I have fallen in love with another man and it’s no secret. Not even to my husband. For the impact of my first and subsequent encounters with Jesús was so profound, I could not keep the joy from my face each time I returned home after seeing him. It was like being hit by a thunderbolt if there were such a thing.
I met Jesús on a Saturday morning, a day that began differently than any in my life so far. When I walked into the crowded room that morning, he looked at me as if no one else existed. No words were spoken but none were needed. Dark curls framed a beatific face the colour of cafe au lait and his black eyes flashed with a spirit that was impossible to contain. He rushed towards me with arms open as if to say, “I have been waiting for you all my life”. Resistance was futile as I prepared for his mighty embrace, my heart caught like a branch in a quickening stream.
I’ve never been to an orphanage and was prepared for the worst; the pictures in my mind painted by Hieronymous Bosch rather than Norman Rockwell. At the suggestion of a friend, I had decided to give up my Saturday mornings to holding babies. The Baby Brigade I called us—three women with motherhood and grandmotherhood between them, and me, with neither of those experiences to draw on.
When we stepped into the bright and open foyer that morning, the childen could be heard but not seen. A security guard took our names and a young woman came to lead us to the nursery. We found out later Carla was raised in the orphanage and now she worked here, life full circle. A pack of adolescents ran past us on their way to the school that occupied part of the building. The corridors were cool and shady and open to the outdoors. Little patches of misery between the buildings caught my sisters eye as I heard her say, “We could plant a garden here”. My heart grew less heavy as we ascended the walkway to the babies rooms. A sea of 4-year-olds flooded our path, anxious to touch and be touched. I smiled back at these clean sparkly faces, and the young women who herded them along.
The door to the nursey was closed, and once the children behind us had gone, it was eerily quiet. I thought to myself, the babies must be sleeping, why aren’t they crying? They are babies after all and babies cry and make loud noises. We cracked open the door like kids ourselves, unsure of what we’d find. And that’s when I saw him.
Jesús was in the first of 11 cribs that ringed the room, a room that smelled of freshly washed laundry. Two young women greeted us warmly as music played softly from a phone nearby. I was overwhelmed by all these little bodies, each face looking up at us with expectation. I was struck by how quiet they all were, but maybe this is typical of an orphanage where time and emotions are regimented, even amongst the very young. I honestly did not know what to do next. I went from crib to crib, cupping each face in my hands and repeating the names labelled by each bed. Cinthia, Angela, Cecelia, Aidan, Fernanda, Christian, Christopher, Gaby, Victor, Adriana, and finally, Jesús. When I stopped at his crib he lit up like the morning sun and reached his arms to the sky. I looked at his caregiver who smiled and nodded, and in a heartbeat he was in my arms, as if they were made for him.
Footnote: There are 3 Baby Brigades that alternate at the orphanage Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. We’re not allowed to take photos or this would have been a photo essay – so profound was the joy on all our faces that day.