It is no small irony who appears at our door for Mythili’s birthday party. We had warned her beforehand of the possibility of no-shows, and I want to gulp back my inadequacy as a mother. I am not there, I hear myself saying, to chat with the mothers on the sidewalk as they smoke cigarettes and hover near their cars after leaving you at school, to ask, “Can your daughter come to my daughter’s birthday celebration?”
I wonder though, in all honesty, if my schedule didn’t bear down on me, if I had all the time in the world, if I’d even dare for a moment to participate in conversations whose language I barely understand.
So let me put it frankly. The only child who rang our bell appeared with her mother and younger sister, head wrapped in a scarf. No, not the mother, the this-must-be-a-Moor mother. The baby sister.
It wasn’t until hours later, when she stood in the quickly-darkening hallway, the same small girl in tow, that I remembered: this is the girl and the mother I saw disembarking the ambulance in the rain the other day, my frenzied walk home interrupted by the sudden heartbreak of a scarf-wrapped head on a child too young to know this kind of pain.
“Fatima’s sister doesn’t go to school, we don’t know why,” the girls tell me when I inquire about the girl’s age, whether the girl is in Riona’s class, selfishly thinking of my youngest who has the greatest difficulty making friends.
Of course she doesn’t go to school. Her mother, from Morocco, the one who doesn’t speak Spanish? The one who, upon a singular invitation by Isabella has sent her daughter daily to our door for my barely-speaks-Spanish daughter to help this poor girl with her Spanish science, religion, and art homework?
It is no small irony that she is the singular invitee who appears at our door for Mythili’s birthday party. An outcast, a Moor, a Muslim. The epitome of the pitiful look I encounter when I mention the name of the school my daughters attend. Never mind that the Moors settled this land hundreds of years before the Christians, that the glamorous palace people travel thousands of miles to see in Granada is actually of Muslim architecture, that the very name of this city I live in is a blend of Moroccan “Carto” and Latin “Nova.”
When her mother buzzes our bell to collect her child more than an hour after I suggested the ‘party’ would end, I want to speak to her. I want to pull the small child standing next to her into our apartment, to spew out a slur of welcoming words, to let her know that her daughters could appear here any day of the week, that we would welcome them faster than the public healthcare system they traveled across the sea to access, that we are not Christians, but have the heart of Christians.
But, as usual, as the hallway light, on its perfect timer of impatience, flashes from brighter-than-we-can-handle to complete darkness, all I can say is, “Pasa, pasa,” gesturing to our small hallway crammed with our grocery cart, a table, and my American, Chinese-made bicycle, as her daughter gathers her coat, puts on her shoes, and takes in hand the three balloons on Chinese-store sticks that my girls have portioned out for her.
They leave without a proper exchange of words. Without me thanking them to the fullest extent, without their ability to tell me what they wanted to say. A perfect summary of the past three months of my life.