People who believe in magic can see that magic in the trickling waters of a creek; or at least I can. I began to love going down to the creek in the woods behind our home when I was six-and-a-half. My parents usually took me, but when I turned seven, I was independent enough to go alone. By then, the creek was always washing things up onto the banks, especially beautiful sparkling rocks. It was almost like it was giving me gifts. Often my brother, Peter, and I would run down to the creek with my dog, Sizzles, running in front of us, barking at squirrels. When we arrived, we would kick off our shoes and splash around in the cool rushing water. After it rains, the creek is a huge treacherous river, and my parents don’t let me go down there very often.
It was a sunny spring Saturday morning. After breakfast, I decided that I was going to spend a while at the creek. I called, “Mama! I’m going down to the creek.”
“OK, but first let me show you something!” she called back.
I ran into the grassy green garden and she held up the head of a gorgeous pink camellia.
Mama loves flowers. I love them too, but I don’t think anyone loves them as much as she does. She is a pretty famous person in the town for grafting camellias.
“It’s beautiful.” I smiled at it.
“It’s called Pink Perfection,” she returned happily.
I could see why. I examined the perfect layered petals on the flower, smiling. Unexpectedly, Mama frowned and said, “You know, my camellias are disappearing. It could be deer, but I have the feeling that somebody is picking them.”
I frowned too and wondered, What could be happening to them? Then I said, “Well, I’ll go now, and I’ll see you soon.”
As I left the yard and headed towards the forest, I heard a familiar voice chasing me.
“Where are you going, Lindsey?”
It was Peter.
“I want to come.”
I shrugged and said, “Well, come!”
He nodded and jogged after me.
A stick cracked in half as I trampled it with Sizzles at my heels. She wagged her tail and jumped over a log, forging ahead of Peter and me. We knew the woods well by now, the three of us. When we reached the creek, I yanked off my red boots and jumped off of a muddy hill. Sizzles leapt back to avoid me and I laughed, standing in the cool rushing water. Then I saw her, a girl with long dark curls, standing in the creek about twenty yards away. She had brown eyes too, and, most importantly, she had spun a crown of flowers that perched in her hair. It was spun with clovers, wildflowers, and tiny violets, but also an assortment of roses and perfect pink layered camellias. When I took a step in her direction, she sprinted out of the creek, grabbing a pair of brown boots on the ground. Sizzles barked and growled, making to run across the creek, but I grabbed her collar.
“No, Sizzie!” I exclaimed. “Bad dog.”
“What?” Peter asked.
“Someone… someone was over there.”
I waded across the creek as Peter watched me with looks of suspicion and question on his face. The girl was gone, but there on the sand lay a single Pink Perfection camellia.
* * *
All through the school week she was in the back of my mind. When I wasn’t busy with my work, like at recess, my mind floated to that topic.
On Wednesday, a few of my friends—Katie, Eloise, and Jenny—asked if I wanted to play with them. Thinking I had spent too long with my mind on this mysterious figure, I joined in their game.
“Did you see those Mexicans in the grocery store?” Eloise asked as we snapped sticks off of branches to make wands.
“Oh, yeah,” Jenny replied, sneering. “And they’ve got two girls, right? What do they think they’re doing here? Mexicans shouldn’t be taking Americans’ jobs, which is, like, definitely what they’re doing! They don’t belong here. I bet they’re illegal immigrants!”
“If I knew their names, I’d totally turn them in!” Katie joined in.
I frowned uncomfortably, remembering the image of the girl at the creek. Her tan skin and black hair fit the definition of Mexican. Was she?
At last, Friday came. I had finally figured out who the girl was: a neighbor of ours who lived in an old small house in the woods. I had seen her in the grocery store before, but my family didn’t know her parents, or her, or her sister.
When Saturday afternoon arrived, I yanked on my boots and jogged towards the woods to go to the creek. I was set to see the stranger again, foolishly bringing a pair of binoculars just to be sure. I let Peter come. He knew about the girl because I didn’t see the point of keeping it a secret alone, but I did make him promise to keep it one, just in case the girls wanted it that way.
* * *
We left Sizzles and went on our own, sweeping away the branches that clawed at our hair. At last, the rushing waters came into earshot, then sight, and there she was. She had brought her sister around too, and they sat by the water, cooling their feet and talking. Although I could hear their speaking quite clearly, not a word made sense. It was all in Spanish.
