In the orphanage, ten babies sat in a row on little blue and green potties. The one girl baby sat on a pink potty. All of the babies were under one year of age, and some of them had trouble staying upright. One boy toppled over, spilling his potty and its contents and screaming in protest. His caregiver pushed him to the side, not ungently, and brought a mop to clean up the floor, then settled him back on his potty and pushed him back to the wall so he would have something to learn against. The babies stared at us, their heads tilted. One blew bubbles of spit. Another comtemplated the wall profoundly, his head perpetually to the side.
We met Eva’s baby, who was born prematurely, and even at nine months is tiny, and cannot put weight on her legs. But she smiled beautifully when she saw Eva, almost crowing with delight. Surely this child knew her mother. My thirteen year old and I both got a chance to hold her. She laughed hysterically at Sebastian—all babies love him. At me she stared seriously, pondering my chin. “I’ve never seen her so serious,” Eva said. It turned out she was pooping.
My five year old and Eva’s three year old engage in jumping contests out of boredom. I am a little worried that they will jump on a baby by mistake. The room smells of pee and dampness from the rain. It had rained so torrentially we didn’t know if the taxi would make the flooded streets and damp cobblestone side road we had to follow to the “Faith” orphanage. Although damp, it was probably better than most orphanages, with a wooden floor and a relatively small ratio of care. Older children trooped up and down the stairs, peering at us hopefully.
When it’s time to leave we wave at the row of wide-eyed faces, their expressions ranging from perplexity to sorrow to glee. One wet boy crawls after everyone, tearful and wanting to be picked up. How different they are—some of them clearly suffering from the lack of engagement and some of them immune, and delighted with each other. They are beautiful all of them. My two boys sniff at the smell. “Don’t you wish we could get another baby?” I ask them. “No,” they each reply.
We stop on the way home and buy trinkets, souvenirs. Huge earrings, a striped shirt for my thirteen year old, Ben 10 stickers for my younger son. This is a part of town where these things are available. We drink milkshakes at Kaldis and head home. My delay is carefully calculated to avoid being there when our friend comes to pick up the dogs.
The compound is empty when we come home. Our guard is weeping because his ‘friends” the dogs have left. “Too many problems,” he sobs. “Mommy leave, friend Elijah leave, Sebastian leave.”
I put my arm around him. Why can’t I feel anything? I am too busy and consumed with the tasks of leaving. “We will miss you, Wonde,” I say. “You are the best guard.”
He doesn’t look at me. He must know that I am a hollow shell. That I have moved too many times to be able to think about last times and forever.
I fall asleep that night to the sound of no barking.
This morning I type up curriculum notes while movers roll my belongings in bubble wrap. I quit when the table becomes overwhelmed with packing materials, then I pick up my mug of coffee and stand and watch.