Chapter Twenty Nine VI
Try, if you wish, to examine who is thinking.
If the first answer is “I am,” then find that ‘I.’
It's not in the body, not even in the brain.
It’s not there. What’s there is a bundle of memories,
imperfectly recalled, which will not be the same tomorrow,
or the next minute.
What Descartes meant to say is,
“I think, therefore I am…a perpetually turning kaleidoscope.”
Another way to put it might be, I am a quilt, a piece added every moment,
while another, earlier piece fades, rots away or is covered over by a fresh piece.
There is no single quilt maker, the quilt is made by
millions, billions, uncountable and unaccountable.
Taylor has nothing but tiny skirts, micro bikinis, butt hugging short shorts, espadrilles, slinky tops. We buy her leggings, and put her together so she looks cute and sophisticated at the same time. Nikko told her that make-up was overkill for a girl so lovely, and we don’t use much ourselves. Her hair is brushed neatly to her shoulders, like Janah’s, parted on the side.
Janah, “You look adorable.”
Taylor, “Strange, I look nice, but not sleazy or stupid.”
Janah, “You were never sleazy or stupid. I know that because here you are. You coped and made it this far, perhaps not quite ready to take on the world, but not afraid of it either.”
We hit the elevator and meet the family at a big table in the restaurant. Constable Pearce is talking with James at the bar.
Janah introduces Taylor, the moms go into high gear and soon Taylor is jabbering away a mile a minute. No one had listened to her, or engaged her in a conversation she was interested in. Only to provide what she thought she wanted, which was not what she wanted. She wanted to be accepted and appreciated, just for being Taylor. The moms are specialists in that. I mean, look how I turned out.
Nikko, Janah and I move to another table alongside the family. We want Taylor to unburden herself if she chose, without the whole world surrounding her, or to have fun just talking without restraint or expectation.
“Appears the moms have a granddaughter. First Sonia, now Taylor. I must be slipping.”
Nikko, “Funny, you don’t look deprived.”
Janah giggles, “About as deprived as Natalie Portman.”
“I love Natalie Portman. If I didn’t look like me, I’d want to look like her.”
Janah, “You already resemble her, except she’s around five-four, your extra six inches are mostly legs.”
“I’m feeling much better now. Although I may have issues with Taylor if she keeps growing. Later tonight, I’ll need both of you to reassure me.”
Nikko, “Janah will have to reassure you. If she wishes, I’m going to stay with Taylor in the other room. Maybe the moms will take her over. As long as she’s with someone. I don't know, maybe she'd like to be alone.”
Janah, “Play it by ear. She can be alone, let's monitor, not intrude. I don't want her waking up in the middle of the night in a frenzy.”
“I’ll switch sides during the night, or we’ll just stay merged. Nikko will be with us even if she isn’t.”
Janah, “We live in fairyland. Well, an occasional backstreet brawl fairyland.”
Nikko, “Taking out assholes is fairyland, only one thing better, and one other thing.”
She doesn’t have to say what. It’s her extended family. Something the reticent Nishiko never imagined for herself. Who and what life brings doesn’t matter, what matters is the attitude you take towards it.
“I feel your thoughts, let’s work on making Taylor’s life amazingly different.”
The moms are explaining where we live, how Nikko, Janah and I came together, in a general way.
Taylor, “They’re incredible, they seem to move together, Daphne and Nikko look alike, and I’ve never seen a girl with pure white hair. Nikko said it was that way since she was born.”
Kara, “I was there, I can vouch for that. We don’t know what gene altered what, but it’s stayed pure white, even when she shaved it for the temple, it grew back pure white.”
“She shaved her head, all of it?”
Chris explains that I’m a Shaolin priest, and that Janah is the Abbess of the Shaolin Temple.
“What does that mean?”
Susan, “Daphne took certain vows, to protect the innocent, to relieve suffering. In part, it’s how you wound up sitting here.”
Taylor is perplexed, “Is it some kind of religion, what do they do?”
James joins them, “Not a religion. I think they would be happy to tell you about it you over the next couple of days, if you really want to know.”
Taylor’s eyes are moist, “There is so much I don’t know. I spent all my time being photographed. They told me I was a model. The kids at school called me a porn star. I had to Google it.”
Chris, “Porn star! That’s bullshit. Your parents said you were modeling. You thought you were modeling. How in hell were you supposed to know any different?”
“Thanks, Chris. Sorry, I only know first names.”
“We don’t do Mr. or Ms. We talk to each other like people, you’re people, we’re people.”
It’s quiet for a moment, Taylor mists up again.
Chris, “What is it, angel?”
