I hear the pitter patter of their feet as they come up the stairs. Most of the time I am sitting on the porch and I get to listen to their whisperings, as they carry on unaware of my presence. They stand on tiptoes to ring the bell. Miss? Miss? They yell up at me.
I smile, grab my dupatta from its place on the chair and open the creaky screen door to let them in.
Sometimes it is just Hina and Sita, sometimes their younger brother Kewal comes too, sometimes they bring a friend. Hina always begins by asking to take pictures. She knows how to use my iphone to get to the camera, to change the filter, and to take more selfies than is probably healthy at her age, which is 8.
After a short photo session, if she has brought a friend, she makes them sit down across from me in the other wicker chair. She takes the photo album a friend made me for a bridesmaid’s gift and gingerly lifts the cover. She knows the pictures by heart. This is Miss Caroline’s friend, she says. Her name is Lindsey. This is Hannah (pointing to Jess), this is Jess (pointing to Hannah), and this is…this is…. Karen? Callie, I say. Callie.
This is Miss in an ocean (hot tub). This is Miss eating cake. This is Miss sad because all the cake is gone. This is Miss dressing up like a lion (Thank you Step Sing.) Miss, why do you look like a lion again? This is Miss at her ceremony because she passed her class (graduation).
She asks if I have any new pictures, which most of the time I do not. This is followed by requests for me to braid her hair, for candy, for another photo shoot with me, or for a dance. Most of the time, we dance.
Her favorite song is a Bollywood one called Hookah Bar. I have no comment regarding this or its appropriateness for an 8 year-old. But it does have a good beat.
After 15 or 20 minutes, the others are ready to move on. C’mon Hina, they say, lets go. And Hina looks for reasons to stay. Something new on my fridge. Another photo idea. A cat on the stairs. An unmade bed to scold me about.
Reluctantly she clomps down the stairs back into the compound, her sister hitting my bell as she goes past. Hina’s hand slides around the corner wall and she smiles back up at me, See you later okay bye!
Every time I come into the compound from the market, from the office, from anywhere at all- Hina runs up to me. She is always playing outside, she always waves. And regardless of whether I can wave back or whether my hands are full, she gallops up towards me. Her admiration is enchanting, slightly overwhelming, and mostly so incredibly affirming in ways she cannot possibly know. She quietly, unconsciously tells me that this is indeed where I belong.