I do remember her shy smile, her tangled-almost-matted hair, and the sticker on the middle of her forehead.
I remember how she tagged after me, borrowed my camera, sat beside me, squeezed behind me to throw little arms around my neck, begged to have her picture taken, asked me to sit in the shade with her and take pictures.
I said, "Later."
Because I was fifteen years old and my "best" friend, G, had a bigger following of girls at the school in Belize and I wanted to be with G and I wanted to have all the girls follow me like she did and I didn't have that much time for one little girl who just wanted to sit in the shade and take pictures.
At least I did invite her to play with us.
She did for a little bit but the other kids pushed her back and she went away and sat in the shade and watched. We played all kinds of games and she watched. I fell and wrenched my knee hard but I got up and kept playing because you know, that's who I was.
And then I said goodbye and she gave me a hug and went and sat in the shade and watched me go away. And I didn't come back because on the goodbye day I'd finally gotten to work with the guy I had a crush on and no, they didn't really need me on the job, but I sure wasn't going to leave, just to say goodbye to just one little girl who wanted to sit in the shade and take pictures.
"That little girl with the sticker?" said G later, "I think she's kinda left out. I think they pick on her a bit."
And I didn't say much but a bit of guilt pricked at my stomach and maybe my knee ached a bit more. Maybe it still aches a bit.
So whenever that knee hurts I remember the little girl in the shade--so much like the bigger little girl who she wanted to sit with--and I remember to make time to sit with the little girls and the little boys and the bigger girls and boys who are still little inside. To make time to take pictures and give hugs and jump rope and twirl them around in the air, to lock eyes with them and tell them I love you. And so does He. To make time to make a big deal about a sentence or a crayon scribble or a math problem done
And someday if I ever find that little girl again, I'll squeeze her tight and hand her my camera. And we'll just sit in the shade and take pictures. Maybe all day.