She watched me as I took pictures of the castle of St John in the old town of Rhodes. Dressed in a white dress-like costume, and white powdered make-up covering her face, she sat before the gates, waiting for the tourists to flip a few coins in her brown cardboard box. I could not but notice the way she looked at me, and then she spoke:
– You can take a picture of me if you’d like.
– What’s your name?
– Emma, she said with a smile.
– What are you dressed as?
– An angel.
– Take a picture of me, she said again.
– Are you sure.
– Of course I’m sure.
– And what would you like in return, money?
– No, not money, I want something for me.
– I’m listening…
– I want something to eat.
– Any preferences?
– Two gyros and two cokes.
And I headed for the nearest food shop, I could find. When I got back, she seemed surprised to see me.
– You came back, she confirmed.
– Why wouldn’t I?
– It’s common not to.
– You think you have enough room for all this food?
She lifted her head and looked behind me in the distance.
– You see that girl across the street playing her xylophone?
I turned around and saw a fragile little girl staring at us.
– That’s my sister, you can give her one of the gyros and a coke.
And I did.
– How old are you? I asked.
– And your sister?
I don’t know why I asked, but for some reason, I felt the need to know. I watched her take her food out of the bag, and begin to devour it. Her sister didn’t touch her food. She just continued playing her instrument. And then I felt the urge for more meaningless questions.
– Where are your parents?
– Do you go to school?
– No, we don’t do stuff like that.
– My dad says school serves no purpose.
– No purpose? It helps you think.
– Thinking brings about sorrow.
– And dreams?
– I dream every night.
I felt numb, and all the knowledge in my head could not help me make sense to her. I knew I had said too much, hoping that it meant something; knowing that it did not. Two little girls sat across each other in a reality different from mine,….and, bystanders, observing them as merely part of the landscape being photographed. I looked into her eyes and smiled, hiding the pain only failure brings on. And then she broke the silence.
– What are you afraid of?
– The list is long, I said.
– Then I’m luckier than you, she giggled.
– Aren’t you afraid of anything?
– Only the cold, and hunger.
With a handshake we said goodbye. I felt a sadness knowing I will never see her again. What a peculiar thing to feel.
At the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights, two little girls sit opposite each other hoping for kindness…and millions more elsewhere – In a presence of a fate they cannot escape;
I hope for change – but I fear, it will never come.
© 2014 Maria Fokas