The Girl Who Lived in Our Backyard
We went to bed without eating the first night we moved into our green house. There were no groceries except a twenty-five-pound bag of rice on the kitchen floor, a live chicken someone had brought as a housewarming gift, and a few cans of sardines. Mommy planned to make a meal of rice and sardines using an electric skillet she pulled out of her suitcase, but as soon as she plugged the cord into the kitchen socket, the electricity went out. So, we went to bed hungry.
My stomach pinched, and I couldn’t sleep.
My stomach pinched, and I couldn't sleep. Bertie and I lay in bed tossing and turning for what seemed like hours until—the smell of food wafted through our bedroom window and made our tummies rumble.
We got out of bed and peeked through the shady screen. To our amazement, there in our backyard were three dark figures hovered over an open fire. A lantern hung above the flames, and steam rose from a pot. The tantalizing mixture of smoky, savory meat created a mouth-watering fragrance infused with hints of sizzling fat and spices. The aroma carried by the wind drifted through the air and beckoned us. But we were afraid.
I looked at Bertie.
"Who's in our backyard? What if it's the Heartmen." I said.
Rosy and Becky warned us about the Heartmen. "Don't go outside after dark. You never know when the Heartmen are out. They don't play favorites and will take out the heart of anyone they find roaming in the dark."
"Those people live in the yard. Go back to bed."
Bertie and I ran into Rosy and Becky's room and jumped in bed.
"Strangers are outside in the backyard."
Becky lifted her head. "Those people live in the yard. Go back to bed."
The following morning, Bertie and I studied the scene outside the open window. A man, a woman, and a small child sat under the lean-to as if they had never moved all night.
Bertie screamed with excitement, "Look, a little girl."
"Let's go play with her."
We ran past moving boxes and scattered furniture and started out the front door when Mommy stopped us.
"Where are you going?"
"We're going to play with the girl in our yard."
Before Mommy could say anything, we ran out the door, down the long steps, around the carport, and to the back of the yard.
The man greeted us. "Mehn."
We didn't answer, so he spoke in English.
We looked over at the little girl. "Mornin'."
"My name is Matta."
"My name is Bertie."
"My name is Georgie."
Mata kicked her feet, clapped her hands, and grabbed ours. "Let's play Knock-foot,"
"Knock-foot? What's that?"
Matta shuffled about like a dancing orangutan. I thought she looked ridiculous, but Bertie imitated her. Together they kicked their feet, clapped their hands, and laughed hysterically. Soon I joined in the fun.
We couldn't believe it. Our very first Liberian friend came ready-made and lived in our backyard. We played Knock-Foot and Kol— another hand-and-foot game, with Matta for a solid week. Both games required too much coordination to master, but we played anyway until dark.
We climbed the fence, played in the sand, and ate peanuts together. But our friendship didn't last.
Our landlord had hired Matta's dad to keep strangers off the property when the house was vacant, but now we lived there, and the landlord insisted they leave.
We watched Matta drudge behind her parents on the day they left, carrying a knapsack full of her belongings. Tears fell while she walked through our iron gate. Bertie and I were upset too, and we couldn't understand why we couldn't keep our ready-made backyard friend.
We never saw Matta again, and the pain stuck with me for a long while.
~ a short excerpt from a WIP
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