The little thing shuffled sideways. I caught the movement at the periphery of my vision. Slight. When I turned and could get a better view I could see the figure was short and indeed a child. Its thin arms were spread out from its body, crooked at the elbows. It was ready to dart yet I could see a confidence to its composure that told me it was not afraid.
I wondered how well the child might be able to make me out. It was utterly dark along the side of the building. The sailor and I were standing well into the alleyway – the sailor's back pressed firmly to the wall, my face buried tight into him. It had been a while since the he had last moved or made any sound. I had been fully engrossed in the moment and so was slow to realize that the light taps I had started to hear were actually those made by two small feet treading the stones and dirt nearby.
In this, the depth of night's darkness, the little thing should only at best be able to hear me. But when I moved an arm silently away from the sailor -who had given me so much- and shifted myself so as to be able to get at the child if I needed to, it danced back lightly. This should not have been possible unless it could somehow see as clearly as I could.
And then I understood. I understood.
A jolt ran through me upon the realization. How long had it been? While I am always wanting this to happen, when it did it was usually sudden. Often brief. And sometimes deadly.
The sailor was no longer a concern. Yet I was still wrapped up with him. What I needed to do was ascertain –quickly- what might occur next. The child was remaining alert and very much on edge. A wrong move and it would flee.
"Is it just you?" I asked, breaking the silence. Several moments followed and then came a nod of the small head. "I am here alone as well," I offered. The child remained quiet. I needed to extend my web; draw the child in. I added a plea: "Stay."
There was no reply. I remained careful not to make any motion away from the sailor. The child backed away another small step but remained silent. I needed a plan. Despite years of being alone and pondering how things would proceed when I next met another, I had not anticipated an encounter such as this. A child. A mere child. I'd not seen this for a long time. I thought back. It would have to be at least fifty years. Seventy, perhaps. Yes, all the way back to before my start. Before.