Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Excerpt of "Silent Tears" by Kay Bratt
Yoli and I entered the baby room this morning at nine and the first thing I noticed was the lack of ayis. Usually at this time there are two or three of them sitting around the TV watching their soap operas while supposedly paying attention to the babies. Today there was only one. I gave her the supplies I had brought for today―baby soap, powder, and wipes―and entered the other half of the room to see my babies.
The room had a stifling, pervasive odor of urine and sweat, a combination I haven’t yet adjusted to. I told myself it didn’t matter and tried to put it out of my mind, but couldn’t shut it out. Some of the babies were mewling loudly; others were quiet and motionless. I walked through the middle rows and worked my way down one aisle, adjusting the babies while talking to them softly. Many had legs or feet caught up in the metal sides of their cribs, causing them distress.
Most had heat rashes from the soaring temperatures and lack of air flowing. When their shirts ride up, their already irritated skin rubs against the straw mats they are lying on, adding to their misery. I continued down the aisle, releasing feet and straightening shirts as I went.
A baby girl covered to the neck with a towel instead of the usual sheet caught my eye. Most of the babies were sick today, many with fever, runny noses, and coughs. This baby looked as though she had cried herself into exhaustion, but her eyes were open. Bending down to speak to her, I noticed her eyes were not following me. I looked closer and saw that her eyes had a white film over them, nearly opaque so I could hardly see her pupils. The towel was not moving up and down over her tiny chest and she wasn’t blinking. My mind reeled as the thought struck me, “Oh my God, she is dead.”
I could scarcely believe what I’d found. My heart plummeted and for a moment seemed to stop. I shuddered and involuntarily recoiled from the crib. By this time a few more workers had arrived; I called one over while pointing to the baby. She peered into the cot, and beckoned a few other staff workers to come look. Nonchalantly, they sauntered over and one of them shoved the crib roughly into the wall, trying to make the baby move. The child’s body rocked violently from the force of the shove.
As I watched in horror, the worker repeated her rough action, and then said something to another worker, obviously confirming that the baby was dead. They didn’t touch her in any way or listen for breathing. Making no attempts at resuscitation, they dismissed her and walked off to continue their interrupted conversation.
I backed away, struck forcefully by their indifference. I was in double shock because of the dead child herself, and then because of her unemotional treatment by the workers. I tried to compose myself, still feeling faint as I watched the workers chatting together, laughing, and acting quite plainly as if the little girl’s life meant nothing to them. I realized I wasn’t inhaling and took a sobbing breath, but it didn’t calm me. The tears broke free of my eyes as I contemplated what a brief and tragic life this baby had lived.
One of the ayis left the room, and a few minutes later, a nurse came to check the baby with a stethoscope. When she heard nothing, she covered the baby’s face with the towel and walked from the room. Alone with the little girl, I returned to her side and thought to myself, “Say a prayer, just for her,” but it took some time for me to gather the words. Finally, I asked God to take her in His arms and comfort her.
While standing there crying, I saw Yoli on the other side of the room―with the toddlers and unaware of what had happened. I drew her near and told her one of the babies had died; she didn’t handle the news well, becoming agitated and upset. She wouldn’t go near the baby; instead, from across the room she gaped at the cradle, wide-eyed.
An old Chinese man with a significant stoop entered the room. Although I’ve been working here for weeks, I’d never seen him before. He was small in stature and his face held lines of wisdom, or perhaps sadness. He approached the little girl’s body, slowly removed the towel, and asked a worker to provide a pair of pants for her. He gently dressed her and placed a sheet on the floor. Picking her out of the cradle, he ever so softly laid her on the sheet. Bundling her neatly, he lifted her small body close to him and took her from the room.
He didn’t make eye contact with me, but I know he was aware I was watching. For my own sanity, I forced myself not to think about what would happen to her next.
Eventually, one of the ayis who had been laughing and chatting minutes before came and brusquely removed the baby’s straw mat and towel―her scant comfort. Outwardly, the ayi showed no compassion whatsoever for this child who had been in the care of the orphanage for such a short time. I wanted to believe she would make time for that later, as I know that Chinese people carefully guard their feelings.
I wished to leave immediately so I could openly cry, but knew many of the babies were terribly sick and needed me. Somehow, I kept going; I took temperatures, fed rice, gave bottles, and dressed their little bodies after their baths. Mechanically I followed all instructions, washed up, and started down the stairs.
In my distracted state of mind, I had forgotten Yoli and had to return for her. I found her, helped her gather her things, and we both left.
I waited in the car while she went to the office to drop off papers. As soon as the car door closed, I dialed Ben’s mobile. When I heard his familiar, comforting voice, I lost all composure and the dam burst wide open. I’m sure my driver was wondering what could possibly be so wrong, but he chose to ignore my tears and histrionic ranting on the phone. Ben assured me that he was leaving work early and would be home as soon as possible.
When Yoli returned to the car, her amiable, easygoing nature had returned. She looked at my tears and said, “Cheer up.” Stunned at her ability to switch between emotions so quickly, I couldn’t answer her and turned the other way to stare out the window.
Arriving home, I went directly upstairs to shower. Surrounded by the heat and soothing rush of the water, I scrubbed until it ran cold.
Sitting here now, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. I can’t stop thinking about her. Shouldn’t I be part of a grieving process or a funeral? There has to be something to mark this child’s passing.
I’m going to make Amanda some lunch and afterward I think I will sleep for a while, if I can. I keep seeing the look on that little girl’s face, with her milky, lifeless eyes wide open and her arms outstretched stiffly. She was only about five months old and so very tiny and helpless.
I can see now why previous volunteers stay with the orphanage for only a short time and never return, but I will continue to go until they say I can’t any longer. I know the ayis resent my presence. Even if I can’t understand their words, I can see the animosity and disapproval in their expressions and feel the friction crackling in the air. I don’t care. I will bear the feelings of not being wanted by the staff. I will not give up on these children.
About the author:
Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage to do just that. With the help of her readers, Kay continues to raise awareness and advocate for at-risk children. In China, she was honored with the 2006 Pride of the City award for her humanitarian work. She is the found of the Mifan Mommy Club, an online organization which provides rice for children in China’s orphanages, and is also an active volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for abused and neglected children. Kay currently resides in Georgia with her husband and daughter.(Source: http://kaybratt.com/biography/).