Somehow, I knew what to say. “I want to tell your mommy a secret”
It was one of those dreary winter days — wet, grey, and drab. I was walking down the street, not really going anywhere. I bought myself a hot drink and planned to drink it in the nearby park, where I could sit in peace with my morose thoughts. I was supposed to go to school today but changed my mind at the last minute. Daddy’s sad eyes drove me out of the house even though I would have much rather stayed on the couch.
I was just about to sit down when a movement behind the bushes caught my eye. I went to investigate.
It was a beautiful little girl with Down syndrome. I recognized her face — she was from my neighborhood. She was sitting on the wet grass, playing with a stray cat.
She was alone. What was she doing here, on her own?
The girl sensed me looking at her and turned around.
“Hello!” she said cheerfully. “What’s your name?” Her speech was a little unclear, but I understood her.
“My name is Shulamis,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Lali,” she replied. “I ran away all by myself!”
My jaw dropped.
“You what?” Who was this kid?
“I ran away,” she repeated. I stared at her, confused.
“How old are you, Lali?”
“Seven. It’s my birthday soon.” She got up and twirled around. “I got a new dress.” She lost her balance and giggled as she tumbled onto the grass.
I pulled myself together. This girl needs to get back to where she belongs.
“Come,” I told her. “Let’s find your house.”
Lali looked at me shrewdly. “Why?”
Somehow, I knew what to say. “I want to tell your mommy a secret.”
“You want to tell my mommy a secret?” Lali repeated. Her eyes lit up. “I also want to know a secret!”
I smiled at her. “I’ll tell you one too, but it only works if we’re in your house.” I helped her get off the grass. “Where do you live?”
“I don’t know,” Lali said. “In a house with a big number seven on the door.”
Very helpful. Now what?
I decided to start walking. Maybe someone on the road would recognize the girl and guide me to her house.
At the park gate, I stopped. Right or left?
Lali pulled my sleeve.
“Let’s go to mommy,” she said. I looked at her.
“Where is mommy now?” I asked her. Lali grinned.
“In the shop!” she said.
Now we were getting somewhere.
Lali thought for a moment. “It has lots and lots of candy in it. And chocolate. And when I go to the shop mommy gives me a chocolate.” She paused. “I want chocolate.” I gave her my hot cocoa. I knew that she might be confused, it could be that her mother didn’t even work in Chocolate Haven, but I decided to try. I couldn’t leave this vulnerable kid on her own!
We walked down the street, Lali happily slurping my drink and dropping random facts about herself between every other sip (“every time I throw a tantrum, my mother tells me off, and I cry.”). I was deep in thought, nodding absentmindedly as she spoke.
At one point Lali stopped.
“I don’t want to walk anymore,” she said, whining. I looked around. We were long past Chocolate Haven. We were at the other end of the neighborhood. I wasn’t even familiar with the area.
Lali sat down on the ground.
“I’m tired.” She announced. “No more walking.”
I looked at her, then at the empty street, feeling lost.
I noticed a bench a few paces away.
“Let’s sit on the bench.” I told Lali. “I don’t want your new dress to get dirty!”
Once we were settled on the bench, I made a quick assessment of the situation.
Here I was, alone, no cell phone, in an unfamiliar neighborhood. And to add to this mess I also had a girl with Down syndrome to take care of.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 873)
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