Dawayne is eight. He's in third grade. (Do the math and you'll realize that he's in the right year for his age. It's the first time I've seen it since coming here.) He's a bright kid, and I'm not just talking about the lightness of his skin; he read me the story of Jonah this morning, only stumbling over words like Ninevah and repentance. He's really not too sick; as I was leaving work he was being called to the operating room to have his hernia repaired.
This morning, Dawayne provided me with two of the funnier moments I can remember. I went over to him, needles in hand, and explained to him that I needed to juke him small for an IV. That I would make sure I got it on the first try. And that, if he held still, I would give him not just one, but seven whole stickers. His eyes lit up and he stuck out his hand, brimming with confidence. His bravado failed him, however, as I approached his skin with the needle. His eyes rolled heavenwards in supplication as he screamed out in utter seriousness, JESUS, take me now! I had to stop and compose myself before starting that IV.
A little while later, the mamas in his corner called me over. They prophesied over me that, once I get back to the States, the first thing I will do is born a baby. While my ovaries don't mind the thought of that, I explained that I had to get a husband first. One mama laughingly offered her three-year old son. I told her he was too small and that I needed a big man. At which point little Dawayne rolled over, looked up at me, and with raised eyebrows and a sassy little head tilt delivered a perfect impression of Joey Tribiani. How you doin'? I almost peed myself.
And the kaleidescope shifts and Eddie fills my view and laughter is the last thing on my mind.
Eddie is four months old. From the neck down, he's like any other baby. He's the firstborn in his family, a little porker with chubby thighs and a miniature pot belly. Eddie is cherished. When he was born in the middle of the rainy season, his mama made sure to always cover him with a mosquito net when he slept, to make sure he didn't get malaria. About two months ago, an aunty was doing something by candlelight as the baby slept, secure under his net. She placed the candle on the ground, and in just a few seconds, little Eddie's life went up in flames. The net caught fire around him, and his face and head were horribly burned.
I hold Eddie and rock him and kiss the angry pink skin on his cheeks. I tell him he's beautiful. To anyone other than us, though, he's hideous. He doesn't look like a baby anymore. His eyes can barely open and close. His lips are a static mass of scar tissue. His nose is gone, leaving only two small holes in the centre of his face. The top of his head is an open sore. Everything else about him is the way it should be. His skin is creamy brown, his fingers delicate and perfect. It's just his face, the first thing everyone will see for the rest of his life. It's just his face that's been destroyed.
His mama loves him. She holds him and rocks him and dresses him in little outfits that we've scrounged from the bottom of donation boxes. She can't bear to be there when we change his bandage, so we take him to another room. He wails as we soak the infected sores on his head with vinegar, shaking from side to side, trying to make it stop. And then he quiets, submits, gives up, and that's maybe worse than all his screams.
I'm afraid for little Eddie. I'm afraid of what his life is going to be. He will never know what it means to be normal. He will live forever with people staring at him. People hating him. People ignoring him or making fun of him or calling him ugly. We sit here and we tell him he's beautiful (and he is, really; you just have to ignore the obvious), but he's not going to hear that very often when he leaves here.
Which made it all the more poignant when I heard his mama singing. I looked over to their bed in the corner to see her lying down, Eddie propped up on her stomach. From behind, all I could see was the plumpness of his diapered bottom, encased in a clean, white onesie, and the fresh whiteness of the bandage around his head. She bounced him up and down as she sang quietly.
I am on the Lord's side.I pray that Eddie would be an overcomer. That he would somehow have the chance to grow up and go to school to learn to read like Dawayne. That he would be surrounded by people who can see past the scars.
I will never give up.
I am an overcomer,
For the Lord God is on my side.
That he would know love.