Her shoes would light-up with each step. They would sparkle, in pinkish stars.
But her eyes were different. Nondescript. And she had already put up a wall – the kind of wall where no matter how nicely you ask her, with your very best smile, it would bounce right back, back to whence it came. And fall flat.
“Do you know where your mommy is?” the kind security guard would ask, in her nicest, sing-songy voice. Little Girl would simply stare back, her eyes blanker than before. Bouncing back. Flat. Her shoes, all the while, would go on coughing up sparkling pink stars.
When she saw us approaching, the security guard’s eyes lit up, asking us, “do you speak Chinese?” It was a reasonable question. We looked like we might speak Chinese. But we didn’t.
“Sorry, we don’t.”
“Ah.. ok. I just don’t think she understands me,” she shrugged with a smile. She followed Little Girl as she wandered on. There must be someone here who speaks Chinese.
At that point the museum doors opened. Mom and Older Sister walked in, locked eyes with Little Girl, and each said something to her, softly. Little Girl nodded and walked down the stairs towards them, joining them. Apparently, everything was normal. Family was here for a dose of culture. Family would now begin exploring the museum in earnest.
We continued our meandering, quietly wondering what else we were misreading that day.
After a few more iterations around the upstairs gallery, I ran into Family again. I was curious. Maybe they spoke Korean. Maybe I could’ve helped her earlier. The problem was already solved, but I was wondering if I could solve it again.
So I stepped closer towards Family, with my ears stretched out, listening. An opportunity soon presented itself. Older Sister paused in front of a Native American canoe and wondered out loud: “what is this thing?”
That’s when Little Girl responded, in perfect English:
“It’s a canoe!”
And after a pause:
“Ooh mommy can we get inside it?”
My ears started laughing before my lips could.