THE SMALL GIRL
by Patrick Hahn
I’m lying on the sofa in my bungalow, reading the same issue of Discover magazine for the twenty-ninth time. They don’t have much in the way of printed matter in this country, I’m thinking to myself, when I hear a knock at the door. I already know who it is, even before I get off the couch and fling open the door to find the Small Girl standing my my doorstep.
The Small Girl is sixteen years old. Polio has left her with a paralyzed arm and a limp. One eye wanders, and she slurs her words, as if talking with a mouthful of mush. Her name is Ayeshetu, her nickname is Ama, but I usually just call her the Small Girl.
“Oh Joy,” I exclaim. “It’s the Small Girl. Now we can have Christmas after all.”
The Small Girl gives me a lopsided smile. This is all part of our riff, our daily ritual.
I turn around and walk back inside. The Small Girl follows me, without being invited. This, too, is part of our daily ritual.
I clap my hands together. “Hey Small Girl,” I exclaim. “Make yourself useful. Fill up my water barrel.” The Small Girl grabs a bucket and does as she is told. Meanwhile I get down on the floor and begin doing my exercises. Some people might find it fatuous for me to be doing pushups while this little girl – excuse me, this one-armed little girl – fetches water for me, but I believe you are not doing anyone a favor by treating them as if they were helpless.
When she finishes, I hand her a note worth about twenty-five cents in the local currency. A pittance, to be sure, but this is a country where the average salary for a working man is about seventy-five cents a day.
After she pockets the note, I ask her “Did you pray for me today?”
“Yeth,” she lisps.
“What did you pray for?”
“Dat you will give me money,” she replies.
My jaws drops. Never in my life have I encountered such an utter lack of guile. The Small Girl watches bemusedly as I double up with laughter.
“I am hungry,” the Small Girl intones.
I hand her an orange. The Small Girl smiles condescendingly and shakes her head. “An orange,” she patiently explains, “Doeth not thatithfy me.”
“Okay,” I say. “You can have bread and margarine.”
Again she smiles condescendingly and shakes her head. “Bread and margarine doeth not thatithfy me.”
“Okay,” I reply.” You can have rice and margarine.”
Another condescending little smile, another shake of the head. “Rithe and margarine doeth not thatithfy me.”
“Awright,” I respond. “Whaddya want?”
“I like thtew.”
So I go to the refrigerator, fill a bowl with fried rice, ladle some eggplant stew on top, and hand the bowl to her. I ask her if she would like to sit down, but she says No. I ask her if she would like a spoon or a fork, but again she says No. As always, she eats her food cold, standing up, in the kitchen, with her fingers.
After she finishes, she washes out the bowl, and as usual she does a half-assed job. I have to stand over her as she washes the bowl again and make sure she does it right this time. “You know Babe,” I tell her, “If you want to make your living as a professional free-loader, you’re gonna have to learn to tread a lot more lightly in other people’s homes.”
“Pashick,” she says, slurring my name, “Give me money to do my transport.”
“WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE?” I roar. “A FREAKIN’ BANK?” The Small Girl remains expressionless.
Impulsively, I ask her “Who cuts your hair?”
“No Body,” she murmurs.
“Whaddya mean ‘Nobody?’” I demand. “Somebody must cut your hair.”
Without missing a beat, she replies, “Pashick – give me money to get my hair cut.” Again she looks on bemusedly as I double up with laughter.
We repair to the living room, and she picks up a copy of Gideon’s Bible lying on a side table. “Should I take?” she inquires.
“Why do you want my Bible?” I ask.
“I want to read the word of God,” she replies.
“Yeah, sure you can have it,” I tell her.
The Small Girl asks me if I believe in God. When I say No, she starts getting agitated. “Look,” I tell her. “You’ve met one person in your life who doesn’t believe in God, and he’s paying for your education. There’s twenty million people in this country who do believe in God, and not one of them will pay for your education. Why do you think that is?”
“You let God worry about dem” she replies.
We sit down on a couch, and the Small Girl reaches into her shopping bag and pulls out a tattered notebook to show me. Every page is filled with original poetry she has written. It’s all in her native language, so I can pick out only a word here and there.
She has told me that her ambition is to go to university and get a job in broadcasting. I wonder if she has any idea how badly the odds are stacked against her.
The Small Girl announces that it is time for her to go. I see her to the door, and then she turns around and says “Pashick – give me book.”
“Book,” she says, oddly emphatic.” Give me book.” I have no idea what the Hell she is talking about, but presently she makes me understand that she wants some writing paper. So I pick up a yellow pad, tear off five, sheets, and hand them to her. She carefully folds the sheets in half and places them in her shopping bag, along with the Bible, the loaf of bread, and orange I have already given her.
The Small Girl promises to come by tomorrow. “Oh Joy,” I exclaim. “I can hardly wait.”
I watch her hobble off. She has no idea how much I admire her.#