“So,” his shoulders sag, defeated in surrender, “Dats all yo’ can do fa’ me.” His eyes
drop toward the ground, “Ah gots nothing’ lef-. Dey gots ever’ting.”
I feel eyes piercing through me like hot knives. Someone’s watching me. Not only
watching, but … but like eating at my soul. My brain sends signals of searing heat from
these eyes. Edgy, uncomfortable, I change how I’m standing, and subtly sneak a peak
around in an attempt to identify the source. Nothing.
“I be here fo’teen days, from Mississippi. Brings my family, see?” A wife and two
children, a boy and a girl stand six feet away, atop a stair leading into their unit. I get the
quick picture of the group: like a black and white Depression era photo of sharecroppers.
The mother, a tall skinny thing in a worn print dress that hangs askew on her skeletal
frame, her stomach swollen with child; her skin a dark purple, which creates a sepia like
tone of the entire picture. Pigeon toed in raggedy black cloth shoes with the backs
crushed to make room for her long feet, fronts worn through exposing the nails of her big
toes. A hand shadows her eyes from the direct sun causing a squinted expression on her
very black face, large white teeth sparkle through her grimace. Hair long and disheveled
almost screaming for a comb. Her other hand touches the top of her small son’s head,
who is leaning against her leg. He’s perhaps five years old. A skinny little guy,
shirtless, shows a distended tummy. Barefooted in old shorts too big for him, with a piece
of rope tied, the waist bunched and folded over to allow the hand-me-down to fit. Next to
the boy is his big sister, perhaps six years old. A wisp of a child, standing at rigid
attention, sucking her thumb. She’s very dark like her mother, with the biggest white eyes
gleaming from her face.
I have locked into the heat source. She is as still as a block of ice. Her eyes scald me.
I don’t know how she’s dressed as a brilliant radiance emanates from her. (Like
Hollywood would depict a saint.) Her hair is tied at the top of her head like a unicorn.
The hair behind my neck rises. Something very powerful is happening to me. I have an
overwhelming reflex to weep. Not from fear, but from exhilaration and awe. I’m in the
presence of some kind of phenomenon, like someone holy. A shudder runs through me,
and then a tear, of joy corners my eye.
“So mister po-lice, what can I do? You catch dese thieves dat stole my thangs?”
“Sir, we’ll do everything we can.” I explain that the door was shimmed open as the
lock was poor. The house was emptied of its entire contents. The burglars only left the
soap and toilet paper in the holder. They know nobody, neighbors included. He and I go
to my patrol car. I turn on the air conditioning and proceed to take a crime report. I learn
that all the money they have to their names is $28.77. Their vehicle is a twenty-year-old
Ford pickup truck that is rusted-out and pitiful. They have absolutely nobody to help
Before interviewing the neighbors, for witnesses, I get on the phone with the
reverend from the local church. He says to send the people over to him tomorrow, and he
would see what he could do. We get out of the police car and walk to the victim’s place.
Perhaps a half hour has passed since we started the report. Mama and the boy are gone
from the stoop. The glowing child is still there, she hasn’t moved, sucking her thumb,
eyes fixed on me.
Upon seeing her again, I can hear my heart beating in my chest. When I get to her, I find myself down on one knee. “Hi,” I say, “My name is Peter, what’s yours?”
She pierces me with those beautiful wide eyes, like huge moist pearls with black
irises, looking into my soul. Without removing her thumb from her mouth she mumbles
something. “I’m sorry, but I can’t understand you. Could you say your name so I can
hear?” Again through her thumb, a louder mumble.
From over my shoulder, daddy says in a stern voice, “Chile, you take that thumb out yo’ mouth an’ tell the po-liceman you name.”
Without even a blink of the eyes, staring, she slowly removes it, places her hand at
her side, still in rigid attention. “Triana,” she says in a confident little voice.
“What a beautiful name for a beautiful girl. I never heard it before. I think it’s so
beautiful that one day someone will write a song about it. Would you like that?” Her eyes still have not left mine, fixed … she nods. In my mind and in my heart, I know that I love this child. She’s a gift from God. Does anyone else see the magic? I want to take her in my arms and squeeze her tight. Tell her everything is going to be all right. But I realize that for her, everything already is all right. She has an enchanting stillness about her. This placid magical being, called Triana.
“Triana, I have to go inside with your daddy now. Want to come?”
She shakes her head. As I start to stand, she reaches outward with her head and
quickly lifts a hand like she wants to say something. I go back down on my knee. “Is
there something you want to tell me?”
She nods. I wait a moment. A shadow of a smile crosses her face. Those saucer
eyelids blink, and she says, “May I touch you?”
I’m ballistic inside. I don’t know if I heard her correctly. I turn to her dad standing
behind me, with a quizzical look.
He says with a smile. “You heared right. She wanna touch you.”
I put out my hand. “Of course you can touch me.” I really want to say, do you want a
hug? A kiss? A tickle so I can see you laugh out loud?
She reaches out with her right hand and touches the top of my hand with her first two
tiny little fingers. Then she pets my hand for about two seconds, like she is testing the
merchandise. As her hand slides down towards my knuckles, her two fingers go to my
palm, hooks my hand with her thumb, and holds it. All I know is that my whole being is
celebrating this incredible moment with this incredible child. It is awesome. Her eyes are
studying my hand like she’s counting the pores. After a moment, she releases me and
says, “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re very welcome,” I say. I stand and leave her there. I realize that I’m
Her dad says to me when we’re out of range, “Know why she do dat?” I shake my
head. “She never touch a white person before.”
by Peter Bruno
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