You Need A Reason?
The tall grass tickles my bare calves as I walk along and look for a good place to settle in. All around me there is activity. People are talking and laughing, visiting and playing party games, eating and sharing recipes, all of the things that people do when they are at a picnic. I glance around at the various groups of people and know that I will be unable to fit in to any of them. I am too new to this area. No one has really had time to get to know me yet and I am in no hurry. I had shut myself off from them almost as soon as I had arrived. A rough past and broken family making me unwilling to deal with people for the time being. I would get to know everyone later.
The tall grass suddenly turns into an area of soft clover and I make up my mind that this is the spot where I would stay. Here is where I will watch the rest of the people. That is something that I like to do, people watch. It is always interesting to see how people interact and deal with each other. I observe a small group of young girls as they talk and giggle, playfully pushing each other and admiring each other's outfits. Maybe one day I would be able to do that with my own group of friends.
A soft tug at my hair interrupts my thoughts and I turn slightly to my right, surprised to see a small round face, sparkling blues eyes, and shimmering, bouncing, blonde curls.
Standing just behind me is a little girl, a brilliant smile plastered across her youthful features.
"I like your hair," she says in her small voice as a chubby hand reaches out once more to grab hold of my own auburn curls.
"Thanks," I say not sure what to make of the situation.
She continues to stand there and finger the end of one of my ringlets. Nothing is said for a long moment and the silence starts to become a little uncomfortable.
"What's your name?" she says at last, and I almost breathe a sigh of relief.
"Leah," I say simply.
"My name is Sophia," she says almost instantly afterwards. "But you can call me Sophie. That's what my mom and dad call me."
"Nice to meet you, Sophie," I say with a smile.
Still she doesn't make any move to leave. Instead she moves closer and lets go of my hair to plop herself down on the clover next to me. I don't want company, how can I make her leave without hurting her feelings?
"Where are your parents?" I ask.
Her curls bounce and swing as she glances around at the many and varied groups surrounding us, then she silently points to a woman seated several yards to my left.
"Oh," I say. "Is she looking for you? Maybe she wants you to go eat lunch with her."
Again the curls swing as her head wags back and forth. "I already ate lunch."
I guess that her mother is not the way to make her leave and begin looking for other options.
"Maybe your friends are looking for you."
"My friend isn't here," she says as she picks at the clover and holds each piece up to the light to inspect it closer, her eyes narrowing in concentration. "She's with her family on vacation."
"Where did they go?"
A small bare shoulder shrugs up and down. "I don't remember."
"Don't you have any other friends you could play with?"
"Ruth is here," she says and points to a little black haired girl running by with another group of older girls. "But I would rather stay here with you."
Not really what I wanted to hear but there isn't really much I can do without sending this girl away in tears. I guess I will just have to make do with the situation.
"How old are you?"
Sophie looks at me for a moment, a frown crossing her face, then she lights up in a smile and holds up one hand with four fingers extended.
I am about to comment on her age when the frown makes another appearance and, after another moment, one more finger appears. "I turned five last week," she says in explanation.
I nod slightly and then turn to look at her mother again, hoping that maybe something will present itself as an opportunity to find my solitude once more. But then the tugging starts on my hair again and I turn to see that she has shifted herself closer to me, her fingers working through my hair.
"Effie has hair just like yours," Sophie says as she works a section of my hair into a loose braid. "She's my best friend, the one who isn't here. She likes it when I braid her hair."
I wince and bite back a hiss as she accidentally pulls a single hair too hard. Effie must have a tough scalp if she likes this kind of hairstyling.
"I miss having her here," Sophie continues without a pause. "But she will be coming back next week."
"How long has she been gone?"
"She left yesterday."
Oh, not much in the way of conversation there.
"Do you have a best friend?" she asks, catching me by surprise.
Now what? How do I answer that question? My life is such a long complicated story that there is no way that I can make this little girl understand even half of it.
Another wince as she pulls more hair. "I used to," I say finally. "But she isn't my friend anymore."
She is quiet then, her hands suddenly stilling in my hair. I fear that maybe I have done something to hurt her feelings, or maybe she doesn't understand and I will somehow have to explain an incredibly painful subject.
"My sister left too," she says and her hands resume their activity.
My jaw just about drops. She can understand something of my life, even though she is just four - oops - five years old. There were women my age, back in my old neighborhood, who did not understand. Then again, they never really tried to understand. It was part of the reason why I had moved.
"I'm sorry," I say.
"Actually she's my half-sister," Sophie says.
I feel her let go of my hair. I know what she is doing, she is leaning back to inspect her handiwork from a distance. Apparently it passes muster because she starts in on another section of my hair.
