Ashley graces our hammock with the widest smile, the sweetest freckles and the most fetching plaits I have ever seen. She has flopped into the hammock after sweeping the entire house, conscientiously and well. She moves shoes and stools aside, tsk-ing and tapping them smartly to get all the sand off. She is six years old. She has a temperament so sweet that after a half-hour visit, you have a headache from all that laughing. Her tiny little feet are encased in large leather sandals that she doesn’t like much because they are like 90-year-old Father Britt’s. She holds B’s boot up for inspection, at a distance, by the laces. One boot is about the size of her torso. Avoiding comment, she puts it back down. She laughs out loud when I call her slippers ‘flipflops’- she thinks I made up the name to “make my nose move funny”. She tickles my feet, and exclaims in surprise, “She feet soft, Mummy! She feet SOFT soft like mango!” Women’s feet here are tough and leathery from walking barefoot all their lives. I tickle her feet back, and they are sandy and already a little rough.
Ashley draws a picture of us in the sand outside the house. First she draws me. I am holding a large heart in my hand. Then she draws B, with his hat. She takes a measuring look at him, and corrects her drawing with leg extensions. After another serious look, she returns and draws big circular ears. He is holding a smaller heart. B comes out to see, and everyone laughs and jokes about the big ears. Ashley is not impressed- she had not been poking fun. She neatly solves the social gaffe by adding large round ears to me too.
I don’t know what to say about such grace as she has. It’s a fragile thing, an innocence bound to fall victim to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune someday. She has a perfection usually associated with babies, a liquid clarity found in the very holy and people who have come to terms with a disability, and a joy and merry-heartedness I encounter more in music than in people. She is like a stream over pebbles in a sunny country.