“Okay Karen, there you go. You look like Auntie Jen….”
I turned her slowly toward the mirror, dingy, cracked. If she stood on tip-toe, maybe she would have seen her mouth. As it was, her nose was sharp, freckled skin drawn over her cheekbones and bleached under the fluorescent lights. Her hair was very, very red. I heard her sniff.
No. “No, you can’t cry, Sister. Please.” I began braiding her thick hair in a careful herringbone braid, pitched my voice low, soothing, one that didn’t echo so loudly. “Don’t you trust me? Haven’t I always taken care of you?”
“You don’t look the same either, Emma. I miss home.”
I looked at my reflection above hers. My hair was also red, my makeup heavy, eyes hidden by light-tint sunglasses.
“No, you don’t. You miss comfort. You will like where we are going better. I promise.”
“Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“You don’t know.”
“I do.” It wasn’t the first lie. “Listen…”
I kneeled down to look her in the eye. “I am not telling you because it’s an important part of my plan. We weren’t safe there without Mama, Karen.”
“She left me money, lots of it. And our tickets. It will be okay. Right?”
She nodded, but her eyes were still shimmering.
“Alright then,” I said in my best no-nonsense voice. “What time is it, Sis?”
She grinned now, and peered at her new prize possession. “4:20”
“We leave at…”
“5:15. Fifty-five minutes.”
“Very good. So smart! Do you like your new clothes?”
“They sort of look like Miranda’s. In my class. She always wore fancy clothes. Can you walk in those heels?
“Not quickly. At least not now. I need practice. In the meantime, we can’t be late. Should we go?”
Karen wrinkled her nose and made a face. There was nothing pleasant about the odor in this basement bathroom before we changed our hair color. “Yes!”
And so we emerged from our corner, butterflies where caterpillars used to be, ready to fly into a new adventure.
Who cared that my shoes weren’t working well, much less my wings.
October 3, 2004: Two young girls are huddled in a corner at the train depot. What’s happening?