I had seen her around both the Park and some of the stores in town. Back then it had been warmer, by now, there was a slight chill in the air, but she wore the same clothes she had back then.
It was bottles and cans in the torn and worn bag she carried so dearly. She looked around eight years old. She was a very cute girl, if you looked under the dirt on her face. Her face, it was not the face of a little girl one would expect to see back home. In Iraq, I had seen the same look. It was one of a person who had given up. I had seen many like that, especially in the faces of other soldiers in hospital. I was one of the lucky ones, I was able to walk, well almost, walk out.
I was twenty-two, my loving girlfriend wrote me exactly one note, 'Dear John... ' My name was Bob though. In a way it was funny, I wanted to be alone. The waif in-front of me seemed to have no choice though. I thought about five seconds before I called out to here.
"Honey, could you come over here and help me, a bit? I'm usually just fine, but this cold snap we are having has made it hard for me to walk home."
"I'm not supposed to go near strangers! Your not going to hurt me are you?"
"No Honey, I'm not. I was hurt in Iraq. My legs take some getting used to. Tell you what, see that policeman over there, he knows me. I'll watch your bag, put it down on the ground there and ask him if it is OK if you help me? I'll be glad to pay you for your time."
She did that, talked to Joe, an old neighbor and came skipping back. "He says he has known you a long time. He also said that since you came back, he was not sure if he would trust you around a pretty girl. Did he mean me? Do you think I'm pretty?"
"Honey, you are the prettiest girl I have ever met. Yes, I think he meant that you were that pretty girl. I know it will be hard, but I will try to be worthy of your trust. What is your name?"
"Samantha, my Mom usually calls me Sam or Sammy."
"Well my name is Bob, what do you want me to call you?"
"Sam is OK."
"OK Sam, I live pretty close to here. Since you have such a big bag of stuff with you, could we go to the store, you turn your things in and I'll get us some food for lunch. We can make a picnic outside. If you live close, we can even call your Mom or have one there."
I did not want her to be afraid, but I was starting to worry that she just did not look well-cared for. The store was small but Mr. Peters, had some clothes and toys for kids there.
"Gee Mr. Bob, we don't have a phone. My Mom, she, she, has not been feeling real good. I try to get something over at the 'hall' for her when I go home."
The 'Hall' was the homeless shelter in town. I knew some of the guys that had been in Hospital with me had 'kidded' that if, if they ever got out, that might be the next stop for them. I remembered one though. James, Jimmy, he had a sister, she saw him almost every day at the Hospital. They both told me to come see them and had given me their information, it was back at the house, somewhere.
The house was where I grew up. Mom and Dad left it to me. It was a bit small, and old but it was paid for.
"Sam, up to you, let's go to the store, get our stuff, make lunch and you can take enough back for you and your Mom and maybe decide if we can have a picnic today."
"Can I take another something back for my little Sister, if we don't have enough though, I can share mine with her, she does not eat much."
"I think we will have plenty, and I'll make sure you get paid so you get some rest today after, OK?"
"OK Mr. Bob."
We walked on, her little arm around my waist, the other holding the nearly empty bag.
We got to the store. "Hi Sam, where did you find this old 'Devil dog'? Hello Bob."
Mr. Peters' son and I had been at Boot Camp together. Our families were old friends.
"He's not a dog Mr. Peters, he's my new friend, Mr. Bob."
Amazing how in such a short time little kids make friends.
"Oh, I see now, I guess he is a little big for a dog, Sam. What do you have for me today?'
"I had to help Mr. Bob, so I did not get much today Mr. Peters."
"That's ok Sammy, here's a dollar."
"Bob, you need anything?'
'Yes Sir! We need a whole bunch of stuff for lunch, Sam will take some back to her mom and sister too, so if you can fix up what we need, that would be great." I gave him a wink.
"Mr. Peters, it sort of turned cold today, do you still have any of those warm clothes for me and Sam, and, maybe even pack up some stuff for her Mom and sister. Honey how old is your sister?"
"She's almost five Mr. Bob, but she is small too."
I motioned to total everything up and put it on my bill.
"Mr. Peters, it may be hard for us to carry everything, could Johnny or someone bring it on over to the house. If Sam has a little extra time, maybe she can help me some around the house and yard, make some extra money before she has to go home. What about it Sam?"
