Posted by: patti | October 5, 2009


It was a perfect fall day in New York today.  Warm, breezy, just a hint of fall in the air.  There was opera in Bryant Park.  Everyone outside was walking slowly or standing still:  no one wanted to go back inside.

This afternoon, meandering from Bryant Park to the MidManhattan Library, I found myself walking behind a man and his two daughters.  He was tall and thin, and he had a LL Bean backpack on over his suit jacket.  He was holding the hand of the smaller girl, and had an instrument bag in his other hand.  The older daughter walked alongside him, trying to match her stride with his.  Even though he held her hand, the younger girl trailed behind them.  Both girls were laden with school bags, pinks and purples and blues.  I’m not good at guessing kids’ ages, but the small one was really tiny, I want to say Kindergarten, and the big one was probably third or fourth grade.  Maybe?

I could hear the man and the older girl talking.

“You can play songs on the clarinet?” he asks her.

There’s such a long pause that I assumed I missed her response, but when she does reply, it’s in a tiny, scared voice:  “We have to play seven.”

“Which ones?”

“I don’t know the names.”

The little one says, “I don’t have my socks on.”

Her father and sister don’t hear her, and there’s more talk about the clarinet.  It’s clear that she can play and is nervous about the upcoming concert.  He sounds surprised, but I can’t tell if it’s because he didn’t know she was good enough for a concert or because he didn’t know there was an upcoming concert.

The little one is tugging, tugging at his hand: “Can I fix my sock now?”  But the conversation carries on, as does their walking, and the little one finally repeats her request, louder, almost frantically.  She pulls her hand out of his and stoops to pick the errant sock out of the front of her shoe.   She is bent over in the middle of the sidewalk, and I am standing right behind her.  Her father and sister have stopped and turned to watch her.  Foot traffic flows around us.

The little one’s heel has been rubbed raw because she walked too many blocks in her stiff new school shoes.  I had assumed she meant she had forgotten or lost her socks — I was surprised to see the socks had migrated in her shoes.  I know how much that hurts, and I was annoyed at the father and sister for ignoring her for so long, and I was about to bend down and help her when I realized the older sister and the father were studying me.  Unsure, I suppose, why a complete stranger would take such interest in a little girl’s socks.

She’s sniffling, about to cry.  “I tried to tell you,” she wails, and it’s an apology, a wish that her feet didn’t hurt, a wish that no one was looking at her, a wish that someone had paid attention.

Her father hands the instrument case to the big sister and scoops up the little girl, comforting her.  Her arms snake around his neck and she buries her head in his shoulder.  One shoe and her schoolbags squat on the sidewalk, and I have to check the impulse to pick them up.  The sister, still watching me, gathers up all their things and wobbles a bit — she’s now carrying five heavy-looking bags — when she turns to follow her father.  She looks at me over her shoulder, but I still can’t respond, not even a smile or a wave.


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