“What do I do now? Are social worker people coming to get me? Am I going to some kind of foster house? I know enough to know my parents are out of it. I figured out the lies about modeling. Selling me, and drugging me up to do it. They are not parents, they are monsters.”
James, “You won’t be seeing them again.”
“Really? How can you be sure? They have lawyers, I heard them talking about it when I was doing the website stuff. They went to court once, but nothing happened. What if they get me again?”
James, “Janah makes sure children aren’t forced do things they don’t want to do, and she has two helpers to make absolutely certain.”
“They can do that?”
Chris, “Honey, they can do damn near anything.”
Taylor gazes off into the distance. She hadn’t been a child in a long time. For good or bad, that part has worn away. But she isn’t an adult either. That part had been an act, a coping mechanism.
“Can I stay with them for a while? All of you. You said you live close together? I….what do I do?”
Susan, “You can stay with them as long as you want. We live two blocks away. You can stay with us, go back and forth. We’re home almost all the time. The girls travel once in a while. There won’t be any more websites, no more modeling, no more sick adults.”
Taylor nods, she isn’t ready to believe things could be so easily solved. What if we didn’t like her? What if they changed their minds?
“I want to talk to them, is that okay?”
Chris, “It’s your decision, Taylor. Go see her.”
Taylor comes to our table, “Can I stay with you tonight? I mean, all of you have the same room. Are the cops coming to get me, what happens?”
Nikko, “We have two bedrooms. You and I will stay in one, or you can stay alone in one. It’s up to you. No police will come, no one will bother you. Tonight, we’ll watch a movie, some stupid martial arts thing, Daphne will pick something out. Then we’ll rest. If you want your privacy, then take the bedroom all to yourself, I’ll sleep in the living room, it’s a big couch. If you need anything during the night, come and get me.”
Taylor, “Can we go up now?”
Janah and Nikko take Taylor to the room, I stop to talk to the family.
“That’s one resilient kid. James, what do we do? I don’t mean forever, I mean the next day or so?”
James, “Be yourselves. She’ll have her ups and downs. You hit it, she’s resilient. When she’s showered in love, the rest will fade to nothing. She’s never had anyone interested in her, as a human being, only a money machine. I think she’ll relish the whole thing.”
I nodded, kiss the moms and dad, up to the room.
“Taylor gets to choose the movie!”
We watch Jane Eyre, the 2011 version with Mia Wasikowska. Taylor is fascinated, first by the costume drama part, old English mansions, bonnets, people in carriages and on horseback. She also grasps that throughout history, adults lorded it over children, tried to make them become this or that, or required them to ‘know their place.’
Taylor, “Why do people pick on children?”
Nikko, “They don’t fight back. Don’t know how, afraid of threats. Can’t go live on the street, although many do exactly that even today. It’s been that way through history.”
Janah, “Why do you think people take advantage?”
Taylor, “My parents were always wanting shit, I mean stuff. Always more stuff. I got lots of clothes, make-up, cigarettes, anything I wanted. I used to sit in my room with all that, and wonder why I wanted it. I mean, it was not like I needed to grow up and play dress-up or Barbie. I was Barbie.”
I dramatize, “I’ve been Barbie all my life. Hasn’t hurt me any.”
Taylor giggles, “You are teasing me.”
Janah, “No, she has been Barbie to me. I used to dress her up all the time. On the other hand, she works very hard at what she does, and she and Nikko are extremely skilled.”
Taylor, “What is it you do, exactly?”
Janah, “Unless you have someplace else you wish to go, you will be with us for the foreseeable future. You can watch and learn. And you will, on your own, figure out who Taylor is. We’ll be there to talk things over. We don’t make young ladies do anything. We live over a school in Manhattan. You can go there. You can, if you wish, change your name; you’re growing, before long you won’t look like the girl on the website. We’ve taken down the site, it won’t come up on any search anywhere. With a new haircut, perhaps a bit of color, no one will match up any photos with the girl they meet in New York. Our family and friends could care less about what you used to do.”
Taylor is wide eyed, “Really? I can live with you, go to a real school? Be somebody else?”
Nikko, “Of course. Or you can stay Taylor Darien and if anyone mentions anything, I will teach you to deal with them.”
“I have a million questions.”
Janah, “Everything will be plain over the next few weeks. Do you want to go with us, it’s up to you.”
“Yes. And I don’t want to be Taylor Darien. Can I have a Japanese name?”
Janah, “You can have any name you want.”
“Nikko, will you pick out a name for me?”
“No. We will explore names, your name will reveal itself to you.”
Taylor looks thoughtful, then smiles, then yawns.
