A Man from the Moon
Her three brothers stood staring at me in rags, their open, upturned faces shy and intensely curious. The girl hung back five feet behind, her hands clasped in front of her and her eyes on the ground.
I turned to Spider, who stood next to me in the heat in a black ski mask and body armor. It seemed not to effect him. “Where do they live? Why aren’t they wearing shoes?” The Iraqi interpreter turned to the boys, his quick Arabic a sharp staccato as he translated my question.
“They live near here.”
“What about shoes, why aren’t they wearing any?” Spider turned back to the boys.
“Their family is too poor to afford shoes. They have never worn them.”
“Well don’t they wash themselves? Wash their clothing?”
Spider shrugged. “Clean water is not what you think it is here. Besides, it is not important to these people. They are the poorest of the poor.” He makes a motion with his hand. “They are at the bottom.”
“Well how old are they?”
Spider questions the eldest, a stunted boy of about twelve, and the boy responds.
“He does not know. None of them know how old they are. They have never been told, and they can’t count.” Spider reflects for a second. “When I asked him how old he was, he said he was two.” Spider turns to me with a grimace evident even beneath the mask, “There are children like them all over Iraq.”
“Do they know who I am?” I asked quietly. “Have they heard of America?”
Spider smiles. “To them, you are from outer space. From Mars. They have never heard of America, and they don’t know what you are. They dont know why you are here. In your uniforms, and armor, and everything, you are truly a man from the moon.”
I look down at the children. They are still staring at me. Reaching into my pocket, I pull out a bag of M&Ms.
The boys faces brighten, and small hands come forward for the brightly colored candy. The girl still hangs back, gazing down thru dark brown lashes. I beckon her forward, and she moves slowly, unsure of herself. Reaching out I take her hand and place the remainder of the candy in her palm.
She puts them in her mouth one by one, but quickly, as if she would lose them. Then, for the first time, she looks at me, and thru a haze of dust and dirt, a slow, shy, beautiful, smile begins to form as the chocolate melts in her mouth.