It was a hot summer afternoon at the Bridge, and Tea and I were talking between potential customers. A couple of young people (maybe early 20s, maybe late teens) came up to our tables sitting side by side.
Hello. How are you? Good prices on everything, we told the young people.
It seemed they were lookers, not shoppers, but it was a slow day, and we were happy to have new people for company. Where are y’all from? we asked.
One of the young people was a woman, a young woman, maybe even a girl in many people’s eyes. She had shoulder length dark hair and carried a guitar. She explained she and her companions lived at a local shelter for runaways and other young people who were having problems and could no longer live with their families.
Tea felt a connection with the young people because 50 years ago, she’d been a teenage runaway. After her beloved mother died, she’d been forced to live with her father and a stepmother who didn’t want her around. Life in her new family became too difficult and she’d bolted. Her experiences on the street gave her an understanding of the lives fo these young people, despite the decades stretching between them.
I felt a kinship with the young woman with the dark hair and guitar. She admired the hemp jewelry I’d made and had for sale. She was interested in my van, especially after I told her I lived in it.
Oh! she said with a smile. You’re one of the turtle people. You take your home with you wherever you go!
She wanted to travel too, she told me, when was 18 and on her own. She would be 18 soon, she said wistfully.
I encouraged her, told her if I could thrive living alone in my van, she could too. She could take her guitar on the road and busk to make enough money to see the world, I said.
In repayment of a debt, I’d recently been given a big bag of beads and pendants carved from bone. In the bag, I’d found several pendants shaped like turtles. I quickly realized that soon after I put a handmade hemp necklace adorned with a turtle pendant on my table, it sold for $20. People love turtles on hemp necklaces.
On the day I met the young woman with the dark hair and guitar, I had a necklace adorned with a turtle pendant on my table. The young woman admired it, but said she didn’t have any money.
What about a trade? I asked. Do you want to trade for it?
She said she didn’t have anything to trade, and I asked her to play her guitar and sing a song for me. I’ll trade you the necklace for a song, I told her.
She looked young and shy as she sat on the floor of my van where the side doors were open to the world. She adjusted her guitar and said she’d sing a song she’d written herself.
I didn’t hear the traffic on the highway or the conversations between the other vendors and their customers while the young woman gave her song to me. My ears listened only to her guitar and the words of joy and longing and promise she sang to me. I heard only her beautiful song.
When she finished singing, all of us who’d listened to her told her she’d sounded wonderful and thanked her for her gift. I got the turtle necklace for her. She placed it around her neck, and I fastened it for her. We were both smiling and a little teary when we said goodbye. I watched her and her guitar walk away and disappear.
I’ve thought about that young woman as the years have passed. She’s turned 18 and is in her 20s now. I hope she was able to get a van and take her guitar and lovely voice on the road. I hope she’s seeing the world. I hope she’s happy, joyful.
I wonder if she still has the necklace I made. I wonder if she thinks of me, her turtle sister.