Nikko, “I see a tired young lady. Let’s get you under covers. No more talk, rest.”
“Will you stay with me?”
“Of course. Let’s brush teeth and get you all snuggled in.”
Janah goes to bed, I watch Hanna on the pay per view. Saoirse Ronan is adorable, and tough, her name is pronounced seer-sha, an Irish word said to mean freedom or liberty. Cate Blanchette plays a wonderfully devious bitch. It was rather fun.
Nikko returns, “Taylor is dead out. I don’t think we’ll hear from her again tonight. I’m going to sleep out here though, just in case.”
After fetching a blanket and pillow for Nikko, I go to Janah and crash. Nobody moves until eight in the morning. I wake first, brush and flush, find Taylor curled into Nikko on the couch, both asleep.
I make a pot of tea, a cup of coffee for myself, go to the balcony. It’s another hour before the others join me. We order a mega breakfast from room service and ransack it on the balcony.
Taylor, “Can we ride through Nassau, maybe shop. I have some money, I can get cash from an ATM off my father’s card.”
Janah, “No cards. To become someone else, there can be no leftover traces to your whereabouts.”
Oh, I get it. Okay, I have about two hundred dollars.”
Janah doesn’t tell her she has more like a quarter million dollars. While we were ransacking breakfast, the Society was ransacking Darien’s accounts. The money is busy bouncing around the world, and will wind up in an account with a number for a name. When Taylor makes up her mind, the money will go into a trust with her new name, with another quarter million from Janah and me.
“Don’t worry about money. Money is the least of our problems.”
“Can I get some regular clothes? Jeans, sandals, t-shirts? Everything I have now hangs about to my butt.”
“When can we go?”
“No time like the present. Tie your hair back and tuck it under your shirt. Daphne, grab some kind of hat from the gift shop downstairs a let’s get her decently disguised. We need to get her hair cut.”
Janah turns to Taylor, “You understand the need to change your appearance, including a shorter cut, and a color change?”
Taylor nods, a little uncertain.
I come back with a sheath dress with a light hoodie. It was meant to be more knee length, but on Taylor it hangs to mid calf.
Taylor, “Janah says I should cut my hair shorter, and color it.”
“In the temple we shaved ours, completely bald. Hair grows, don’t sweat it.”
She brightens, “True. Maybe I’ll like it short anyway.”
“There’s the spirit. Go with the flow, bro.”
Taylor slips on her new dress, pulls up the hood and adds sunglasses, “This is cool. I’m mysterious.”
"Man, kids, they can wake up to a whole new world everyday and plow on through."
Janah, "Give me a break, you do that every day of your life."
“I’m still a kid.”
Chapter Thirty VI
We return near three, Taylor has a couple of pairs of jeans, cute shorts, a pair of espadrilles, tasteful costume jewelry, earrings, plastic bracelets, an ankle chain. She didn’t go for ten year old cute, but she didn’t go for hoochie either. Her flaxen blond hair now just light auburn, we didn’t cut much, to her chin instead of shoulder length.
Taylor, “Thank you, for everything.”
Nikko, “Our pleasure.”
Janah is walking around the suite in her hands, then folding and unfolding into her various yoga-gymnastic positions.
Taylor is wide eyed, “Teach me! Please. God, I so want to be able to do that. I am really flexible. I would like to learn to walk on my hands, so cool.”
She does a full side split, then stands and pulls one leg over her head, so it’s perpendicular to the floor.
Janah, “Wow. You have a heck of a running start. Shall we try a few things?”
Taylor beams, Janah takes her through a half dozen yoga poses. The girl is limber as a reed and she knows how to pay attention, mimics what she’s shown exactly. Janah finishes with a back bend, both of them with feet on the floor, bodies arched and palms down under their shoulders.
They flip over and stand, high five, “Very impressive. You’ll be teaching me in a couple of years.”
Taylor, “What now? Can we go out?”
“Wear sunglasses and use the hat.”
Along with the other clothes, we’d picked out a long white dress, a straw fedora that looks adorable on her, and sunglasses. With a shapeless dress and changed hair, it will be a stretch to connect her to the missing girl. We go down to the veranda and find James and Chris enjoying both the ocean view and potent adult beverages.
Taylor bubbles, “Janah can do the most amazing things, we practiced yoga in the room. She says I have potential.”
Janah, “More than potential, she’s really flexible. She can do a full side split, and we twisted up in a few yoga poses, finishing with a full back arch.”
Taylor smiles, doesn’t blush. She’d spent far too much time in next to nothing in front of a camera, embarrassment isn’t on the menu.
“And we bought clothes in Nassau, and this dress, and I got a haircut.”
