Last night when I got home from work I took a stroll down to the south end of the block and saw some of my favorite girls in the hood. The Daughters of School Lady are four girls who are very polite and very intelligent. Their mom works at the local grammar school and goes to every Local School Council meeting without fail.
I met the girls at the block party last summer and it was love at first sight. But their mom was understandably suspicious. I gathered from the youngest daughter, Miss Nosy (for all her questions, which I love, even "how come you are not married?" and "how old are you?" which I don't answer in front of her mom because I fear she would think I was encouraging impolite behavior), that her mom was worried I might want to kidnap one of them and raise her as my own. "My mom thinks you want to steal me," I believe Miss Nosy said.
"I don't want to steal you," I replied. "I might borrow you once in a while, if your mom said OK." But clearly in this case I would have to win Mom's trust first, and the language barrier makes that pretty tough. However, the ice melted a bit the first time she saw me at an LSC meeting. I think it melted more last October when I bought five bucks' worth of school raffle tickets from School Lady, and more yet when I won the raffle and gave School Lady's daughters the prize--it was like a doll and a mirror set, very girly, not my style at all but entirely appropriate for the Daughters of School Lady.
So now I go down the block and hang on the sidewalk or the stoop with them. Sometimes we play volleyball in the vacant lot (which needs cleaning out). Senora School Lady comes and joins us while we talk. She understands English but doesn't speak it. I am understanding more Spanish but still find it difficult to eke out more than a sentence, sometimes only a few works, in a given moment. So la senora listens to me talk to her daughters in English and gets a big laugh out of things that come up, especially when Miss Nosy makes inquiries, like "Why don't you have a car?"
"Because I have my bike," I tell her. Then we talk about bike accidents and laugh about the time Nosy crashed into a tree or the time I ran into a dog leash on the bike path and fell over. La Senora laughed very hard when her daughter tried to pry my age out of me and failed. She then shushed her.
Miss Nosy is seven. Her ten year old sister is my favorite of all four of them. Her birthday was last week, the day before mine. She is very quiet but if you are patient she will get up her nerve and start talking, then not quit. She likes to draw. Last night she started reciting poems from Shel Silverstein's "A Light in the Attic," so she is now christened Miss Poetry. Her real name is gorgeous but I will not give it here.
When little Miss Nosy came back with "A Light in the Attic," Miss Poetry opened it right up and began reading her favorites in the fading twilight. "Can you see?" I asked.
"Sort of," she said. Her mom went up on the steps and switched on the porch light. We all sat down, the girls and their mother across the top step on the stoop, me on the step below Miss Poetry's feet. Miss Poetry must have read half the book. Her favorite is "Prayer of the Selfish Child" which she read and recited from memory because she loves it so much:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my toys to break
so the other kids' won't play with them
(I think that is correct, thanks Shel!)
Miss Poetry only stumbled once, while trying to read "quadruple gainer" in a poem about a girl diving, only to find in midair that the pool was dry! She is helping her little sister learn to read, too. She would read a poem, then give the book to her sister to try. Sometimes they would read together, sometimes Poetry read first and waited for little Nosy to repeat it after her.
I kept trying to leave (feebly, and more because it was dark than because I wanted to go), but the girls kept saying stay, stay. Their dad came out with their little puppy for a while--he put the dog on the fencepost, and he's so small he fit!
We heard firecrackers in the distance. It's always hard to tell whether it's firecrackers or shots. There was an ambulance down on the block south of 51st earlier in the evening. "Something's happening," Miss Poetry told me. School Lady had eyes and ears out on the fireworks while her daughters read.
After we said goodnight, I went back up the street to my house and realized I had locked myself out! One of the neighbors has my keys, so I walked back down the block and no one was in their house. They live next door to the Nearly Evicteds, so I went to their house. Their daughter was getting highlights for the 8th grade prom (it's tonight). I helped her little brother with his math homework and we all watched Cartoon Network until 10, when someone got home next door.
I stepped out and called to the neighbor, who was coming in with her groceries and some friends. We were standing on her front steps when we heard a burst of automatic gunfire coming from the north, pretty far off by the sound. "That's not good," she said. It's not even official summer yet.
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