CHAPTER FIVE (Part 1)
Not Afraid to Get Her Hands Dirty
Maria smiled. It was good to be back home, she thought, relieved that she would not have to face any more of these trips again. No one could possibly enjoy the uncomfortable bus seats that after a few hours felt like poking every bone and muscle of her back. Neither would she miss the hard wooden benches outside the doctor's offices, where hours felt like weeks. The only pleasant memory left behind was of her family of friends, as she was extremely thankful for having a place to stay while away, with money being so tight on her side to pay for hotel stays.
After being back for about a week, Maria's daily routine had already picked up back to the usual, life as she knew it: busy, crowed and happy. As she finished getting lunch ready, running around the kitchen, chopping, mixing and seasoning, she kept an eye on her younger son, now with his vision fully back, playing with his siblings. She was so glad for having him as her son and there was no question that he was just one of the reasons to keep going, keep pouring energy into these kids. She knew that to invest in human beings was worth all her time, as each one carried a potential, like a pearl, awaiting the right time to shine.
Her youngest was the proof of that. Once a frustrated child, living in a world of darkness, having trouble understanding the environment around him, now transformed into a happy little boy, with light back to his life. Maria cheered inside when she thought of his transformation and could not hide her excitement for his future, once uncertain, but now filled with hope. If she could, she would love to change the reality of all children afflicted with a difficult reality, but unfortunately there was not much she could do to stretch even more her time and energy among all the children.
Maria still had on the back of her mind the story of the boy in need of a new home. She knew that the case was well beyond her ability to handle, but something had to be done. The situation was unacceptable, and no excuse in the world was enough to spare her from the guilt of letting the boy suffer. If the child died, she would feel as responsible for it as the mother should, because she was now part of the problem. Therefore, she decided to act and get the address of the child with the employer at the general store, so she could go and pay a visit to the boy.
Next day, with the address on hand, Maria found the slum, and with some help asking around, she found the shack. Her heart was pounding fast as she approached it; she wasn't sure if she was ready to watch what was coming next. Maria had already been to other slums before, but this one was the worst for sure. Sewage running wild outside, attracting flies, rats and animals of the kind to its ugliness. The shacks were distributed in a disorganized way, adding to the feeling of chaos.
She stared at the shack where the child was supposed to be. Rotted wooden boards hammered together made up the structure of the shack, leaving many open gaps between the boards. She clapped her hands as there was no doorbell. A child came to the door, in worst conditions than the shack itself. Maria asked for his mother and he signed for her to follow him inside. The mother, still recovering from her last night of alcohol and who knows what else, sat on a corner, blowing cigarette smoke in the darkness. Maria froze inside. The stink reached her nose and she tried to hold her breakfast inside her stomach. The only light of the place was the one coming from the gaps in the wooden boards and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw the boy in the back of the shack, lying on a mattress on the floor.
His mattress was made of dried straw covered by a dirt piece of cloth. He looked like dead, with a rope tied to his leg, probably to keep him from leaving his bed. Maria felt like being inside a nightmare, and tried to find words to speak to the mother. She had never seen a child in such deplorable conditions before. During funerals, the dead looked better than this child.
The boy kept coughing, breaking the silence. Maria took a few steps towards him, but the mother started to scream, as she raised her body barely dressed from the corner. By her speech, it sounded as if she was still under the influence of alcohol, or something else. Maria tried to explain herself, but the women took something in her hand ready to throw and started to run after Maria. All that Maria could do was to get out of that shack and out of that slum, as fast as she could.
When feeling safe again, she could barely breathe as she recovered from the shock of what had just happened. During that night, Maria could not close her eyes either, as tears kept rolling down her cheeks just to think about the boy left behind in that shack. Her husband tried to comfort her but he had no idea how bad the whole experience had been to her, an open wound too deep to be closed in one night. And yet, behind the tears, Maria knew that crying was not the solution.
Next morning, still taken by emotions, Maria started to come up with a plan to rescue the boy. She called many people she knew, in one last hope. Maybe one family, somewhere, would give her some hope. Unfortunately, the response was the same everywhere she turned: very distant, vague, away from hope. The institutions she called were already overcrowded and had no place for a child with so many complications. There was nothing exciting about rescuing this boy; he was a picture of failure from top to bottom. So finally a question crossed her mind, "Why would anyone want a child that I am rejecting myself?" Hard as it was to act on it, she developed a strategy: if until the end of the week nobody had responded to her appeal, she would bring the boy to her own home.
And that was when the phone rang, dispersing her latest thoughts, and she wondered if it was her husband calling from the supermarket, with questions about the list of groceries that she had handled to him before. However, her husband was not the one on the other side of the telephone line. The call was, in fact, very different than most of the calls she had ever received, because this call changed so much, it changed a life, it changed my family, it changed who I am.
That call offered that boy a chance to live, and to my family, a chance to learn how to live.
Maria could not hold her excitement as my father told her that my family was interested in adopting the boy. She was speechless, extremely happy, but a little worried too. What if she had pushed the subject too much on them, and made them feel guilty? Forced them to adopt? It had never been her plan to push them to adopt anyone. She had just shared the story hoping that they would know someone interested in adopting a child. She did not want my parents to do it out of guilt.
However, once she heard my father share about the months my family spent praying for a child, she was filled with peace. She understood she had been just the messenger, and my family was more than ready to take on the challenge, as we had waited for this child and put a lot of thought into it; this boy was definitively supposed to join my family. Maria promised to help with all the paperwork necessary to fulfill the adoption. She had experience with the process and would not mind doing it for my parents.
