‘My name is R, I’m ten years old, and I want to be a writer. And I hate watching television!’ - R states proudly in front of the camera after asking us to focus it on her.
It was summer when I first met R. I was sitting on the grass in this park which also happened to be a social centre and a childcare institution run by a quirky yet sincere commune. I was working on a project there with a friend. R came to me and asked, in an American accent, if I knew her. I had never met her before and honestly stated this fact: plainly, but not without consideration. She left. It wasn’t until the third time of an identical exchange of words that I started feeling that not knowing this unusual girl was something to be changed.
Day after day she spent her summer holidays there, keeping herself company. Occasionally, very rarely she would join other kids, but only for a short moment. The others treated her well, she wasn't being bullied or abused, but it was clear that she preferred to be alone, or to approach other strangers with the same question 'Do you know me?', as if trying to find someone who might introduce her to herself.
Most days she wore floral-print skirts, sporty t-shirts and trainers, and on gloomier days - an oversized pink anorak.
R’s head, for some inexplicable reason, reminded me of old photographs: her wide blue eyes behind glasses always looked surprised: an effect that was empasized by her constantly half-open mouth. Soon I realized it was her 'thinking face', never-ending processing of information that I had initially mistaklen for amazement. Her wheat coloured hair was cut in a simple short bob with a fringe. I remember thinking a very young Iris Murdoch would have looked not unlike R.
Our conversations expanded in diversity. ‘Do you know me?’ was occasionally replaced by ‘Do you want to buy a plant?’ All the funding had been recently cut from the centre-commune-park-project, and to feel like they’re helping adults in the struggle for money, children were selling plants from their garden which occupied a good corner of the park: endearing seedlinngs of tomatoes, peppers, basil and some species of flora that I didn’t even have in my vocabulary.
Our own project was approaching its final stage but my friend and I didn’t quite feel like leaving the place for good yet, we volunteered to do some filmmaking workshops with the local kids.
‘R is on the list too, but you should not count on her in any way. She might join you, sometimes, if she feels like it, but she may leave any time, try not to notice it, she’s been diagnosed with this and that, and she lives in the world of her own.’
We had been officially warned. But nobody had warned us about how mesmerizing R's presence could be. It must be admitted, though, that I found it much harder to resist this unintentional bewitchment than anybody else.
‘You cannot film just R!’ my friend would say. Repeatedly.
Or, when we sat down to watch my first cut of the material: ‘So. We have a film about R.’
We’re playing the detectives today. The mystery being the question of ‘who’s broken in the park at night and left the umbrellas under the bridge?’
The kids buy our story, they enjoy it. They know it’s a game, but still fully indulge in it: it’s good fun. When they grow tired of it they move on to building a camp, painting or playing football. The suspense has been exhausted.
Only R does not let the story go. She needs answers. She will quietly come to you and ask: ‘So who do you think it was? ’
She'll be a good writer.
She needs to start building a wall, or her worlds and their people will haunt her.
R’s mind is disturbingly sharp. She may seem to not know the diference between what’s real and what’s not, but her ability to analyze facts from both these worlds with the uttermost capacity of insight, deduction and logic is frightening and intimidating. R is ten years old. She will burst into tears if she’ll discover you cannot spell a certain word right. The only mistake R makes is that of mistaking her imagination (or stories she's been told) for reality.
R is arranging pots of water colours by the window, absorbed in thought.
‘R? We are going to film the scene about Jack’s car now, everyone else is there. Do you want to do it?’
‘Let’s go then.’
‘Not now. I’m tired now.’
I haven’t seen R for months. Her ‘parental unit’ as R calls it, doesn’t want her to go to the park on weekends, they think it wears her out. I think it wears her out too. I don’t know whom she calls her ‘parental unit’ though. All I know about R’s parents is what the papers say, and the papers say that three years ago R was kidnapped by her father who was then arrested as she was found and brought back to her mother.
Fun fair at the park: an event organized by or for (or both) ex-convicts of the area. The happiest day of my summer so far, and the sunniest too. Barbecue, cakes, people of all ages dancing tango and salsa, instructed by a bulky man in track bottoms. Former prisoners rapping about how Jesus found them behind the bars and pulled them out. Spectacular ridicule. Face paint, sumo fights, games and attractions.
‘R is not here,’ my friend notices disappointed. ‘She said she would be, she asked for the time.’
‘It’s too crowded,’ I say. ‘There’s not enough space.’
We can only guess the amount of people that surround R when she seems to be alone. They would all be squashed here. She’ll be back tomorrow, asking people if they know her. Maybe, eventually, she'll find someone who will.