The girls are creating languages. M’s are complicated, each syllable transformed into a new sound then rearranged into foreign words. She finds her own language difficult to pronounce, tries again with new rules, fills pages with her slanted pencil writing. J is systematic, writes every English word backwards, amazed at the discovery of each new word. Ballet, Tellab, Amber, Rebma, Tolkien, Neiklot. She reads long lists to us, looks up from the paper after each word to witness our reaction, writes more careful letters with turquoise ink.
At the supper table we talk about biceps, flex our muscles. When I give my best Muscle Woman pose, P exclaims, “Wow! You look like a…a…like a god!” We laugh. I notice how it feels to be admired by my daughter, scoop more pasta onto my plate.
After supper, before baths, J decides to make pancakes. She designates P as her assistant, finds aprons, pulls out the big glass bowl. Phil and I are too surprised to object, watch with curiosity this event with no precedent. The girls move quickly, gather measuring cups, whisks, delegate roles. J is the fryer, P is the ladle filler, the plate holder. It is after their bedtime when we gather around the table, spread jam on buttery pancakes, use our fingers and no plates.
A man with a winter jacket parks his motorbike on the driveway, a precarious pile of cardboard boxes and straw baskets strapped to the back of his bike. He unties the ropes, carries a basket down the stairs to my house, leaves it on my front step. It is piled high with zucchinis, avocados, mangoes, dill. I drag it into the kitchen by the twisted rope handles, smell fresh cilantro. The man’s motorbike leaves a cloud of grey exhaust above my kitchen window.
As I sit on the back porch, staring at the smudged screen of my laptop, a small bird that I have never seen before, deep shocking red, like rubies or blood, perches on the camp chair in front of me, studies me. I swear under my breath, a profane and inadequate response to this surprise gift. My heart races as it hops to the floor by my feet, then flies across the lawn. I thought I knew the birds in this place, am thrilled to feel like a foreigner.