My parents also knew they still had to be approved by the State to receive the child, as the adoption process had some restrictions to protect children from being given in adoption to people with the intent of abusing, slavering or even using them for organ trafficking.
Being aware of the many steps to be taken to accomplish an adoption, Maria started the process that same day. However, the judge, responsible for such cases, had his schedule already full with other hearings. There was no way she would be able to get a hearing in the next weeks. Because she personally knew the judge, she reached his secretary to explain that the life of a child was in jeopardy. But after many messages left, she still did not hear back from him, so she kept calling. Finally, the secretary was able to speak to the judge but he did not open any exceptions for the case and stated that she would have to wait at least a month for an available date.
A month would be an eternity for that boy! Under such deploring circumstances he would be lucky if he was still alive next week. His situation was very serious, undernourished, suffering of a chronic cough and without any responsible care. He could not wait for the judge's schedule and Maria was not going to sit around and just hope for the best.
Maria knew that there was only one more thing that she could do. So she went back to the slum. This time she would be in charge, she would not run away from the mother, she was going to rescue that child even if she had to fight the mother. No one would stop her from doing what was right.
As she arrived at the shack, she was surprised to find the mother sober, with a different attitude towards her. The mother agreed that Maria could take the boy; in fact she was happy to give him away and would have given her other son as well, if possible. This time, Maria saw the mother under a different light, as a human being oppressed by her own history of poverty and abuse. A grown up child, lost inside the ugly world of alcohol and prostitution.
Maria carried the boy out of the shack in her arms, as far as possible from such reality. She made a promised to herself, that no matter what, even if the judge did not agree with what she had done, she would never bring the boy back to that shack. Even if she had to abduct him!
From the slum, she went straight to the judge's office with the boy in her arms. She ran through the corridors towards his office, her steps loudly pounding against the floor. Without asking for it, she opened the door to his office, looked into the judge's eyes and showing the boy, asked "Your Honor, this boy cannot wait for an entire month to be adopted, could he?" The judge stared petrified. The picture he witnessed that day is probably still imprinted in his mind, as in all of the ones that were inside that room.
The paperwork was simplified, the case was prioritized and taken care with urgency. On that same day Maria got a written permission to keep the boy until all the adoption documents were ready for my parents to sign. The paperwork, however, was not the problem now, but to pour some life back into the boy's body.
Maria decided first to take the boy to her own home, as his body smelled like overdue garbage. Once at home, she opened all the windows so that his smell would not make her throw up. She had never smelled something so repugnant coming out of a person, it seemed like his body was decomposing from inside out while still alive. Maria could not grasp how his mother could have gotten used to live under such non humane conditions to the point of not minding the smell at all.
After hydrating him with a homemade electrolyte drinkable solution, and feeding him some food, she bathed him with warm and clean water, scrubbing off with a gentle soap all his history of dirt. The water came out dark, soaked with dirt, and she kept washing him until his skin was truly clean. She had a hard time washing his curly hair with shampoo as there were so many knots tangled together that she decided to get a pair of scissors and just chop everything off, carefully. She was aware his head was probably covered with lice and she did not want to spread them around her home.
While washing him, he kept fighting against the water, resisting something that probably he was not familiar with. Maria had two of her older children helping to hold his body, as he screamed shouts of disapproval, producing scared looks in the faces of the kids. Maria could see that he was really terrified of the water; he would cover both of his ears with his hands, and splash water around as he kicked his legs. Even her soft voice and calming words could not calm him down, but she knew that he had to be cleaned first before she could even take him to see a doctor.
She then dried his skin slowly with a soft towel, trying to observe all his body. Maria noticed that he had some unusual repetitive movements, in a pattern. One of them was to rub one hand against the other under his chin, something that reminded her of autistic kids. She spread some lotion across his body, massaging his skin and trying to relax him. After that, she dressed him with a diaper and clean clothes she took from her kids' closet, as his old traps were already in the garbage.
Maria kept offering him more electrolyte solution and then some warm liquid soup. He looked very hungry and thirsty, but because he kept coughing so often, all the food had to be given slowly, one spoon at a time, to keep him from throwing up.
Deep inside, Maria knew that this experience was not only changing him, it was changing herself, and it was changing her own kids. There was not anything more fulfilling than to bring a child from the before to the after, while at the same time being an example to her own children about how to care for other people. Some of them had been adopted from traumatic conditions, but none from such terrible state. None of her speeches could have been more powerful to her children than the one they watched on that day.
After offering the boy a first care, Maria knew that this was how far she could go by herself as she was not a specialized health care professional. She knew that the next step would be to take him to the urgent care clinic as her city did not have a proper hospital, being a small town. If they thought that his case needed extra help, they could transfer him to a big hospital. As far as she could tell, the initial help he needed could probably be accomplished in the clinic, and any specialized treatments could be done once my parents received him.
At the urgent care clinic, she had to wait a few hours to be seen, as the public health care clinic was overwhelmed with more patients than enough professionals to attend them. When she finally made it to the doctor, he prescribed intravenous saline with some medicines and then an oral solution with vitamins and minerals to be given at home. He also encouraged Maria to keep feeding him every two hours, with soups, mashed fruits and cream of cereal, and lots of liquid. The only restriction was milk; she should wait a few days before offering milk to him, making sure his body would accept it, without upsetting his digestive tract.
Maria did not have that many days to extend the treatment, as the adoption paperwork became available and he was healthy enough to survive an airplane trip and be brought to my family. A long bus trip was out of question, as he deserved, once in his life, to be treated with dignity. The dignity every child in the world deserves.
Book: A fight for Life
CHAPTER 5 (Part 2)
CHAPTER 6 (Part 1) coming soon...
CHAPTER 6 (Part 1) coming soon...