Chris, “And a mild color change, you like it?”
“I need to become someone else. I like my blond hair, but something else for a few months is okay. My hat is neat, yes?”
Chris, “Honey, that hat never had it so good, you’re awesome.”
Taylor delivers a genuine big white teeth smile. I like that, she has my flair for devastating impact, I say in total absence of modesty.
James, “What’s the plan, Janah? Or is it still under construction?”
We want her with us, I thought about our school, but I think Chapman’s instead. I’ll help her catch up.”
James, “The temple?”
“It would be a good place to stay out of sight for a while, I don’t see her as a student there. With her new hairstyle, different very big city, she’ll be part of the crowd. The websites are gone.”
“I am getting a new name, decided to be a one name person.”
Chris, “Have you chosen one?”
“Amaya, it’s Japanese. It means ‘night rain.’ I think it’s wonderful. Can we practice using it right away?”
She looks over to Nikko, who says, “I’ll teach you to spell it in kanji.” (雨夜)
Chris, “Perfect, Amaya.”
The others come walking up the steps, Sis, “God, we must have walked five miles. I need water.”
The waiter brings three big bottles of still water, and glasses, guzzle the first and are sipping on the second.
Chris, “To those of you as yet uninitiated, let me introduce Amaya.”
Amaya stands and bows, repeats her story in a burst of enthusiasm.
Susan, “Beautiful, and mysterious. What a wonderful choice!”
“I looked up Japanese names on Janah’s computer. I didn’t have to go far, as soon as I saw what it meant, it felt right, and complete. Amaya, no second name. Janah said it could be arranged.”
Janah, “It has been arranged. Tomorrow we’ll receive a passport, and a birth certificate, and a new social security number. For the time being, you’ve been made my ward. That means I am your legal guardian. If you decide something else later, we’ll handle it. You are a free person. The back story is that your parents died tragically in the crossfire of a tribal war in Africa. They were health care workers with a vague international relief foundation that no longer exists. I found out and asked to be your guardian.”
Amaya, “How do you get all that done in a day?”
“We have friends. Some of the details are still being constructed. By the time we get to New York, there will be no record of the former person alleged to be Taylor, not even a ghost.”
“My parents will probably be relieved. I was getting to be a real bitch.”
I say, “It actually cuts them slack. You are doing them a gracious favor. Since there’s no little girl, they can’t be prosecuted for anything.”
Amaya, “I guess I should hate them. I sure do not like them, what they were using me for…at the end. I liked my site, the constant photography got to be a drag though. I got lucky, you happened to be here. It is weird, people who saw me as a product let me find a real family.”
She begins to cry softly, “It is as if I was just born. Babies cry when they are born.”
Nobody has any platitudes, none are called for. The girl is behind in school, older and younger than the ten year old in front of us.
She sniffles, wipes her eyes, asks Nikko, “Can we walk down the beach?”
They head into the sun. I hear Amaya jabbering, Nikko attending, silent.
Kara, “I don’t know if I’d be that flexible, or trusting, of an entirely new group of people. This may sound callous, but is it possible she’s using well honed manipulative skills?”
James, “A reasonable observation. Children lie too. Janah, you read anything?”
“I’ve watched her. Yes, she’s using her charm, it’s what she’s used to. I don’t read it so much as malicious, more habit. For instance, she wanted to use her dad’s credit card to buy clothes. I convinced her she had to disappear, and, since he’s in jail for now, the charge would rather obviously be her. So she’s not as slick as she likes to think.”
Chris, “You trust her?”
“It’s not my trust I’m concerned about, it’s hers. Manipulation is about not trusting. She’s also shown resilience. For instance, her interest in yoga was genuine, and she asked for less revealing clothes. She has a sense of the difference between cute and sexually suggestive.”
“Hey, you didn’t seem to mind my short skirts,” I grin.
“You have much in common with her. She’s beautiful, she doesn’t mind the attention. She is self possessed beyond her years, so were you. The difference is, you did it because you wanted to, for her, it was part that and part being used. She didn’t object to the website, she said she liked it. Her awakening to her parents came with the cold calculation of renting her out.”
Chris, “Will she ever recover from that?”
“She will. She’s a Jane Eyre. Mistreated brutally, looking only to be loved, she sure hasn’t given up on herself. If we don’t hover, make a big deal out of it, she has no reason to let it haunt her. Reliving it in therapy is the worst possible treatment.”
Chris, “I recall a discussion long ago about this. The disadvantage of forcing children to relive their abuse, feeling they were somehow complicit.”
