Ankita watched the little boy as he sat on the ground, staring intently at something she couldn’t see. His hands were dusty and his feet caked with the dirt beneath him. She thought she could see smudges on his nose and forehead as well.
She looked up at her father, a question on her face.
He shrugged and smiled. “What exactly did you expect? He’s not yet two.”
Her gaze went back to the little boy, who was now crawling on his hands and knees, apparently following the course of some small creature as it swerved back and forth.
Something a little more majestic, she thought. Something that proclaimed him special. Something like the star they had seen in the sky, the one that had brought them here in the first place. Not grubby little fingers and dirty cheeks.
But they were here, and they would deliver her father’s gift no matter what she thought. So after their pause to watch the boy for a moment, Ankita and her father approached the little house in the middle of town. The rest of the men followed behind.
“Hello,” her father called.
The child looked up and smiled, a toothy grin. He waved a chubby hand then ran from the yard into his house. A moment later, a woman emerged, wiping her hands on a rag. She looked up. “Yes?”
Ankita’s father stepped forward, the designated spokesman for the group, and Ankita trailed behind. The woman smiled at them both politely and waited.
Her father held up his package. The others did the same. “We come bearing gifts for a king.”
Ankita stood back, suddenly uncertain of her role in all this. It had seemed so vast and important when she begged him to take her with him; he would be going to see the king of the Jews! How could she not go too? Now, though, she felt foolish. She had not brought any gifts; her father was rich but she just a child, just some more baggage.
Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t hear the woman’s response to the riches they brought. But Ankita couldn’t help but notice how unsuited their gifts were for such a life as she saw before her. What would a carpenter and his wife have to do with rich spices and scents and gold? They probably didn’t even know where to sell such things.
Still, the woman accepted the vessels graciously. They were more than she could carry, so she invited the men inside. Ankita had been temporarily forgotten, and she moved back even farther, beside their pack animals, waiting to be remembered and invited in.
Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she turned to look. Around the side of the house, the little boy peeked out at her. He pulled back quickly when she looked toward him, so she barely caught a glimpse of dark hair before it disappeared. A tiny giggle sounded from around the corner.
Oh, she knew this game. She could play too. So she deliberately turned around, her back to the house, but she kept the corner just within her sight. When the dark head peeped out again, she zipped around to catch him with her gaze. But he was gone again, too quick for her. The giggle was louder now.
She turned again, and the game proceeded for several minutes until finally she pounced forward and went rushing around the house. The boy shrieked delightedly and ran from her. But his pudgy toddler legs were no match for hers, and she caught up with him in only a few steps, pulling him to the ground and tickling him. He retaliated by tugging on her long braid. Soon they were both rolling on the sandy ground, laughter bursting out of them.
“Ankita?” her father called. She whooshed to sitting, looking down at herself. Oh, she had spoiled the lovely clothes he’d let her wear especially for this day.
He came around the corner of the house then stopped short when he saw her. “All is well?” He raised his brow, a glint of humor in his eyes.
She nodded, feeling sheepish and far too young. Standing, she brushed off her dress as best she could, avoiding looking again at the little boy who had made her forget that she was supposed to be too old for such games.
For the rest of the visit, she pretended not to see him. She sat still and silent as the adults broke bread. She listened intently as they spoke of prophecies and warnings. She followed her father out to the animals again, their stay already over, their journey stretching out far before them.
But just as she turned to mount, there was the little boy, standing behind her, tugging on her dress.
“Present,” he said in a voice that still couldn’t pronounce all the consonants. He held out an object, which he dropped into her hand. “Thank you.”
It was a rock, small and round and cool in her hand. A small thing, she thought, looking down at it. Like the manna from the story they’d told her or like the words of the prophet Zechariah.
She looked then at the small boy before her. For a moment, she imagined him grown, strong, powerful. In his grin, she caught a hint of who he might be ten, twenty, thirty years from now.
In his eyes, she saw reflected who she might be as well.