We’re in the playground, as usual, M, Little H, and I. It’s beastly hot outside, so we leave our beast, the dog, behind at home. It’s also late, after 6, and B will be home soon enough to take the poor old thing out (not me, the dog!) for a drag around the block.
Just now is when the playground becomes approachable again. The sun is setting in earnest, and the treeless place titrates down a few degrees. People come out of the brickwork, spilling from lobbies and rolling strollers up service ramps of bulging apartment buildings all around. Kids swarm in, mothers drag behind with thier limp hair and perspiring smiles, fathers with loosened ties and sweaty suit jackets flap down the block to meet them. The playground comes back to life.
“Ice-ee twuck! Ice-ee twuck!” shouts M, pointing. Doodl-y doodle-y, doo-doo-doo, the monkey chased the weasel…
“You’re late,” I say to the ice cream guy, kidding around. “Gimme a flying saucer, I’ll pay ya tomorrow.”
“Why you so nice to me, lady, hah?” he says curtly, kidding too and handing over the treat.
“Pity,” I say. “Really, tho, I ran out without-“ but he dismisses me, saying, "Go, go, mommy..." My credit is good and he’s got a line of hot little hands waving crumply bills at him.
I pirouette back to M who is strapped into the stroller, waiting for the flying saucer, which I pass over his head, making space ship noises, "Zhhhhhhnnnnnnnnnnrrrrrmm! BEEP! BEEEP! BEEP!"
“Ice-ee, ice-ee!” he says, breathing fast and reaching out for it, kicking his legs with excitement like he used to do on sight of B coming through the door at the end of the day. The treat is barely out of the wrapper as M reaches up, high now, his arms are getting long, and grabs it from my hands, starts nibbling away at the black, damp cookie part, licking the white ice cream investigatively, touching it to the tip of his nose and then looking at me, eyebrows raised, as if to say, 'Ice-cream-nose; does it work on me?'
I slurp the middle of his face and he shoves me away; I’ve gone to far, gooney mommy that I am. I sit on a bench, relishing the sitting, watch kids fly around with their ice creams. Little H sleeps in the back of the stroller, her round, pink face hot and peaceful. M eats.
And then is distracted. A bigger kid has run by and caught his eye, a girl, 5 or 6, pretty and birdlike and boney and definitively un-American looking, with golden colored skin and light hair, as if she has been to the beach, or camping. She has hazel eyes and large, gray-white, crooked teeth, an open-mouthed but cautious smile. She wears purple cotton pants, dirty white sandals, a ‘Dora’ t-shirt, the ubiquitous uniform of little girls, but there’s a sophistication to her face, her posture, something harder, something of memory. She has only one hand.
“Wha-SAT?!?” M shouts, pointing at the stumped, waxy wrist. “Wha-SAT! Wha-SAT!” He demands to know, eyes bugging out in alarm.
‘That happens?’ I imagine him thinking, ‘You knew about this, mommy? Where the hell is that kid’s HAND?’
Landmines, I imagine, but say nothing, of course. She has already seen us, the girl, and she pushes her little sister on a swing, steady as a metronome, watching us, the little sister a baby version of herself, in tact.
Can my eyes speak for me at all? I try carefully and hard to smile the right way at the girl, to convey to her that she is lovely and unusual and strong. But in his outrage, M drowns my silent admiration out.
“Wha-SAT?!? Wha-SAT?!?” His pointing finger, like his father’s are, long, articulated, practically scorns.
“Let’s go see,” I say. There has to be a way in.
We roll on into the swing area and M climbs over the stroller bar as I mop off him with wipes the last of his flying saucer. Shoeless and shirtless, all frayed, uncut blonde hair and tan limbs, he could almost be the middle brother to these girls; but he’s more primal than they, and fatter. M grips the bottom of the swing next to the baby sister and hangs from it. I pull and push him up into it properly while he gives the bigger girl a side-eye; up close, he’s not so blatant, not so brave. But he’s still looking, and he’s looking at me, too, and she’s looking at me, and I don’t have the answer or even the right question.
“I like your 'Dora' shirt,” I say to the girl, synchronizing our pushes. I pat my shirt front, then point to hers.
“No,” she says kindly. No English, she means. Then we all four look straight ahead instead of at each other, and keep swinging.
There is no way in.
FOR INFORMATION ON LANDMINE INJURIES TO CHILDREN AND HOW YOU CAN HELP, CLICK ON MY UNICEF LINK