The little girl sat on the park bench, dangling her feet and humming. Occasionally, a passerby would glance at her and continue on his or her way. Her face was covered in freckles, her skin was dark from the sun, and her long, messy blonde hair was tucked behind her ear. She didn't look directly at anyone as they passed.
A couple of teens playing soccer stopped to get water. The girl watched them, still humming her little tune, and waited for them to begin playing again. One of the boys, new to the town, noticed the little girl.
"She has to be around seven years old," he remarked, "Isn't she a bit young to be sitting alone there? Where are her parents and friends?"
His friends answered him, explaining the rumors. "She doesn't have any. They say if you sit next to her she'll start asking you really strange questions. If you can't answer them, she just starts muttering to herself and walks off. Every time someone calls the police to come get her, she disappears into the forest, and no one can find her."
"Well, what sort of questions does she ask?" He asked, still studying the girl from afar.
His friends shrugged. "Why don't you go find out?" one suggested.
The boy hesitated a moment, then locked his sights on the little girl. As he approached, her eyes met his. He was taken aback for a moment by the color, one dark brown and the other light blue. Still, he took a seat next to her.
After a moment, she stopped humming and looked up at him in awe. He smiled at her reassuringly, and she beamed back at him, revealing a couple missing baby teeth.
"Are you not scared of me?" she asked, "Can you answer my questions? I'd really like to know, and no one will answer."
"I'll try," he said, "But for each of your questions I answer, will you answer one of mine?"
The little girl smiled and nodded. "What's your name?"
"Ryan. My turn: what is your name?"
She frowned, making it clear that hadn't been one her real questions. "Ava. Why do people play together?"
Ryan thought for a moment. "It's fun to get to know people and enjoy games together. When there are other people to play with, you can do more and talk about it. It's all about sharing the experience with people you like. Do you have any friends?"
"No," she answered immediately, "Why do people get older?"
It was becoming evident that Ava's questions would all be difficult to answer. "People have to grow so they can experience more of life. That way, they become closer to those around them and reach their goals. You can't do everything you want if you stay a little kid your whole life. Getting older let's you do more."
Ava was quiet for a moment, then nodded, content with this explanation.
"How old are you?" Ryan asked for his turn.
"Six," she replied, "Why do people cry?"
"People cry when they are very sad. Sometimes, they are just so sad that they have to let some of the sadness out of them or they will just keep hurting. Crying is releasing sadness so they feel better."
Again, Ava considered the answer before nodding her understanding.
"Are you sad being alone?" Ryan asked.
She shrugged. "A little bit, but I like to watch. I really like to watch the birds. What do birds dream about?"
Ryan smiled and stood up, offering Ava a hand. "Why don't we go ask one?"
She took his hand and followed him, a bit perplexed. They quietly approached a robin perched on the lowest branch of a young poplar tree. A yard or two away, they stopped and crouched down, as to not scare the bird away.
"Mr. Robin," Ryan whispered to the bird, "What do you dream about?"
Ava watched him in amazement as he nodded as if understanding the robin's answer and muttered the occasional "Interesting" and "Yes, I see".
After a few moments, he turned to her and explained, "Mr. Robin says birds dream of flying in flocks with all their friends in large, open skies and eating all the berries and seeds and worms they can find. Then, in a really great dream, they share the food and fly around and play together on huge trees."
"Ryan," Ava said as soon as he finished, looking at him very seriously, "I want to be a bird."
"Why is that?"
"I want to fly around and play with my friends and eat together. I have the same dreams as them," she explained urgently, "I must be a bird. How do I fly?"
Ryan grabbed her and put her on his shoulders. "Put your arms out and flap your wings."
She did as she was instructed, and he ran around the park. Climbing the playground equipment to the top of the tallest slide, he swung side to side and up and down as Ava flapped her little wings.
"You soared all the way up to the highest point in the park!" he exclaimed, "Now let's swoop down to the ground!"
They slid down the slide together, Ava giggling with joy.
Putting her down, Ryan asked her his last question, "Birds need friends to be a flock. Would you like to find some friends to make a flock with me?"
She hesitated a second, but smiled and nodded. He offered her his hand, and she took it.
"I think you're a bird too," she said.
"Ava," Ryan said, smirking, "I think you'll find people and birds have a lot in common."