She was either very young -- no more than six, if that -- or she was tiny for her age. She wore a dirty pink parka with the hood pulled up, and her hair stood out from the hood, a patch of wiry black flowers all around her face, each pigtail decorated with colorful plastic barrettes. The bucket was upturned and white and she stomped her feet as she sang; it gave off a muffled thud, the rhythm reined in. Behind her, her father played an acoustic guitar, but neither could it compete with the girl's voice. Her singing was as bright and charismatic as an entire gospel choir. I was caught up in the press of the crowd and I couldn't push my way through to drop a dollar in her cup. But I turned my face to watch her for as long as I could, until the crowd, eager to get out of the rain, had carried me beyond where I could see her. She saw no one in the crowd; her eyes never left the red lit market sign and the clock far above our heads, or perhaps she looked even higher as she sang, at the grey sky, at whatever was beyond it.
Oh, I've seen fire, I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
It has been at least ten years. The girl would be fifteen or sixteen now, maybe a little older. This sounds ridiculous, because I only saw her for a moment and heard a few phrases of her song, but I think of her often. I hear the drum of her small feet against the bucket. Each time I am at the Market I look toward the green metal staircase where I saw her and hope to see her again. I wonder what kind of fire and rain she's seen now. I wonder whether her voice, her confidence, have kept her from the troubles that fall on too many Black girls. I wonder whether her talent has been worth anything to her. I wonder whether she wears a cleaner coat now, or whether she only sings these days to put her baby to sleep.
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.
I wish I had pushed through the crowd and given her a dollar.