Hello Here

On the brink of leaving this home for the next (inshallah), and I still don’t know what I’m after. Place? Family? Community? Safety? The list is long and it changes with the breeze.
 
Ambiguous purpose calls for simple acts. I turn to my son and say, “Let’s go outside.”
 
These days, he joins me. This is new. It used to be a struggle, cajoling and begging before demanding or giving up. Now, he pounds down the stairs, “I’ll put her leash on! Here, let me!” He throws open the sliding glass door and calls her with his quasi wolf-whistles. She is suspicious of his intentions but ducks inside, unable to resist the word “walk.”
 
Flexi-leash in hand, Bug races down the driveway dragging the dog. She tosses a few desperate glances back at me but I’m no help to her now. Bug has finally learned to slow long enough to let her have a break for her bladder. It rarely lasts past the last drop so she forgoes all olfactory temptations gets down to business. They lope down the swath of grass between the fences. At the bottom where the year’s accumulated leaves lay in drifts, Bug snaps off her leash and she tears off into the trees. He squeals in delight and tramps after her, knee-deep in brambles.
 
The dog is the leader but doesn’t know it. Winding and snoofling through brown tangles, she takes us on a looping journey up and back down the hillside. Scattered clumps of daffodils poke their way up into patches of sun and purplish flowers unfurl from buried brush. Light threads its way down through dry spindles scratching the sky. I carry a plastic shopping bag and collect the crumpled cans and muck-filled Corona bottles that peek up through the leaves.
 
I follow Bug. Bug follows the dog. The dog follows her nose. We come upon a creek snaking out from under a neighbor’s chicken wire fence. Across the way is a clutch of bamboo as high as a rooftop. It bends against the breeze. The road beyond is near enough to keep me vigilant. Bug fords the brook with a single leap and slips up the muddy bank beyond. He picks his way through the deep green flutes, swishing them low. Feathered leaves stroke the water’s golden skin.
 
“I’m in the bamboo jungle! There is a tornado coming! Get out of the storm, Mommy!” I duck across and hide with him in the cool dark there. Cars roar just feet from our back and I holler the dog back from the roadside. She bounds into the creek, splashing us with wet silt.
 
When it is time to go, we gather leash and garbage and assorted leafy treasures. I urge. Bug dawdles. The dog drips. Eventually we shimmy into a dry creek-bed and follow the tracks of raccoons and deer back to the trail into our neighborhood. Just as we start up the hill, we turn and see a strange sight. In all our years of walking here, we have never come across such a thing.
 
A boy.
 
He is making his jerky way over the buried roots up to a log that bridges the dry trench. His black hair and pale skin trace a ghostly curve over the hillside. He looks up and sees us. I wave. He pauses then waves back. Bug and dog and I are poised on the forest edge ready to go home.
 
“One second, Mom,” Bug says. And he is off. He plows straight through the weeds and pricker bushes and heads straight uphill. The boy leaps off the log, starts to climb, and then slows. Bug is talking to him. He turns and responds. In a blink, they are deep into it. By the time I have gotten the dog turned and have approached the pair, they are discussing the bamboo forest and the forts up on hilltop that some older kids built years ago. “We come in here all the time,” the boy says.
 
“So do I!” Bug cries.
 
They talk pets. Neighbors. Teachers. Movies. Books. The boy is into the Warriors series and Bug is reading JK Rowling. I hang back and marvel at their ease. They compare notes on the best scenes from the last Harry Potter movie. Bug seeks and seeks a common footing. The boy, a few years older, is happy to oblige. They giggle about an explosion at a quidditch match then giggle some more when the dog grunts and tries to lick the boy’s hand off.
 
The sun is sinking and it is past time for dinner. Bug manages to tear himself away. We plod back up the swath of grass. Bug watches the boy return to his own porch and join a group of children there. A grown man sees us and waves a big Hullo. I return the greeting.
 
“We come in here all the time,” the boy had said. We had never seen him, yet here he was. We have paid attention to this place for years without looking for anything. The dog’s nose has been a truer guide than our own intention. Only in today’s purposeless looking do we stumble upon what we didn’t know we’d been after: a person who shares our place and a similar way of wandering through it.
 
My son’s bold delight stuns me. Even with no idea what he will find, he bridges the distance to meet what glances against his sense of wonder. Call it innocence. Call it courage. Whatever it is, in our new home (inshallah), may that wide-open not-looking to guide us to what we seek.
 

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