The three-year-old bounces along beside me, while I hold her slippery hand in a clinched grip. She chatters constantly, giggling, sing-song, trying with great fruitless effort to extricate herself. If she is successful, I know those fat little legs will dart away with speed that my legs could not possibly match. She is fearless in this big mall, in a sea of strangers' knees, in a country not hers, although the language is the same.
People stop to gaze at her and comment frequently. Her eyes occupy an inordinate portion of her face, like those cartoon characters that you love instantaneously. She flashes a quick smile that makes her countenance transfigure magically into luminescence, rendering descriptors useless. I know I have a magnetic child, so I hold tightly lest someone entice her away with smiles and pretties. Strangers try to engage her with questions, and one comes up often. "Do you have a brother or sister?" She has tired of that game. Tired of the question. Tired of the "no" answer. We are in a greeting card store. I hear a new answer in the back of my consciousness, as my attention is focused on searching for a card. I listen a bit more attentively, my eyes widened. This time she says yes, confidently, clearly.
The interrogator pursues, "So do you have a sister or a brother?"
She says, "Sister." (She is an only child, you understand.)
"What is her name?"
Without hesitation, "Sister."
The questions are then directed to me, "Where is your other child? How old is she?"
Evasively I say, "Oh, we're just visiting here." And we back away, right out of the store.
That was the day Sister arrived. Unseen Sister who became a definite presence in our home. My three-year-old had to relay Sister's words, and Sister sometimes said things that were inappropriate, that Bethany would dare not say in her own voice. Sister's words and actions were faithfully reported by the one of this twosome we could see. Sister lived with us for years, until my baby was no longer a baby and went off to school. Sister accompanied her that day into the unknown, and the next and next, but slowly Sister's presence faded away. And we missed her. We missed the tiniest lost innocence.
A companion for a lonely little girl - that's what Sister was. She filled a need, a void and brought joy. Often I talked with my child about pretend versus real, and she had the concepts down cold, except as pertaining to Sister, whom she always claimed as REAL. My friend says Sister was this little one's true Guardian Angel, and my child's pure heart knew her and felt her as very real.
I see my sweet daughter now with her own baby boy and wonder what he will need as he grows. Maybe he will have siblings who will be life-long companions. But, in the solitary moments, when little people first encounter fears and insecurity, will he need his own personal Brother to be his constant, trusted ally? I wonder.