“Exactly. Therapists claim that talking it out is better than bottling it up. That has some truth, but I prefer to let her talk about it on her own, not in front of a stranger in an artificial situation. And reliving things only strengthens the memory. We’re going to keep her busy. I should say she’s going to want to be busy, finding herself. Might be some bumps, but not any imposed by artificial treatment. Let’s not create problems that don’t exist.”
Chris, “Do you think the police will inadvertently tell her parents about us?”
“Those warnings have already been issued. When we leave, which will be soon, the parents will be released. The main point of the agreement not to prosecute will be that they move on. No searches, no questions, nothing.”
Kara, “This has made the national news, what about the media?”
Janah, “The agencies have agreed that a neutral statement that due to her age, she has been placed in a safe home and the names of her guardians will not be released.
Chris, “You’ve been busy.”
“Not too. A short explanation to Mrs. Epstein, and all is made right.”
Chapter Thirty One VI
Q: I was told that a realized man would never do anything unseemly.
He will always behave in an exemplary way.
N: Who sets the example? Why should a liberated man necessarily follow conventions? The moment he becomes predictable, he cannot be free.
His freedom lies in his being free to fulfill the need of the moment,
to obey the necessity of the situation.
Freedom to do what one must, what is right, is real freedom.
Questioner to Nisargadatta, I Am That
Janah and I go back to the suite. We have things to work out before Amaya returns.
“The family didn’t think to ask, I’m glad. I know you’re working on the unknown parties in this case.”
Janah, “Yes. We have the last woman. If the cops let the Dariens walk, they have to let the woman go as well. She’s American, we know that much. The Dariens hadn’t been in the child rental business long enough to go international. Although, I’m certain they would have eventually sold the girl. Pimping her out is a pain, who do you trust, what if the product is damaged? Who do you complain to?”
“So they hadn’t thought all this through.”
Janah, “Couldn’t have. Once they saw the risks, they would just make a onetime sale while the merchandise was still fresh. Then she’s someone’s prostitute, or sex slave, dead by fifteen, or as good as.”
“So we have to refocus the people who ‘rented’ her, and mom and dad.”
“Oh yes. These people are going to get off because we have Amaya, and I’ve no intention of putting her through testimony and relive the whole ugly business. Former mom and dad will find another kid, adopt, or just buy one. Back in business. The people they leased their own daughter to will find another vendor. We’re going to track them all down and give them a fresh perspective.”
“Nikko will like that.”
“Well, she’ll have to like it from a distance, we’re not going to do it, for obvious reasons. Nikko will understand that. Even disguised, we have the girl. Nothing can slip up and connect us to her. The Society will send different Social Workers. We won’t even get a report.”
“I hope they send versions of Nikko.”
“The Darien woman, her husband, if there was a cutout, a middleman, and the three other people who abused her, will not be in that business very much longer. Either on the giving, getting, or brokering sides. Mrs. Epstein was quite clear. Everyone involved will be out of business, and have significant changes in their sexual turn ons. Actually, I was assured they won’t be capable of being turned on. The Dariens, and if there’s a middleman brokering these deals, get the cold shoulder.”
What Janah means by the cold shoulder is, they’ll be cold, in the cold ground, and never missed. The Dariens will end up, end up. Ashes to ashes and all that. The Society has seen too much child abuse. The rules changed. They would have to apply funds monitoring the Dariens that could be spent on other projects. The dead don’t need monitoring.
“Good enough. Nikko will be satisfied, more satisfied if she got to deal with the Dariens.”
“I don’t want Nikko to be Amaya’s guardian and her parents’ assassin. The child has attached to her for now. Let Nishiko find her gratitude in that, not in death.”
“She won’t care, too busy mothering. She’s not even tuned into us now, totally absorbed in Amaya. I’m feeling rejected.”
Janah, “Let’s rest, I’ll reinject you.”
“Ah, it is so good to be me.”
By the time Janah finished realigning my hormones, and we nap a half hour, I’m up making tea and snacks. Nikko and Amaya come in, full of giggles and sly looks.
“Looks like somebody’s been telling jokes. Sit, have something to drink and a snack. I’ve been slaving away all afternoon on these goodies.”
Nikko, “You’ve been slaving away getting jumped by Janah. This stuff came out of a bag.”
“You doubt my veracity?”
Nikko, “Yes. You have the Janah glow on, and the snacks are fine, but you can cut fruit and make tea in ten minutes. The nuts came out of the minibar.”
Amaya, “Nishiko tells the very best stories, and we sang songs in Japanese. The people on the beach thought we had lost it. It was so much fun.”
Janah joins us, “You learned Japanese in a walk down the beach?”
