Sunday was a big day.
We spent it with friends working our way around a shopping centre. It was good fun, but by the time we got home, my wife and I were wrecked. We passed the evening by watching the cricket, it looked like it was going to be a good game, but near the end, the team we were cheering for made too many mistakes and threw it all away. With heavy eyelids we went to bed.
The next morning while putting on my tie I glanced out the window of our bathroom. The window was only open slightly, just enough to let the steam from the shower out. Our bathroom is on the second floor, and something down on the driveway caught my eye.
Standing across on the other side of the road was a little girl.
She couldn’t have been more than four. She was dressed quite nicely, had a haircut that bobbed just below her ears, and red buckle-up shoes. I can’t honestly say that I knew her, but there was a faint familiarity about her. We know the neighbours on both sides of us so it wasn’t one of their kids. Beyond our immediate neighbours, we don’t know many people in the street. Did I see a removalist truck down the road the other week? Maybe she is new to the street. But why that ring of familiarity? Who knows, maybe I had seen her in passing at the supermarket or the library, or some other innocuous place like that, and she had planted deep down in my memory.
She seemed to be looking straight at me so I gave her a little wave. She stood still for a moment and then, when I waved a second time, she almost unconsciously raised her arm from the elbow and gave it a brief flutter in return. She then ran off. As I returned to tightening the knot of my tie, I shrugged my shoulders. Kids are weird.
Later that week, I saw her again. As I was leaving work, I shut the trunk of our wagon and caught a glimpse of a reflection behind me. No doubt about it, there was this kid again, although this time, a long way from home as I work in the city. She had the same clothes on as the other day. The same bob haircut, the same red shoes. The same feeling of familiarity came to me. I turned around to talk to her, go ask her why she was so far from home. To see if she needed a ride back. As I turned around, I caught sight of the flick of her skirt she ran off and up the ramp out of the car park.
Two nights later at home, my wife and I finished watching a movie and began to clean up the lounge. I put the dishes in the sink, and as I did so, I looked out the kitchen window, which overlooks our back yard. Standing under the clothesline in the dim light thrown from the garage sidelight was the little girl. Dim as the light was, the bob haircut and clothes made it unmistakable. How did this lid get in our backyard? Why is she there? Why isn’t she at home at this hour?
In an instant, she disappeared. My wife had flicked off the garage light from the switch by the back door of our house.
‘Turn that back on!’ It came out far terser than I meant and my wife just looked at me with raised eyebrows.
‘Are you okay?’ She asked, ‘You look strange.’
‘Sorry love, I thought I saw someone outside, one of the neighbours kids or something.’
She stepped back and flipped the switch back on. The area in the glow of the garage light was now empty.
The following day my wife and I were on our way back from the city and we decided to stop and do some quick shopping. As we pulled into the car park, I saw her right there, only a couple of meters away. The little girl. I could tell by the look on my wife’s face that she had seen her too. My wife looked ashen, a look on her face like a bus had hit her. I realised that all this time I had been seeing the little girl, she had been getting closer each time, like she was slowly getting more comfortable with being nearer to me. As the car came to a stop, I said out the window ‘Maria, don’t be scared.’ I don’t know why I used that name. Maria was the name we had picked out for our little baby four years ago. A miscarriage had ended our dreams of having a child of our own.
Then it hit me. The familiarity. She looked like me.
Could it be Maria? How could it be Maria?
My wife and I climbed out of the car. As we did, the little girl – Maria? Not possible – backed away and scuttled off around the corner of the building that we had parked in front of. Had we scared her off? I looked over at my wife with tears in my eyes. She looked back at me with mascara begining to run, she silently mouthed the word. Maria. ‘I’m scared’ I said. My wife was in front of me now, hugging me, looking up at me. ‘What if we have scared her away forever?’
Very quietly my wife said ‘We have to go after her, I just want to hold her.’
I looked down at her ‘I’m scared’ I said again, ‘Scared that if I go around that corner she’ll be gone. She was trying to get close to us all this time.’
I steeled myself and slowly walked towards the corner of the building. My breathing rate increased. I could feel the tears drying on my face. My heart pounded in my chest like a freight train. A little bubble of sweat ran down my back. I stepped around the corner of the building.
The alley was empty.
I awoke with a jolt. Not sure why. Our room was dark. I could feel my wife breathing next to me. I looked toward the end of the bed. There was a small figure there. I could just make out the shape in the darkness.
‘Daddy, can I come sleep with you and Mummy?’
Yes my love.
Yes you can.