Sheila Uhulay is crying. She is screaming, sobs ripping out of her throat with a force that makes her little body look like it’s being pummeled by an invisible and cruel playmate. She stops occasionally, eyes too crowded and wet to see her mother’s hand, her face puffed, lips straining in the wide oval of children’s violent grief. Sometimes, as if she’s run out of spirit, the wail dies out, and her face is frozen in this too-big emotion. Then the cry returns, halting and stuttering, until the sound begins to really flow again.
A few minutes ago Sheila was carrying the commemorative green Duckworld Bouncy Playland cup with matching crazy straw. She was tired of carrying it. She has attempted to get her mom to carry it 15 times, but Mom had been adamant, she was carrying her cup herself. She had carried it through two train transfers in busy and hot tunnels where all the huge grownups crowded down on her and only her Mom’s hand had kept her going the right direction. After all of that they had emerged onto a sunny and clear street. Sheila had walked over to a tall trash can and circled it looking for the hole. Eventually her mother pointed to the top and she pitched the cup in.
She turned away, took three steps, and panicked. A few moments later her mother was trying to reach down into the trash to retrieve the cup as she pleaded for her mom to somehow make it reappear. Her mother, unable to reach the cup, eventually took her hand and lead her away.
Now she is walking down the street, the crying calmed to the point of speech being possible. “Why did I do that?” she begs the wall, the ground, her mom. She rounds on her mom. “Why didn’t you stop me?” “I didn’t know what you were doing,” her mom replies, shrugging the shoulder attached to the hand that is holding Sheila’s hand. Sheila says it over and over again: “Why did I do that?”
Sheila is six, and now knows that she can betray herself.