Amaya, “It was a simple song. We mostly sang the song Daphne played on your laptop, the Joe Cocker song. We had half the beach singing with us. It was great!”
Nikko, “I’m happy to report we’ve discovered a talent, a real artistic talent, up there with Daphne’s calligraphy.”
Janah, “I think she means in general. Apparently Amaya has a singing voice. If I’m not mistaken, perfect pitch.”
Nikko, “How did you guess?”
“She has a lovely speaking voice. You pick up, and create, music easily. For you to sing to a crowd on the beach, well the meaning is clear.”
“Wait, she has perfect pitch? Get out! I need a demo. I know you’ve been singing, but just a piece of something, please. I can’t wait to spring this on the moms.”
Amaya sings ‘A Little Help From My Friends,’ in Joe Cocker’s cover style, with nary a hitch. That’s not even the amazing part. Her voice matches his. It’s strange and beautiful coming from a young girl. Then she adds the backup vocals in the style of the backup singers. Nikko fills in where both Cocker and the backups are singing together. They have it down.
“That is too….my God girl, you have a splendid voice. Your range is amazing. Where did you learn that? How?”
Amaya, “A lot of time alone. My world, besides being photographed, was music. I had headphones on every possible moment, and I just learned the words and sang along. I don’t know about the pitch part. I hear, catch the rhythm; sometimes sing in my own voice and sometimes it is more fun to copy the other voice.
Janah, “That’s too cool. Do we know where Zipper and the Pamela Andersons are?”
“I’m sure Lacy knows. I know they’re still in New York as home base. They tour though.”
Janah, “Lacy will find them. Zipper’s going to be blown away.”
Amaya, “Who’s Zipper?”
“The funniest and coolest girl on the planet, after me of course.”
Amaya smiles, Nikko says, “You’ll learn to put up with Mistress’ goofiness.”
“Why do you call her Mistress?”
“In martial arts, a student refers to the instructor as master, if they have achieved that status. Master sounded too, something, out of place. So I call her Mistress, out of great respect, and a little out of play.”
Amaya, “So there is Mistress, Ange Blanc, also known as White Angel, that one’s easy. You are Nishiko, or Nikko for short.”
“Nikko is a kendo master, but we don’t use the terms master with each other, sometimes Janah is Master J. We didn’t name her that, the kids at the temple did.”
Amaya, “Okay, you are a Shaolin priest and a master of gung fu, and a master of taekwondo, and something Nikko calls hapkido, also a kendo master.”
“Yes, except for kendo. Nikko is the undisputed master. She is samurai.”
“Geez, you are not that old, how did you learn all that stuff? I do not even know what most of it is.”
“All will be made clear when we return to New York, which is tomorrow by the way. The moms are staying another week. We have to get you ready for school, and back to our work. You will meet a new brother and sister that live across the hall from us and learn many amazing things. And you will sing to your heart’s content. Do you play any instruments?”
Amaya, “I never thought of it. Perhaps.”
“We’ll see. First, get caught up in school. Janah says you’re a grade behind, that will soon be fixed, she’s a very good teacher. You’ll be ahead of the class in a few months.”
Amaya, “I am not a brain. I can sing, dance, but the other stuff, math and science, I am pretty dumb.”
Nikko, “We do not accept limitation, Amaya. You will see things that will help you understand that it is only your mind that creates limitation. I promise, there is nothing you cannot do if you practice.”
Amaya is silent. She’s absorbed a lot.
Janah, “She is accepting Nikko at her word, I can feel it, see it in her expression. Let’s find something less heavy. Tell the moms we’re ordering in, and that Amaya needs down time. We leave tomorrow at nine. We aren’t flying commercial, skip all the crap. I want to get her out of here and into a real life.”
“We don’t lead a real life, when did you start nine to five?”
Janah giggles in her mind, “You know what I mean.”
Nikko, “Here’s the list of movies, what’s the vote?”
I’d already watched Hanna, but the others hadn’t. I decide not to spoil the enthusiasm; after all, it wasn’t terrible, kind of folded into a common action movie in the second half.
I call Sis, “Janah thinks it’s best for us to split in the morning. We don’t want Amaya in public here, even with cosmetic changes. Tonight, we watch movies, room service and let her chill. She’s had a lot of stimulation in three days. We have a private plane lined up, we take off at nine. We’ll see you in a week.”
“I’ll tell the others. We’re going to play, check in when you get home, if there are any problems….”
“You’ll be the first person we call. By the way, we found out something fun. Amaya has perfect pitch. She can copy singing voices, and she has her own style as well. It’s out of body-like, listening to her. Nikko is thrilled, as least we think so, hard to tell.”
