Posted on | March 25, 2011 | 23 Comments
She was pressed against the glass, dirt-stained fingers splayed out on both sides of her wide-eyed stare.
She repeated the sentence several times and the woman beside her nodded tiredly.
“I know, Alicia. But not today.”
They looked tired, both of them; frazzled and worn to the bone. The little girl couldn’t have been more than four but when she turned to face me, her eyes reflected none of the youth of her age. So used to my own children, I smiled at her with the same fatherly appreciation I showed my own girls. Where my daughters would have wrinkled their noses and grinned back, this girl stared, her face a veritable mask, her eyes squinted in distrust.
My instinct was to turn away. Yet something in the slow twist of her head and the questioning arch of her eye brows reminded me of my youngest daughter and I couldn’t turn away. I let my knees drop until I was staring into the case of donuts from her point of view.
I could see the soft pink frosting and tiny sugar hearts of the doughnut that caught her eye and I again smiled at her.
“You want that pink doughnut, huh?”
She looked at me quizzically and shook her head.
“Not that one? Hmm… which one…” I pretended to search the doughnut case, looking for just the right doughnut. It was a game I knew well. My girls were six and eight and we’d played this many a time. I pointed at chocolate doughnuts and plain glazed donuts. I pointed to the blueberry crullers and the ones with raspberry filling. Each doughnut received a solemn shake of her head but with each attempt I could see the distrust creeping away. Finally, I pointed back at the pink one and a grin broke out on her face.
She tugged on the hand beside her and the woman nodded slowly, her eyes never straying from carefully counting the bills placed in the cashier’s outstretched hand.
“Not today, Alicia.” She nodded her head in my direction and stacked the boxes of doughnuts haphazardly on the crook of her arm. Alicia followed her, eyes down. Just as she reached the door she stopped and with a quick turn, she ran back towards me, throwing her small frame into my arms.
“I want to give that one to my mom for Valentines Day.” Her voice was soft against my ear. She put her hand against the glass one last time, staring longingly into the case.
“Alicia?” The woman’s voice was heavy and tired and she motioned with her head for the girl to hurry.
“Okay.” Alicia sighed and turned to leave. On a whim, I put down the money quickly for the bright pink doughnut and called out to her.
“You forgot your doughnut…” I held it out as an offering of some kind, not knowing why or what it could possibly mean.
Her eyes lit up. Her smile widened.
She held out her hand and let me place the small bag there on her palm. Without a word, her little feet flew over to the door and she tilted her head up to the woman with a smile.
“Can we take it to her, now?” Her voice clinked like glass against the air.
I watched the woman stand there, carrying four boxes of doughnuts like the weight of the world. And though she didn’t move a muscle, I watched as she collapsed into a million pieces.