Church Rock  Pastel on paper  Akiko Hirano

A Chance Encounter

Tim Wong & Akiko Hirano

July 1981, Arizona.  Speeding along the arrow-straight two-lane blacktop between Tuba City and Mexican Water, the little Toyota sedan seemed almost motionless in the vast desolate desert. Miles after miles, there was nothing but parched brown sagebrush. Kuro-e could hardly hear the music from her portable cassette playing J. S. Bach’s unaccompanied cello suite; she had rolled all the windows down trying to stay cool in the stifling heat. She was driving across the country on her vacation. Suddenly, out of the heat haze, a shimmering white shape materialized like a mirage and zoomed past her left window. What was that? She thought she saw a table on the roadside, literally in the middle of nowhere. She slowed and made a U-turn to investigate.

Stepping out from the car into the fierce sun, she saw a folding card-table covered with a white bedsheet weighted down with rocks. As she approached, the sheet ruffled and out came a dirty white puppy, followed by two little Navajo girls! They had been hiding under the table to stay out of the hot sun. On the table were an assortment of hand-made trinkets.

Patting away sand from the seats of their pants, the two sisters looked surprised to see someone who looked somewhat like them. “Hello, how old are you?” Kuro-e asked. “Ten,” said the older one. “Eight,” yelled the little one, holding up both hands to show eight fingers. “Where do you live?” Kuro-e asked. “Over there,” the older one gestured with her hand. Kuro-e followed her hand and saw nothing but desert. “Where are your parents?” No answer. “What’s your dog’s name?” “Snoopeee!” the little one shrieked with a giggle.

Kuro-e looked over the items they were selling and selected a necklace with an imitation mother-of-pearl pendant strung with plastic turquoise beads for $15. “Thank you!” the older girl handed over the necklace in a little paper bag. “Thank you!” said Kuro-e. “Your parents come back to pick you up?” Both girls nodded. 

Before driving away, Kuro-e looked back and watched the girls pouring some water into a tin can for Snoopeee, before disappearing under the bedsheet again. She was a little concerned about leaving the girls there. Who are these people? Her curiosity was piqued by the two little girls, who seemed vaguely familiar and yet so foreign to her.
 

Arizona Highway  Photo  Tim Wong