My head turned away from the window, where throngs of people were picketing below me. A young, blond woman in bell-bottoms and a crop top stood in the doorway next to a small girl in a collared dress. She was as pale as a porcelain doll.
"Can I let her in?" Janet, the young woman, asked, but before I could reply, the girl tiptoed in. I frowned at Janet, but she only shrugged and hurried out of the room, muttering something about the reception desk.
The girl stood still, but her eyes roved across the brick walls, latching upon mine with surprising intensity. Flustered, I dropped my gaze, but the girl, who was barely taller as my wheelchair, only had to walk a few steps until we were at eye level.
"Is your name Eloise Shima?" the girl asked suddenly in a business-like tone, pulling out a notebook and wooden pencil. A mood ring slipped out and she shoved it back in.
"When were you born?"
I looked at her stangely. "Sometime in the '20s, but you know, it's not polite to ask a woman their -" I paused. The child was writing something on the pad. "What are you doing?"
She didn't look up. "I have to record our conversation."
"School project. We have to conduct an interview with an adult."
I scoffed. "Don't you have any family for this?"
"My parents are dead," she said flatly.
My eyes widened in shock. "Your grandparents?"
She didn't reply, confirming the worst of my suspicions. My heart wrenched at how much pain the child had already suffered at such a young age, and I wanted to offer something meaningful. But all that came out when I opened my mouth was "why me?"
I still couldn't understand why a white child like her would want to associate with me.
The girl shrugged. "This center is close to my home and," she continued in a small voice, "Ms. Janet told me you never got any visitors."
I stared at her, dumbfounded, yet in painful recognition of the kindness she possessed. She even looked like Hiro. They both had the same dimples in their cheeks, the same sparkling black eyes, and the same baby skin. The scratched golden band on my finger tingled as I remembered the smoothness of his fingers when he shook my hand. How it would flutter my heart and fill me with hope that maybe the reckless, mixed daughter of the Commander could end up with a handsome, Japanese soldier.
"Are you crying?" the girl said suddenly. I realized my cheeks had become wet, and I wiped away the tears.
"No," I said roughly, "you just reminded me of my late husband."
The girl raised her eyebrows, unconvinced but interested. "How did he die?"
“He sacrificed his life for another soldier in the War. I got his letters, but I don't remember where they are..."
“Who was it? Were they close?” the girl interrupted, eagerly writing in her notebook.
I snorted. “Close? Smith made life in the Army hell for my husband, and all because he was Japanese and wanted to serve." I sniffed. "As if being locked up in those internment camps wasn't bad enough. Hmmph, I reckon Smith fancied me though. Must’ve thought I was white.”
"Shouldn't the officials have done something?" the girl asked, keeping her eyes glued to the paper.
I gave an insincere laugh. "The only 'official' we had was the Commander, and all my father did was drink."
"Yes, but I didn't know he even existed-" I stopped myself when I realized the girl was still writing. She looked up at the silence and sighed, the pencil stalling in her hands.
I continued speaking, keeping a sharp eye on her hands. "My father left my mother when she was pregnant with me. I only met him because he was one of the recruiters for the women's Air Force. He was a horrible man but..." he never told them I was Black. I didn't tell the girl this, mostly out of embarrassment of the lengths I went through to keep my identity secret. I shuddered, remembering how much white powder I would layer on my face.
As I talked, the girl watched me with growing astonishment. "What?" I said when she looked ready to burst
“I thought Ms. Janet said you had Alzheimer’s". How do you remember all of...” she waved her hand in circular motions "this?"
I gave a wry smile. "I only remember the past. For everything else, I read."
"No radio? Cassettes? How do you listen to the Beatles?" the girl asked worriedly.
I laughed. "I'm too old for that stuff. Speaking of, do you have a newspaper?"
She nodded and pulled out a tightly wadded piece of paper from her pockets.
"Could you read it out loud?"
She nodded again and cleared her throat.
"Wednesday, August 28th. 'King Leads March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom'" She looked back at me. "If you had ABC we could've watched the live broadcast."
I shook my head. "This place can't afford a set. Still, I remember Dr. King well. We grew up in the same neighborhood together. Mr. King even helped her get a job after my father-.”
A loud thump cut me off unexpectedly. I turned to the walls where the sound was coming from and opened the window. The crowds of people below were throwing stones at heavily uniformed police officers, brandishing their signs like weapons. I felt a sinking but not unfamiliar feeling in my stomach and closed the window.
Ms. Janet suddenly flung open the door. She must've seen what was going on. "You should go," she told the girl, who didn't budge despite her pushing. I watched a slip of paper fall from her pockets during the struggle and rolled my wheelchair closer. It was a train ticket, and I briefly saw the word 'Kathryn' on it before it was snatched off the floor by the girl.
I looked up at her. "Why'd you do that?"
"I need it to return home."
I squinted my eyes. "But didn't you say you lived close by here?"
Kathryn shifted slightly on her feet, and something started whirring in my brain. Just then, Janet called out: "Stop chatting with your Grandma and hurry up?"
I laughed. "What Grandma? There's no..." My voice trailed off as I realized the girl was avoiding my gaze. Janet popped her head back in and gave me a sympathetic look.
"Didn't she tell you?"
I only stared back blankly.
Janet pursed her lips and looked at the girl. The child took a deep breath and slowly raised her eyes to meet mine. "My father adopted me years ago when he learned his wife was infertile. They were still finalizing the adoption papers when they died in a train crash." She took a rattling breath. "My father, Max Shima, never got to tell his mother, Eloise, he had finally started a family.
My eyes clouded over and then suddenly widened in realization. "Y-you're my..."
"Yes," Kathryn Shima finished gently. "I'm your granddaughter."
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