The little girl heard the whispers and opened her eyes to see the shadowy silhouettes lit from the hallway light. Unable to understand what they were saying in her slumber fogged mind, she drifted back to sleep.
Then a bump and a jiggle as she found herself being carried outside and settled in the backseat of a car, on a bed of blankets and pillows, her squishy Barney doll tucked back securely under her arm. She felt the car start, and gradually awoke as they drove through the darkness, her uncle at the wheel.
She wasn’t afraid, her parents traveled often for work, so it was not unusual to wake to a babysitter or her uncle’s care. Finding herself in his car in the middle of the night did not alarm her four-year-old mind. But when she heard the beeps of numbers being entered into his cell phone, and he began to speak, his tone wasn’t friendly and laughing. It was serious yet soft, and even at her young age she knew something was wrong, out of place, dangerous. She paid attention to the conversation, curious and confused.
“I know they were.”
“No, I wasn’t targeted.”
“Because they don’t know who I am, and they’ve never targeted ancillaries before.”
“Well, not in a very long time.”
“Soon, not now, a few years.”
“Years. I’ve hardly had any time.”
“She’s not ready yet.”
“Yes, I’ll be in touch next week.”
Then the beep of the call ending.
She couldn’t comprehend exactly what was happening, and as the motion of the car rocked the child back to sleep she wondered, and held her dinosaur closer, and closed sleepy eyes to the lights of the night streaming in the back window.
At first she didn’t ask her uncle about the conversation because of the upheaval in her short life. Then she was adjusting to new routines. Later she didn’t ask because, well, she hadn’t asked so far, and it seemed awkward. But it remained one of her clearest early memories, and she always felt a tingle of fear when she thought back on it.
Things she could remember from before: She could remember her mother’s face, lifting in horror then falling to giggles, as she stuck a chubby hand in a newly iced cake. She could remember her father laughing when she screamed in delight at the fourth of July fireworks, his blue eyes sparkling with happiness. She could remember a massive dog named Joe, with a slick black coat and a warm welcoming tongue.
And she always remembered the details from that soft one-sided conversation.
And sometimes she wondered, “When will I be ready?”