It was one day like any other, near the end of school, and I was walking home. That day I had walked around a neighborhood called River's Run Estates, and chosen a beautiful home for my family. Two stories. Trampoline in the back and a little pond with a fountain in the front. I was thinking about what kind of fish I would put in the pond, dragging my clogs in the dust and watching it swirl around my ankles, when I happened to look up. I knew that I'd heard something, but wasn't quite sure what. I could hear a mockingbird in a nearby tree, but nothing else. Then, turning to my left, I saw a pair of huge blue eyes looking at me curiously from the middle of a patch of blackberry bushes.
The eyes were set in a round, chubby face that was covered in purple blackberry juice. Above the blue eyes was a tangle of curly blond hair, sticking out in every possible direction. It was a girl with both her grubby mitts just full of barely ripe blackberries. She grinned at me broadly and held out her hand.
Now, I was standing a good 10 feet away from her. And all of a sudden, it struck me how bizarre this was. What in heaven's name was a little girl doing, all alone, standing in a blackberry patch at 3:00 in the afternoon anyway? And offering berries to a stranger? And not speaking a single word? Bizarre.
I shook my head. She grinned bigger and took a couple steps forward, still holding out her handful of half smushed berries. I could see that she didn't have any shoes on, and her feet were covered in purple berry stains, too, and her legs were covered in scratches from the briers. Seeing those scratches, I felt kind of guilty for not taking the berries. So I stepped forward a little bit, too, and took the berries from her hand and popped them into my mouth.
They were warm from the sun, and still slightly sour.
Standing there, chewing my berries, I stared at the girl and tried to guess her age. I decided that she was 7, maybe. But then why didn't she say anything? She just stood still and stared right back at me, smiling and rubbing her dirty hands down the sides of a raggedy RANDOLPH MEMORIAL DAY 10K t-shirt that was much too big for her, while she balanced on one foot.
It was something about the t-shirt that made me realize, with a shock, that this girl must be poor. Really poor. So poor that even a trailer park would be nice. The kind of poor that made my own mama look at me over her glass of blue Kool-Aid at dinner and say "You eat that green bean casserole, young lady. There are kids who would be grateful to have it." Wow. Poor enough to be grateful for green bean casserole. I looked to the left and right of me, for any sign of a house. I couldn't see any. Just the tangled undergrowth of the trees, buzzing with the sound of bees.
"Where do you live?" I blurted out.
She just smiled.
"I mean, do you live... around here?" I tried again, more politely.
She laughed--a deep, staccato sound that surprised me.
Suddenly, with hardly any noise at all, she whirled on the foot she had been balancing on and darted off through the bushes and into the trees, where I couldn't see her anymore.
I looked down at my own hand, and the purple berry juice on my fingers.