The room was dark, and one of my siblings was indistinctly murmuring. It would go on for probably another thirty minutes. We were all scattered around the living room – the more pious kneeling by the couch, the less pious sprawled comfortably on the floor.
This is a nightly ritual – family prayer time. It takes half an hour when you have almost a dozen people each taking their turn. In theory the prayer is supposed to be spoken aloud, but prayers tended to get softer and softer till no one else can understand them but God. It still remains a communal event though, and the rest of us observe prayerful silence till our turn.
My nearly-2-year-old sister was lying on the floor, head in my lap, drinking her bottle. She sucked it dry: you can always tell because the pitch changes as they tilt it back and suck out the last of the milk. She handed it to me as she always did, for refill or disposal. “Put it on the table” I whispered, glancing at the coffee table three feet away, at the center of the living room.
She pushed the bottle back into my hands. I thought I almost heard a wimper, barely audible. Weird. She was a tough little kid: it wasn’t like her to whine about anything. I firmly handed her bottle back to her and closed my eyes. The murmuring continued for several more minutes…
Suddenly coming from the other end of the house, the woosh sound that the dishwasher makes as it switches into the rinse cycle after a lull, and the same instant a scream burst from the kitchen. Prayer time halted and someone switched on the light. A little figure came racing across the dining room and the hallway, back into the living room and into my arms.
“Mali was frightened by the dishwasher” my father explained.
“Silly Mali” I hugged her as she trembled, “why did you go over there?”
She curled up in my lap and the trembling subsided as she fell asleep during an older siblings’ prayertime (which is why the youngest get the turns first).
After prayertime, I went back across the house into the kitchen. There, sitting on the corner of the empty kitchen table was Mali’s empty bottle. It sat there upright, planted like a lone flag on a hill.
I stared. So that explained it. She had thought I wasn’t talking about the coffee table in the living room, but the kitchen table. The kitchen table—all the way across the dark empty house. Yes she was spunky kid, but shadows are shadows nonetheless, when you are one years old going on two. And in the end she had tottled all the way over there, and placed her bottle on the table. Only after she had fulfilled the command was she then frightened by the dishwasher. But she had done it, all by herself, in the dark, frightened and determined.
I couldn’t believe it. I felt the way you would if you found out someone had given up their life for you, when you didn’t even realize it.
I don’t think grown-ups ever deserve a kid’s love. We just don’t. We don’t even realize how much it is. The Pleiades and the morning wind are placed in the palm of your hand. Like all real love, you can never deserve it, just receive it.