“Just another day in your weird paradise.”
“Tell me about it. Good thing the young lady can deal with change. She’s in for a lot of new and unusual input in the coming weeks and months. She’ll do what all the Chapmans girls do, find her thing and do it.”
We click off, the movie has begun, Hanna is slicing up a deer.
Amaya is engrossed, lying on the couch, Nikko behind her. I sit on the floor to their left, lean against the couch. Amaya plays with my hair. She feels safe. We will make sure she feels that way until she is ready to face unsafe and deal.
Chapter Thirty Two VI
I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think.
Was I the same when I got up this morning?
I almost think I can remember feeling a little different.
But if I'm not the same, the next question is
'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!
Alice, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Amaya, “Wow, this is a really cool place. It is so open. I love these mats on the floor. Pillows all over the place, flat screen TV, computers everywhere. Somebody spends a lot of time on computers.”
“Janah, doesn’t like having to haul laptops around. She prefers to have a screen wherever she plops down. They’re all open, you can surf away. I’m getting you an iPhone. I’ll put in all our numbers, the address of the apartment, the mom’s address and the phone numbers for the temple, Mrs. Fong, Nishiko’s parents and the Li family, who you will meet tonight.”
Nikko, “Do you know how to use an iPhone?
“Take mine, let’s have tea, I'll cover all the basics. It’s pretty intuitive, that means it’s fairly simple to figure out what to do to call, send a text. When you get yours, we’ll set up an ITunes account and you can download music you like.”
“I had an iPod, does it work the same?”
“Pretty much. But you can’t go to your old account. That name doesn’t exist. Sorry, you’ll have to download all the stuff again.”
“I do not mind. I want to listen to what you guys like, maybe I will find new music.”
“Daphne likes contemporary hard rock, and electronica. Janah likes to dance to it. She’s a good dancer.”
“Then I will listen to what she plays here. I have some favorites. I never heard of Joe Cocker, I love the way he sings.”
“He’s old school, still cool. Nobody does covers better than Joe Cocker.”
“What is a cover?”
“When an artist does someone else’s song in his own style. It’s an art all its own, to make a song better, cooler than the original. Lots of covers are worse, a few bands do it really well. Joe Cocker is a magician with covers.”
Amaya thinks this over, “I am going to try covers.”
Janah, “Good for you. Daphne will play some of her music over the weekend, you can select what you like. Some of it is, uh, rather brutally direct.”
Amaya laughs, “I know what fuck is.”
Janah, “Okay. Now, let’s get you fixed up in your room, and we can shower, get the travel grist off and perhaps take a short walk around the Village.”
“What is the Village?”
Nikko, “Our neighborhood. In a couple of weeks you’ll be a Manhattan expert. Just follow the simple directions and absorb. You’re going to love it.”
“I love it already.”
“So far so good.”
Janah, “Kid’s got a remarkable attitude. She’s very much smarter than she thinks she is. Watching her grow up is going to be a delight, even if some rough memories intrude from time to time.”
“Between you, Nishiko and the moms, she isn’t going to have time for memories.”
“I want a shower and a fresh set of clothes. Then we’ll do Bleeker and Hudson, then back here for the Li family and dinner. Ning is cooking.”
I take Amaya to her room, set up her closet, we’ll have to do more shopping in the next couple of days. Once the moms get home, we’d probably need extra storage for the clothes and shoes. Note to self, don’t let them overindulge. Let Amaya decide her look, for herself. People had been picking out her clothes since she could remember. She should pick her own stuff.
We do our thing, walk for an hour, then back to the apartment. It’s six-thirty. Tomorrow we’ll visit Mini, then the next day Mrs. Fong and the temple, then Nikko’s family will be Friday. Shop along the way.
The Li family appears, I help Ning cart the food from her place. There is food and food, hot and sour soup, spring rolls, chicken with garlic sauce, stir fry, tofu and veggies, crusty pastries.
I ask, “Geez girl, did you cook for two days?”
Ning, “I would have, but once I told Mrs. Fong you were returning with a ward, she sent all this over and said certain people better show up with young girl very soon, or big trouble for priest.”
“There will be big trouble for priest no matter what. Laying into me is keeping her alive.”
Ning, “Her growing family is keeping her alive. Every time she turns around, we add someone. She glowed when I told her of Amaya. Asked no questions. She said only that White Angel had saved another soul.”
“And so she did.”
David and Miyako immediately take over, David asks, “Can we show her the roof?”
“Dinner is in thirty minutes.”
David, “Back soon.”
We take the opportunity while the kids are out to give Ning and Chan a rundown.
