We had not even a scrap of shared language, being from different galaxies and all, but after a lifetime of miscommunications I more or less knew what to do. It took a while, but we eventually established a sort of rudimentary sign language. I realized pretty quick that my two community college classes in ASL were not going to be much use here.
"Mmeenah," they said, pointing at themself. I don't know if that was their name, but I decided to call them that.
"Mmeenah," I repeated, pointing at them. Then I pointed to myself. "Anna." This seemed to do the trick.
"Anna," they said, pointing at me, then at themself again. "Mmeenah."
We went on like this for hours. Combinations of motions and sounds. It had been early morning when I had found the ship, still dark when they had crept out of it. By the time we were able to communicate, it was late afternoon.
"Anna," they said with our sign for HUMAN. SHOW ME.
SHOW-HUMAN? I signed, confused.
SHOW ME MAKE HUMAN.
I ran through possible meanings in my head. Show me what humans make? Show me how to make a human? Show me where humans are made?
"Anna." Mmeenah seemed to be getting frustrated. SHOW ME MAKE YOU HUMAN.
Show me what makes you human. I nodded and tapped my head.
What makes me human? What makes anyone human?
I thought back to that morning, when I had left the house. I had woken up from a dream. Did dreams make us human? No, dogs dream of chasing a ball. Cats dream of catching birds. I had gotten up and put on shoes. I had taken the flowers out of the vase in the refrigerator. I had woken my mom. I had told her I was going to see Ben.
COME, I signed to Mmeenah. I turned back toward the path and began walking. They made no sound as they moved, so I had to keep looking back over my shoulder to make sure they were following me. They were.
At the other end of the path, I stopped.
THERE, I signed. HUMAN.
Mmeenah looked confused. HUMAN THERE? EMPTY.
NO, I signed. HUMAN.
I didn't know how to explain. Our carefully-crafted sign language fell short here. We had no sign for death.
COME, I signed. I led them to the spot where I had stood that morning. The fresh flowers, now slightly less fresh. The weathered stone, still newer than some of the others around it, but standing out from the bunch less and less every day. "Ben," I said, pointing to the stone.
"Ben," Mmeenah repeated slowly, still unsure what I was saying.
I touched the name where it was carved, below the picture of the dove. "Ben," I said again. HUMAN. GONE.
A long moment passed. Cars drove by on the road beside the cemetery. Mosquitoes and no-see-ems alighted on my skin. I made no move to swat them away.
At last Mmeenah made a sound like a sigh. "Anna," they said softly. YOU HUMAN FRIEND?
FRIEND, I signed. GONE.
I pointed again at the stone, then at the ground below it. The grass that grew over the soil, that sealed it, claimed it for the earth. I thought of pointing down, below the grass, below its roots, below this place where growth betrayed the passing of time in a Ben-less world.
I cleared my throat. MAKE HUMAN, I signed. FRIEND GONE. HUMAN MAKE ROCK.
SEE ROCK, Mmeenah signed, THINK FRIEND.
ME SEE ROCK, ME THINK YOU FRIEND.
I nodded again.
HUMAN MAKE ROCK TELL HUMAN THINK GONE FRIEND.
I found myself unable to respond. I became aware that at some point I had sunk to the ground. Mmeenah settled beside me, gently touching the stone, then my hand.
"Anna." TELL ME. "Ben."
So I told them. I told them all the things that I could remember, and in the telling remembered some more. I fell quiet and still when I didn't know how to say something, and Mmeenah waited patiently while I came up with a new sign. Sometimes they asked questions. Sometimes they didn't.
Mmeenah's skin took on a purple-ish glow. It shifted deeper and deeper the more I told them. Sometime after dark, we walked back to the field where I'd met them, the path lit by this odd purple glow. Stranger things had happened that day, so I decided not to question it.
At the entrance of their ship, Mmeenah held their hand up in a gesture I didn't recognize. I copied it as best I could, though we didn't have the same number of fingers. Mmeenah pressed their hand to mine, and I realized this was a salutation of some sort. A goodbye.
HUMAN, I signed, then threw my arms around them. After a moment, they hugged me back. Then they crept in the way they'd come, and disappeared.
So I gave an alien a story. Your story. The story of you. Everything that you were, everything that made you Ben.
Because it's what makes me human. To share you, now that you're gone.
I hope you don't mind.