A boy, who doesn’t seem to be 10 yet, comes and asks me for my phone at Barnes and Noble. I look at his bald head and wonder silently, “childhood cancer?” Its little over 8pm on Thursday evening and I’m sitting with my 8 year old reading about Anne Frank’s diary’s 70th anniversary celebration in a magazine. I am sitting low in one of those little green chairs that’s really meant for little people half my size, but I usually squeeze in them anyway, hoping my thighs will slice off as I get up. Well, side note, that’s never worked.
I watch over his mother who’s embarrassed and is mouthing, “Sorry”, but I tell her “It’s OK,” and smile at the boy while giving him my phone. He sits next to me and gets busy using it. I get up to go to the restroom and when I come back I peep to see what he’s playing. He’s on: http://m.coolmath-games.com/0-jumpy-ape-joe/play.
I ask how he went to that website from my phone. And my son, who didn’t seem like he was paying any attention, yelps, “Mom, everyone can go to Chrome and then search where they want to go. Oh my God.”
I eye the mom, who’s white, and who’s been mostly running behind her little daughter calling out to her, “Gi”. Her older daughter, who also seems biracial like her other siblings, is trying to help. “How old’s she?” I ask about Gi. “She’s going to be two in a week.” She says. The older girl says, “I’m going to be 10 in a month.” We all exchange glances and smile.
I offer a sheet of paper and a pen so that Gi will settle down for some scribbles and leave her mom to sit down for a few minutes. She takes me up on the offer, but mostly for less than a minute at a time. Here’s her masterpiece.
As if she’s sensing my thoughts, the mom moves a little closer to me and sits, “My husband loves to read, he reads anything and everything. So, we visit all these book stores again and again. Sometimes, we’re here, sometimes, in Perimeter and sometimes somewhere else.” I wonder silently if any woman has ever supported another “vice” of her husband’s so vehemently. Only excessive reading might garner such a thing?
“I was a Suwanee all week for my son’s basketball camp, and to kill time, I was at the town library a lot. There were a lot of interracial couples there. Is that strange?” I ask. And she says, “That would be unexpected. Its too far north, isn’t it? Yeah, we live in Tucker. And down there, its not so bad.” The boy walks up to me and hands over the phone saying, “Its out of charge.” And I laugh while saying, “Come on, man.” And he shrugs.
Gi’s done and she stands up to hand over the sheet to me. I give her another sheet and a highlighter. She starts doodling and gets up to walk around asking all of us to contribute to her scribbles. She hands over the highlighter and points to the sheet where she wants us to mark something. Her method’s meticulous.
She settles down once again, but she turns around quickly to spot her brother, goes up to him and marks his hands with the pink highlighter. The rising 3rd grader yells, “I look like a hideous pig!” We all chuckle.
The oldest girl who has been searching for books, walks up to her mom intermittently showing off the books she might like to buy. Her mom is still sitting next to me texting her husband who’s “somewhere at the front of the store”. “Dad says, 5$ for a book or (something from) Starbucks.” “Starbucks!” the boy yells throwing his fists in the air, while the girl comes and sits next to her mom and says, “You know Starbucks is not a good idea, I’m going to be up all night.” Her mom smiles.
As Gi’s scribbles on a book shelf that’s right next to us, her sister gets up to pull her back gently by the shoulders and says, “Gi, you need help.”
My 8 year old walks up to me and asks me in my ear, “Did you give her your business card?” And I side smile to him mouthing, “Thank you, I did.” He walks back saying, “Just wanted to make sure.” I had given the mom my “Writer” business card earlier wondering if I had started asking “too many questions.”
The boy comes and hands me this paper. I say, “Nice! Thank you.”
I ask mom, “What’re your most favorite apps in a day that you can’t live without?” The 10 year old who at this point is sitting between us says, “Oh, she’s LOVES Facebook.” The mom squints and smiles, “Yeah, I go on Facebook a lot.” Then she points to her phone and says, “Holy bible”, that’s what I can’t live without, and adds, “You Version.” As she has to catch up with Gi who has run away, she gets up quickly saying, “And I guess Email?”
As she comes back, I point at her left arm and ask what that tattoo said, and she’s bouncing Gi in her lap and reads out loud from her arm, “Hope’s the anchor to the soul. Hebrew 6.19. And, this one is a compass that’s pointing to the Cross,” and she twists her wrist to show me what she’s pointing at.
“Were you born into religion or did you find it?” I ask. And she says, “I found it. My mother grew up in a Catholic family and she left it because it was too much for her. So, we weren’t religious growing up. But, I found my religion in 2010.” “What church do you go to?” I ask. “Its called the Victory World Church, its in Norcross.” And its a non denominational one I find out after further prodding her. “God is there for me in my life. I believe it.” She says staring at distant book shelf.
I ask her, “Do you have some ‘me’ time?” And she laughs, “I stay up really late. Really late, reading or watching TV.”
I look down at the book the 10 year old’s reading and it says, “Lea and Camila” and I tell her, “I don’t have girls, so I don’t know what this is.” At this point, we three are sitting knee to knee with Gi staring up at her mom from the floor. “Oh my Gosh, I like Lea, she’s the doll of the year, see. She has a laptop bag and a pocket to carry her stuff. I like dolls, I can dress them up and do their hair. American Girl dolls are really nice, because I can do their hair and that’s the only way I can do hair in different styles. I do that to my Barbie dolls too, but those are much harder to do.” And after a few silent moments, “I want an American Girl doll for my birthday, my friend has Lea,” she tells to no one in particular.
Her brother tells my son, “She watches a lot of Caillou.” As the 10 year old screams, “I don’t, I don’t,” and gets up to chase her brother, he’s yelling, “Yes, she does, yes, she does!”
As I get up and say goodbye, I tell Gi that she can keep her marker and the 10 year old who’s still reading, peeps out of the book and says, “All I have to say is, you’re a nice and caring woman.” I thank her and we leave.
On our way back, in the car, my son tells me, “That boy has a disease that starts with an ‘A’, and he doesn’t have cancer. It starts with “A” but its something we haven’t heard of mom.” My heart skips a beat and I ask him how he knows that. And he says, “We were talking about Caillou, and the sister thought I was talking about her brother and she said, “No, he doesn’t have cancer, he has that thing that starts with an ‘A'”. She misunderstood me mom, we were talking about Caillou, you know that show on TV, he has cancer.”
That night I Googled, “Childhood disease head bald” and read the first result, Alopecia.