Haunting images of a tiny baby. I couldn’t sleep. Dreams. Vivid dreams. I haven’t had one so real in so long. I was in a strange place—somewhere I had never been. I found a baby who nobody could look after. It just needed to be held. So I held it tight, really close, trying to figure out what I would do. I awoke. I was clutching the pillow next to me. The dream was so real. I fell back asleep, immediately thrust into the same world again, holding on tight to this baby that needed to be held. Even this morning when I awoke the dream was so real. I couldn’t understand it but the images were haunting me. All I could remember was the child trying to hold on…This tiny baby that needed love. I went to breakfast and returned to my room when I was faced with horrible news: a baby died at Ma-Sevana yesterday.
Please forgive any typos and my chaotic writing. My eyes are filled with tears. They seem to be unstoppable. They just keep coming. And I don’t know what to do. Unlike the moments when I feel choked for words, there are so many now. I don’t know how to get them out but I must.
Tharanga. Tharanga. Just Saturday she sat in my class at the head of the table, rocking her 5 month old son back and forth on her lap as she made a bracelet and matching pair of earrings. He kept grabbing at the bracelet she was making. Tharanga. Tharanga. My heart raced when I heard the news. I felt the blood drain from my head and I ran outside. My favorite 3-wheeler driver was at the gate. Thank God. I leapt into his car. “Ma-Sevana?” he asked. He could sense my urgency. I don’t remember the drive. It’s a blur now. We were at the gate and Suwarnalata saw me come in. I grabbed her hand. “Where is Tharanga?”
Through the gate. Down the hall. Passed a hanging curtain. There, sitting on her bed, was Tharanga, rocking someone else’s baby back and forth. Her son’s tiny shirt was draped limply across her lap. She looked at me and began to sob. My arm found its way around her shoulder and she buried her face into my chest, Champa’s baby caught between us. I’m not sure how long I sat there with her, just crying, crying, crying. Her baby had choked on milk in his sleep. 6am yesterday morning, unknown to me, he had passed. He was buried yesterday. Oh Tharanga, Tharanga. Oh Tharanga, Tharanga. Oh my girls, my precious girls who go through so much.
A matron came in with some cookies. “Khan. Khan,” she said, dipping the cookies in tea. I can only imagine this means “eat.” But, Tharanga wouldn’t eat. Other girls pushed a small bite into her mouth and she screamed and sobbed and clutched my hand tightly. We all wept together. They forced another bite into her mouth. Champa took her baby from Tharanga’s lap and forced Tharanga to take a sip of the tea. We all wept together.
Tharanga will go home now. Perhaps as soon as Wednesday. I don’t understand. Are these girls locked up for their own protection? Or are they locked up for society’s protection? Why can she return home now that her darling boy is gone? I don’t know but she has asked that I come and visit. I am going to do my absolute best to go and see her next weekend.
Life here comes in such intense waves. Just last week a new baby was born. Just yesterday one passed. And in just two days Tharanga will be embarking on a new life. The waves will always come and go. The tides are more intense at Ma-Sevana than in many places. So much richness and strength and so much pain and sorrow. All I can think of now are those tiny hands, those hands that clutched his mother’s beaded bangle that she proudly created Saturday afternoon. Those tiny hands are gone forever.