"I don't really know much about her. She left before I was born. She went to live with my dad when he left, after he found out that I was coming."
I sit and listen to this little girl, amazed at what I am hearing. It does not seem like she is only five. She is incredibly well spoken for someone so young.
"Have you ever met her?"
Silence appears again. Neither of us venturing further into the current subject. The tugs and twinges continue on my scalp as she does whatever it is she is doing to my hair. Suddenly she stops again and, before I know what is happening, a small warm body squirms into my lap. I look down on the golden head below my chin and I cannot help but smile. This girl is bold. I know that I had never been brave enough at her age to just crawl into a strange person's lap. Her boldness is starting to rub off on me because I cannot believe what it is that I find myself doing next.
I slide my fingers through her hair, smiling slightly at the feel of the fine, soft, strands. After a moment I begin to weave the sections of hair into a herringbone design. My fingers work quickly, the strands of gold shifting and sliding easily into position and I occasionally reach out with one hand to grab a nearby flower and weave it in to the design.
Eventually I finish, a small ribbon, that she had pulled from her hair earlier in the day, finishing off the tail of the herringbone. She turns to me and smiles sweetly, her hand reaching up and feeling what I have done to her hair. Her smile widens when she feels the flowers and I hold up one of the leftovers that hadn't had a long enough stem to work with my plans.
"I wove these into your hair," I say. "Now you look like a little flower girl."
She takes the wilting flower from my hand and looks down at it in wonder. I can tell that she had not been expecting it. She then looks back up at me and throws her arms around my neck.
I carefully hug her back, jumping in surprise, and slight disappointment, when she pulls away and dashes off. What happened? She had seemed so happy. Did I do something wrong?
Then I notice where she has gone. She has run to her mother and is pointing in the vague direction of the back of her head. I can hear her excited voice even from where I am sitting, though I cannot understand any of her words. But I find that I do not need to understand. She is showing her mother what I did and she is thrilled to death.
I chuckle softly. The flowers are nothing more than mere dandelions and hop-clover, but with her reaction you would think that I had woven two dozen roses into her hair.
Several minutes later she returns and drops down in front of me, babbling on about a game that she wants to teach me. I listen somewhat half-heartedly. She is excited and not making a lot of sense as she tries to explain the rules of a game that she says she made up along with her best friend. But then she says something that startles me into paying closer attention.
"What did you say?" I ask.
"I said that Effie and I are the only ones who know how to play this game."
"Why haven't you taught anyone else?"
"Because it's called the best friend game," she says. "You have to be a best friend to know how to play it."
"But Effie is your best friend."
"Now you are too," she says as if that was exactly how it was done.
I stare at her in confusion as she continues her explanation of the game, but I am not hearing anything she is saying. Where had that come from?
Actually, I think to myself, I should have seen this coming for a while now. She didn't care that I was looking for seclusion. She didn't care that I had lived through a hard past. She didn't care that I was quiet and rough around the edges. She just knew that I needed a friend and she volunteered.
For the rest of the day we sit with each other, doing and redoing our hair. Her locks looking somewhat neater than mine, simply because I have more experienced hands. My hair looks like I had been attacked by a swarm of mice, limp and fuzzy braids hanging and swinging in every direction, but I don't care.
The game that Sophie eventually teaches me is simple yet entertaining enough, and I add a few rules of my own to make it a little less confusing in a couple places. Sophie accepts my changes without any problems and even thinks that the game is much improved by my additions.
Our game finished, we lay back on the clover and watch the clouds, finding shapes in them and creating stories to go along with what we find.
To tell the truth, it is the most fun I have had in a long time. And it also teaches me something. Because, at the end of the day, when we are getting ready to part ways and go home, I ask Sophie the question that has been bugging me ever since she had innocently informed me that I had become one of her best friends.
"Why me? Why did you pick me to be your best friend?"
Her face at that moment, that exact moment, that she hears my question, is what astounds me, because she looks confused. And then her next question explains all.
"You need a reason to pick your best friend?"
I find myself smiling from ear to ear and I pull her into an enormous hug, wiping a tear from my eye once she can't see my face, because this little girl has suddenly shown me that no one, not a single person, needs a reason to be shown a bit of kindness, to be loved.
"No," I say as I hug her tighter. "No, you don't need a reason."
Author's Note: I once had a young girl just decide to pick me as her best friend. She did it by just crawling into my lap one day and every time we were together afterwards. I was confused and always wanted to know why, but now I know that I just needed to accept it as the offer for companionship that it was and leave it at that. We are still friends, even though it was so many years ago.
The names in this story have been picked for a reason. Leah means 'Weary'. Sophie/Sophia means 'Wise'. Effie means 'Spoken Well Of'. And Ruth means 'Friendship'.