Chapter Two: “In Her Arms”
Four people appeared in the gloom above Max’s crib. His eyes darted to the small-featured face of Father Raja, and then settled on the compassionate, lighter-brown face of the nun, Tooti. He looked deep into her eyes and wanted her to lift him so he could feel the love that he knew stirred in her chest. He longed for one of her sweet kisses. A young white man and woman also stood over him. Max glanced at them before his eyes swam back to Tooti, and he wished she’d touch him.
The nun moved out of sight and Max spent a second shuffling his brown limbs, his eyelids fluttering, before he took in the two strangers who hung over him like bright lights. The young man’s hazel eyes combed over Max’s face. He seemed confident—a military man. Maybe he knew something about Max’s past. The man took a step back and the child’s eyes fell upon the young woman’s face, which glistened with a bluish whiteness. He felt a growing relief that turned into a tangible attraction. Her eyes were deep blue and her glossy, red lips were thinner than Tooti’s. Max traced the lines of her brow down to her small nose, amazed by the soft texture of her satin-white skin and its bluish sheen. Utterly brilliant and bewitching, she roused his tiny heart. She was the antithesis of his life in the Miami orphanage. She was like Tooti.
Max remembered that in the beginning his skin had been white, too, though it would alternately burn and then tan in the summertime. The summertime—the word stirred up old memories, and for a second he felt the muscular body of a horse beneath him, and the thump of its hooves against hard earth, and the sun burning down heavily. He remembered being older, stronger.
In his orphanage crib, a pulse of happiness floated up the child’s spine and filled his mouth. “Ooooh!” he uttered, enrapt with his ability to remember such sweetness from the past, a time when he had had not only mobility, but also a real sense of freedom.
He looked up at the woman’s perfectly-shapen eyebrows and then, with his imagination, traced the curves of her breasts under her pink, cotton blouse. Suddenly, he ached for her to hold him, wanted to nurse at her breasts, burrow in her arms, be smothered by the instinct and old blood of her womanhood. His need was great, very great, but he wasn’t evil. He was simply very different, not your ordinary child.
The woman reached down and teased his chubby cheek. Max cooed, fascinated by her richly-colored red lips. He lifted a hand to touch them. A moment of frustration passed as he was reminded of his young age and limited mobility. She gently clasped his hand with her thumb and two fingers. Their eyes held steady for a moment until he felt a palpable connection—a winking “hello” between their souls. In that instant his body seemed filled with helium—with ecstasy. He was floating away, was suddenly far away. He was in an ineffable place, a place he had been before. He was at peace. And when he thought it couldn’t get any better, the unthinkable occurred.
With a dour smile Father Raja put his hand on the woman’s shoulder, spoke a few soft words, and, to Max’s dismay, guided her away. The child went completely numb; a light had been turned off in his mind. The world once again was bleak and sere. His air was rank with sour smells and the lingering scent of feces. It was stagnant with hopeless regularity. Max grew nervous. He couldn’t see what was going on. He was overwrought with his own helplessness. The returning gloom was too much to bear.
Then he heard a female voice. It had to be the pretty young woman. “We never really cared. Either a girl?” her voice raised a few notes, “or a boy.”
“Um, yes, a boy,” a male voice replied. “Or a little girl, honey?”
“Since family has taken the other child, we might be able—” Father Raja coughed and mumbled the rest of his reply. The floor creaked as they all moved to another crib in the room.
Max gulped air. The odors and dankness repulsed him more than ever. He gasped. All his hopeful, new thoughts became jumbled with the old despair as he remembered the pain of death. Always a vicious death. Always a sudden death. It had to be that way. But why? Did they say so? Were they here now?
With a punching motion, Max stretched out his delicate limbs. A huge quantity of air filled his lungs. His face knotted as he tried to expel, only to gasp instead. For a moment, he thought he would suffocate. A short cry escaped his lips, followed by another and another until he was wailing and tears streamed down his face. A chorus of cries sounded as Max choked again, his face a tight knot.
The young woman came and stood over him again. Her eyes darted first to Max and then about the room before returning to his face. Her hands rose above the rail of his crib. Desperately, Max tried to quiet himself. He threw his limbs up as he choked and spit, mucous filling his nose. She stared at him for a long moment, yet try as he might, he couldn’t be still.
“You want me to pick you up?” she said melodiously, the softness of her words absolutely paralyzing Max with hope. She opened her hands and her face was aglow. She scooped him up, kissed him, and held him close. Her affections blazed with ferocity as they coursed through him.
Max was delirious. The room was spinning. The beautiful young woman held him out and gazed hungrily upon him, her eyes wide open, beaming like bright lamps. In that instant Max felt completeness, a purpose in one of the humming chords of the universe. Let it be a symphony!
“You want to come home with me?” her soul whispered.
Max smiled from ear to ear; she wasn’t putting him down. He snuggled close to her soft breasts. Her sweet perfume was strong, though the smell was soothing like her warmth, but nothing was greater than the attraction he felt toward her. In his delirium, he developed a new outlook on life. It was going to be different this time. It was going to be a good life. The beautiful young woman was going to take him away and keep him safe. Home was in her arms now.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Thirty-Six
Most Holy Redeemer Church in the East Village (Photos only)