Mari shows me pictures from last year's school album. She was eight then, and had long, dark hair. She's nine now. Her smile hasn't changed at all. She's smiling all the time, with her eyes and her whole face.
Mari was going to an international school in India before she got sick. She has three best friends. One is Japanese, like Mari, and the other two are Korean.
It turns out that the Japanese girl used to school with a boy who was also treated for leukemia at St. Luke's. "It's a small world!" Mari and I say it at exactly the same time. She giggles, and I am very happy.
"India is a country of wonder," she says in Japanese (fushigi no kuni). She mostly speaks English with me, though. Neither of us has other people to speak English to.
She has an unidentifiable accent, a little British, a little American, and little Indian, a little Japanese. Her English is miles better than her Mama's, but I can tell they enjoying sharing a foreign language. They can both speak a bit of Hindi, too. I am jealous.
Mari waxes poetic as she describes Indian food. She's okay with spicy hot, she says proudly. She's very careful to distinguish North Indian from South Indian cuisine. I wish I were more cosmopolitan so I could understand the difference better. Nan versus rice, is about as much as I could pick up.
Mari has finished all her chemo. It went well, and we're all just waiting for her white blood cell count to return to normal. She doesn't know how to say "white blood cell count" in English. Of course. She never had to give it a thought before. Nine year old children shouldn't have to learn such words.
All this waiting, and praying...it is a river of anxiety, half-born sorrow that flows through our lives, just under the surface. We all silently agree not to acknowledge it very much. It could drown us.
Merciful God, please keep the light of Mari's smile shining in this world. In Japan. In India. In my heart.