"Sure, I guess, I usually don't finish looking for stuff till 5 PM or so, then try the "Hall' for some dinner for us."
"Mr. Peters, I'm not sure if we will get everything even done today, could you add some stuff for Sam to take home for dinner too?"
He nodded, "Sure Bob, I'll even bring the rest of the stuff over and get Sam home about 5:30 from your place. Here take lunch fixings with you and these warm clothes."
Sam and I got to my place. I took the bag and gave her the key. She opened the door and handed me back the key. We went in.
"Wow, she said. This is a neat place. How big it is."
My thought that she was living a life tougher than me seemed to have merit. "Sam I'll show you around, see if there are some things you will help me with but first, let me show you the laundry area. Bring those clothes with you please."
"Sam, see that pile of laundry, do you think you could wash and dry that for me. There should be plenty of room too if you want to wash your clothes. Across the way there is a bathroom. Take your old clothes off, run in here, put them in the wash, then relax in the big bathtub there. You can use the shower, and do your hair, there is a bunch of good smelling stuff my Mom had around then try on those new, warm clothes in the bag. I young lady, promise not to peak, and will be in the kitchen working my magic to make us a picnic lunch."
"You promise not to peak, well not too much anyhow, He, He."
When did eight year olds become such teases?"
I heard her splashing around. It never dawned on me that was a sound of life that I had not heard since Mom, Dad and Sis had died. It was also a sound that I never expected to hear again.
"Lunch, Madam, is ready!" She must be having fun, it had been nearly an hour and a half. I had heard feet scamper and the sounds of a washer and dryer going, so I knew she had stared a couple of loads. I was tempted to 'peak' at the little minx, but I had promised not to. "Lunch", I yelled out.
When she came out, sans shoes and socks, I was not sure it was the Sam that had gone in. In front of me I had a beautiful blond wearing a checkered shirt and denim slacks held up with a wide Western Style belt. No longer was there the little brown headed urchin. "MMM" she said, "something smells wonderful."
For eating MRE's as long as I did, I could rate my lunch pretty high. It was a lot better fare than the hospital cuisine too. Sam seemed to think so. "Milady will want to sample the Tomato soup with Basil, followed by the expertly prepared toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. For desert, a rare mix of 'Oreo' and 'Nilla' wafers, served with a 'carafe' of chocolate milk.'
She raised her hands. "Oh Garcon', MY favourites." and gave me little kiss on the cheek.
"If Madam shall excuse me, I shall return to clear the table and serve tea." Tears were running down my cheeks. If my little sister had lived, she would be about Sam's age. She had been blond too. It was like Deja Vu. My attempt to help a little girl was turning into much more now. Here was a chance to try to help, maybe the only help she ever would have.
"Hey Sam, was there a cap or jacket in your bag?'
"Yes Mr. Bob, there were some other things, us 'girls' wear too, private things."
Good old Mr. Peters. I remembered Mandy and Jimmy and looked for their number. I found it in a drawer, dialed the number and a girl answered. "Mandy, It's Bob Rogers. Bob from Bethesda hospital. Yep, I'm ok, how are you and Jimmy. Finally, that's great Mandy. I hate to be a pest but I need your help. Not that kind Mandy, but, now that you mentioned it ... No kidding, well sort of. I have a little girl here who needs some clothes and was wondering ... Mandy no, I did not bring her naked from Iraq, she ... Mandy stop laughing, I did not bring her back with clothes either. Mandy, She is seven or eight and ... Mandy Please, I am not starting them young in a harem. Mandy, please be nice. She is a wonderful little girl who needs a break. I was hoping you could take her shopping and buy her and her sister and Mom anything they need, on me. I don't know when or if they all will go but I'll ask her. Her name is Sam and she is the sweetest girl, she has stolen my heart. Please call me back and tell me when you could go. Thank you Mandy."
As I turned around, Sam was staring at me, mouth wide and a blank look on her face. In a few seconds I had a curled ball of girl hugging and kissing me with tears streaming from here eyes. "Did I really steal your heart?"
"Yeah Sam, I want to be there for you." I began to tear up as I held her. "Sam, how much do you weigh, your getting heavy or ate a huge lunch?"
.... There is more of this story ...