I watched them from behind a live oak, and Peter peeked around the other side. The smaller girl was the one I had seen last week, and she still wore the crown of flowers in her hair. In fact, it was quite amazing. She had woven it together with the same materials, but what made my heart skip a beat was that the flowers that made it up were still Pink Perfection camellias, picked straight from Mama’s garden! The older girl resembled her a lot, and as I watched, the younger one prodded a rose into her braid.
Then, I made up my mind. I quietly stepped around the tree and fumbled in my pocket until I found two sparkly rocks from the creek. Peter followed, keeping a suspicious eye on the younger girl’s flowers.
Knowing they wouldn’t understand English, I held out the rocks before they could leave. The older girl seemed more bold and realized that I was being friendly, so, judging by her gestures, she told the younger one to stay.
Now she gestured at me. She pointed at the rocks, then at herself with questioning looks on her face.
Are those for us?
I nodded and she took them, then she began again.
She pointed at herself. “Gabriela.” Then at her sister. “Rosa.”
My name is Gabriela. She is Rosa.
Eagerly, I nodded again and pointed at myself. “Lindsey.”
“And who am I?” asked Peter as if I was a first grader. Rolling my eyes, I pointed and said, “Peter.” Then I made the cuckoo sign.
Serious again, I tried my best to ask a question. With questioning looks, I shrugged, pointed at the girls, and ran a little ways, then came back.
Why were you afraid?
Gabriela took a while to digest the signs. As a look of understanding crossed her face, I settled down again. She then went nervous but answered, despite Rosa’s head shaking pretty viciously.
“Mexican,” she said with an accent. She drew a line in the sandy creek bank, then pretended to try and cross it. Gabriela changed her character into someone holding out a hand to say “Stop.” Then she turned around and got across the line from a different point.
We are from Mexico, and we needed a better living, so we came to the United States, but we weren’t allowed in without taking the immigration test, but we didn’t take it. Instead, we snuck in.
In short version: We’re illegal immigrants.
Gabriela pointed at Rosa and her crown of flowers. She made a heart with her hands.
Rosa loves flowers.
I already knew that she was the one picking the camellias. As much as I knew her ways were wrong, I couldn’t see the girl as a thief. No, she was a passionate child who just… didn’t know right.
Peter was trying to communicate with Gabriela, but all he got were confused looks and raised eyebrows. When Gabriela saw me watching, she made her last note. She pointed to herself and Rosa, then at the woods and the creek again.
We have to go. We will come back, so meet us here.
I nodded, then Peter and I hurried into the woods to get home.
* * *
Throughout the week, it stormed. Great drops of rain plummeted to the ground, bursting in puddles and clinging to grass stems. All week, we stayed and played inside.
On Friday, a half day at school, it was only drizzling. I was sure that Gabriela and Rosa would be at the creek, waiting for Peter and me. I was correct, and Rosa seemed bolder now.
“Wow!” I yelled suddenly.
Question filled Gabriela’s face as she looked from side to side, her black curls whipping her face.
I pointed at the creek, and Gabriela nodded, and Rosa joined her. She couldn’t express it through words, but I knew she was just as amazed as me.
The waters were no longer a quiet creek bed, but a roaring river. Huge logs were sucked downstream, and I took a step back, seeing its power.
Then it happened. Rain began to pound again and Rosa staggered backwards, getting her boot stuck in a wad of quicksand. She yanked and tugged, but before Gabriela, Peter, and I could run up and help, her foot slid out of the boot. She tumbled down the bank and fell in the water!
All four of us panicked. Rosa flapped her arms and paddled as the powerful current swept her downstream. Gabriela led us in a sprint after her. I was afraid for Rosa, because if she panicked too much, she would run out of energy and sink like a rock.
Peter grabbed a fallen limb. Gabriela grabbed it too and began yelling at Rosa in Spanish, but she went under.
Gabriela let out a scream that seemed to shake the bank. The rain lessened into a sprinkle, and Gabriela flopped down on the sand, defeated and weeping. Peter and I were quite teary as well, and I sniffed a lot. Rosa and I were not exactly as good friends as Gabriela and I, but I just… just can’t express anything through words of how horrible I felt. How could this happen?
Sizzles trotted out of the woods, looking too cheerful. I reached out to pat her, but she barked at the creek.
One beautiful perfect pink camellia floated on the rough water. Slowly, and one by one, the petals broke off and glided downstream to a particular spot on the bank.
Something was there.
Someone was there.