It's the Little Things (or, "Life Happening, Part 3")

The heat index was 97 degrees when I went running at 5:30 this morning. I step outside and the air wraps itself around me like a thick quilt. I stand there for a minute, watching the first pink shades of sunrise seep slowly through the saturated sky, and then I look down and my arms are sweating from the exertion of watching the dawn break. I'm just happy the heat index was down in double digits. It's the little things.

Our housing compound is a ghost town. Everyone with a modicum of sense -- and lacking a job -- has gone somewhere else for the summer. Anywhere. Thunderdome? Yes, please.

Little thing. 2009.
I walk the compound streets at night to think. The sounds of life outside the compound are muffled and distant, like a radio playing low in another room so that you only catch an occasional bass drum or a far-off lyric. There's a faulty streetlight that I sometimes stop to watch. It burns out with a plink that you can hear if the street is quiet enough, and the pavement below goes dark. I stand underneath and crane my neck and watch the orange bulb way at the top of the pole lose its color and fade until it's black as outer space. But I don't move. I stand there and stare at the dark streetlamp. And if somebody walks by then maybe I look like a crazy person. Maybe I am a crazy person. But if I watch the dead streetlight for long enough, it blinks on again with another barely audible but oddly satisfying plink, and it throws white light down on the dark street in a perfect circle, and I stand in the middle, and the white light slowly turns orange as the bulb up above gradually heats up. And somehow it warms my bones in a way the hot, sticky air around me cannot. It's the little things.

A year ago I eased into an urban gas station for a fill. I waited with my window down, the shimmery smell of 95-octane wafting into the cab. A little African girl skipped up to my car. She was dressed in a wildly colorful shawl and wore a smile so dazzling I thought she might ignite the petrol fumes. The children who beg for money are typically so dour and depressing, but this girl oozed life as she greeted me in Arabic. She seemed about to ask for money, but she stopped and studied me intently, her little brows knitting together.

"Where are you from?" she said. "Where do you think I'm from?" I answered, also in Arabic, which seemed to confuse her more, but also teased a hint of her charming smile from the corner of her mouth as she realized a guessing game was afoot. "I don't know..." she said shyly, kicking at the ground, her smile growing. "Lebanon?"

"Noooooo..." I said, shaking my head and grinning. "Turkey?" she offered. "No, " I said. "Syria?" she was laughing now. "No," I replied. "I don't know then!" she said, her shoulders shrugged, her elbows bent and her palms facing skyward, her little head cocked to one side expectantly. I wondered if maybe she had exhausted the list of countries she knew. "I'm American!" I told her in my best Bob Barker tone. She shook her head as if to say, I never would've guessed that, and she giggled and adjusted her shawl. "Where are you from?" I asked. "Sudan," she said, still grinning widely. "How old are you?" I wondered. "Six," she told me. "My daughter is six too," I said, as I counted out six riyals and handed them to her. It seemed somehow like a lame gesture, but I didn't have any new lives in my wallet to offer. That's what I wanted to give her. But sometimes all you have is wholly inadequate. I suppose you should give it anyway.

Several months later I pulled into the same gas station. The same little girl approached me, still skipping with a massive smile splashed across her face. She slowed as she approached. I arched an eyebrow at her expectantly. "You're......." she was trying to place my face. ".... from Turkey, right?" I laughed. "American," I reminded her. She laughed too. "Are you seven yet?" I asked. She nodded. And I counted out seven riyals. "My daughter is seven now too," I told her as I handed her the money. She gingerly took the bills, then stared at them in her hand for a moment, as if she was thinking hard. "Is she pretty?" the little girl asked, looking up and squinting at me. The question caught me off guard. So I paused, and we just looked at each other for a second there beside the gas pump.

"Yes," I said finally. "Like you." And she grinned bigger than I would've thought possible. It's the little things.