It was her skirt that I noticed first: one of those floor-length gypsy numbers, with wide parallel stripes of different colors all best found on a yarn of some baby blanket, or in a pack of dyes for Easter eggs. The skirt looked vintage and slightly tattered at the bottom where it touched the ground. It may have been a tidbit too long for her, but she strutted in it well.
She wore a simple gray turtleneck on top and from a few times I saw the toes of her Uggs peak out from underneath the skirt, they too — were bluish-gray. The tossed waves of her strawberry blond hair ran down the back of that sweater. I wondered if she had freckles, like girls with such hair often do. I wondered if she was prone to blush a lot; and when she slept, I bet she could disarm the world’s most ruthless villains and defeat her mother’s monsters.
I slowed down.
Her three brothers were walking a few steps behind her. The oldest one could not have been older than five. But the boys were already of that age when they understood that no matter how much younger she may have been, hers would be the last word, in the family. To them, it was still child’s play and video games; but she already knew how to stand-in, when mom was busy. And I imagined she had a stool that was brought out every night, into the kitchen — specifically for her; and there she stood, becoming a woman as she adoringly studied her mother’s cooking.
A couple of times she turned to look at the young boys, checking if all three were still in tow. If one was walking too close to the road or climbing up a dirty hill, he would immediately get back into a safer place. But she’d keep walking ahead, a few steps behind her mother — a tall, lean woman with the gypsy-girl’s hair and the strut that her daughter was trying on these days. (These would be the privileged days still, I hoped her mother knew; the days when in her little daughter’s eyes, she was still her deity.)
Truth be told, I could never pull off the little girl’s style. I wear skirts like that, for sure. But to double them up with a sweater was more like what those cool hippie chicks would wear, in the vicinity of NYU. Her hair was messy, but not from a lack of care. I wondered if she had just began to learn the lengths and hairstyles she liked the most and wearing hair ties around her tiny wrists. In the manner of her mother, she’d learned already how to tie her hair back with lightening speed, in moment ready for play or bedtime.
I’m not the one to walk around here much; and I would prefer to never park in these alleys late at night. There used be a giant homeless man who lived here, sleeping always in the same spot — along the gray wall of some sound stage; and he would guard these streets. Like everyone in Hollywood, he had his own story; and that story had to do with broken family, a quick rise to fame, then loss of everything — and after that, survival. So many times, he’d been arrested and led away, only to reappear at his same spot a few days later. With him, standing in dark corners or sitting on the curbs, I somehow felt protected. But now, he’s gone; with nothing but a vigil by his wall.
The girl began to let her brothers pass her. Her mother had, by now, located the family’s silver van, and she opened the door on the passenger side, closer to the curb. The boys took their time conquering the vehicle.
The tiny gypsy-child looked around — and then, she let out a twirl! Just one 360-degree twirl! It was the same move I’d seen girls do in their brand new dresses, often times around other girls or when dancing at a wedding. And while they turn their feet in one place, they lose themselves in the fabric rising underneath their eyes. They still see magic. To them, the world is still extraordinary.
She finished twirling, gathered her loose locks again, and threw them over the right shoulder. That’s when she noticed me, smiling.
She gave me an askance look: That was twirl was meant to be between her and her imagination only!
I got embarrassed, but even as I lowered my eyes and sped up to my own car, parked on the other side of the street from the silver van, I kept her image living underneath my eyelids.
She was a girl on the verge of growing out of her childhood. But how I prayed that some of it — would never leave completely!