Ning, “The girl is precious. She wants for unconditional love. She has found the right place. We shall not talk of the past. If she has moments of sorrow, we will listen and love.”
“She can be a bit rough around the edges.”
Ning, “As can C-mom, who we love for her directness. My children will not break because of some gritty language. Words only. I told David and Miyako Amaya came from a home not unlike their father’s when he was young. Then he went to the temple and all is well. They understood immediately, to suffer and overcome is life’s meaning.”
“Spoken like a true Buddhist, and a loving wife and mom.”
Chan, “Everyone thrives in the presence of Master J. Every obstacle hurdled, walk around or through. She teaches us, obstacles disappear as the illusions they are.”
“That pretty well sums it up, dear brother.”
We drink tea, Nikko and Janah a glass of Cabernet, then in a spirit of wild abandon, pour another. Such debauchery, wait, I’m Buddhist, no judgment.
The door bursts open, Amaya is full tilt, “David Li talks to birds! And Miyako can fly. I saw her, she flies like David’s birds. How does he talk to birds, they sit around him, then he waves a hand and off they go in a thousand directions. He says they are protecting the apartment, protecting us.”
Nikko, “You will see wonders, dear one. Now, sit and eat. We will watch some ridiculous gung fu movie of Daphne’s and go to bed. There are lifetimes to find answers to your questions.”
“Yes, Mother Nikko.”
Nikko’s strong hand has produced the mother Amaya lacked. It wasn’t planned, by Janah or anyone else, it developed, Amaya drawn to strength and integrity. She also digs in with relish to the Chinese delicacies. Soon we are watching, instead of one of my ultraviolent extravaganzas, David and Miyako’s favorite movie, Crouching Tiger, Amaya had never seen it, she is transfixed. Only commenting when the beautiful Ziyi Zhang goes sailing through the air.
“Miyako can do that, she flies like Jen Yu.”
Amaya is lying between David Li and Miyako. Out of nowhere she has a brother and sister, not blood…better…true affection.
David goes home with Chan and Ning, Miyako asks to stay at our place with Amaya. Miyako is younger than her new sister, still, there is a bond.
They go to Amaya’s room, I hear soft talk, questions from Amaya, answers from Miyako, giggling, good to hear Amaya’s laugh. My others are asleep, I tune the two young girls out, they are settling in, sleepy and in a few minutes there is silence.
I wake, start tea and coffee, soon, I hear Janah and Nikko playing in the shower. Nikko comes out and hugs me from behind, her hands explore, it always feels sublime when she gets hands on. We’re dressed in mid-thigh t-shirts, there are children in the house. Nikko brings Janah tea, slips on jeans and brings a pair for me.
Janah appears in her yoga pants and a shirt, “I’m going to take Amaya through a half hour of yoga this morning, then off to the diner for lunch and to meet Mini. I need to go to the temple this afternoon.”
“Sounds like a plan. I need to get them up in a bit, then I’m going to get Amaya’s phone.”
Miyako is ahead of me, she comes out of the bedroom and jumps into Nikko’s lap, “Amaya is fun. She’s taking a shower. I told her I had to go to school. We’ll go up to the roof later this afternoon if she’s around.”
Janah, “We’ll be at the temple this afternoon, probably back around five. If you use the parkour course, make sure Chan is there. Amaya may want to try things, we don’t need a broken bone on her first day.”
“We’ll be careful. She may not be interested, we didn’t talk about it. She watched me do stuff yesterday, she walked on the balance beam. She looked graceful, didn’t fall off. Where will she go to school?”
Janah, “Probably Chapmans. The Brooklyn school is too far away, and she needs to be with her new family.”
Miyako nods, bounces up and leaves for her place.
Amaya’s out a few minutes later, I’d washed and folded her jeans, shirts, underwear and put them on the dresser in her room. She had on one set, still barefoot. Her hair is air drying, short and gingery auburn, her eyes beautifully bright blue, blue gray really, I don’t recall seeing eyes that color.
“Kind of. Can I have tea?”
“Pot's right here, get a cup from the counter. This is your home, no more room service.”
Amaya has a sly look, “Does this mean you are not going to spoil me rotten?”
“We’ll see if you’re worth spoiling. First learn independence.”
She gets tea and sits on the floor cross legged, asks Janah, “Can we do yoga, and practice my hand walking?”
Janah, “Breakfast first, then while we digest, a little study. Then yoga. Later we’re going out.”
Amaya brightens, “Where?”
“Everything in due course. Let’s get yogurt and toast, then on the computer. We need to find out where you are academically, so we can plan your studies.”
“I am pretty crappy at school.”
Janah, “Not anymore.”