again.”
I wave to the girl. She giggles and does a little finger wave back to me. I am struck by her simple beauty. Her open friendliness to a stranger moves me. She is wearing the same pink jacket as before but this time her jeans are a deep purple colour.
“Yes, Gianna is with me again. Apparently her affliction will need more than one day of rest to cure. I didn’t realise leprosy was such a long-lasting illness. As far as I know, no more fingers have fallen off so that is a blessing.”
Gianna giggles and waggles all ten of her fingers in the air for me to see.
“She spent the morning visiting her grandmother, now she is with me for the rest of the day.”
This time Gianna sits next to me. She takes out her book and starts reading.
A chill tremor races through me – then it is gone.
I turn to Benito.
“How is your drawing going?”
“It’s fine. I need your help though. I want to know what you can see back over there. That’s the direction you came from, isn’t it?”
It feels strange to look back. I don’t do that very often.
“You can’t see the road. There are mounds – grassy mounds. There are gum trees on the mounds. They hide the road and the traffic. But over the top of the mounds, between the gum trees, you can see the buildings on the other side of the street.”
“Ah! That’s what I needed to know. Grassy mounds and gum trees with buildings behind them. Tell me more about the gum trees and the buildings.”
Gianna leans against my arm while she reads. She seems so comfortable. I decide to leave her be. Something about the familiarity of the gesture tugs at me, but I ignore it.
“They’re just typical shop buildings – rectangular and concrete. The one on the left is taller and there is a big sign at the top. I can’t read the sign from here, though.”
“Never mind. That’s plenty to go on. Would you pick out a colour for me?”
The small figure leaning against me feels so much like my daughter that I forget.
I put my arm around behind her so she can lean into my side. She wriggles and cuddles into my side without interrupting her reading.
My little girl sighs and turns a page. As she reads she hums softly and the golden sound of her voice wraps around me like a blanket.
I run my hand once down my little girl’s side and then rest it casually on her hip. My fingers gently pat and stroke the top of her leg.
Benito is still talking.
“Perhaps we can get back to telling me about this bench – this dark green bench. You were saying you celebrated your daughter’s third birthday here in the park.”
“Yes indeed. Right over there. We set out blankets and had a picnic lunch. It was wonderful. Wasn’t it, my sweet?”
I dip my head and kiss the top of my little girl’s head.
“Did you have balloons? Were there other children?”
“Yes indeed – what’s a party without balloons? All the children looked so smart in their party clothes. My baby girl’s face was glowing with excitement.”
Without thinking about it, I gently run my hand along her denim-clad thigh from her hip toward her knee and then back again. The contact is reassuring, familiar, habitual, loving.
I feel something brushing against the arm I have around my little girl. It is hair – long curly hair. My daughter does not have long curly hair.
I look. A strange girl is leaning against me. It is not my daughter. I freeze up. Words choke in my throat. I stare down at the girl cuddled against me.
I am holding someone else’s child. I am touching her leg.
I panic. I take my arm off her. I try to push her away. I am terrified.