The phone call went to voicemail. Again. Three times trying to reach Sheena—the mother of Latika, the one-year-old baby girl we had hosted—and still nothing. The girls and I waited in the car in the parking lot behind Sheena’s high rise in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. It was the last day of the placement, and Sheena and I had agreed to meet at that time and place for us to return Latika to her. Because of her health condition, it would’ve been too taxing for Sheena—who didn’t own a car—to walk to meet us at the Safe Families for Children office nestled further into the downtown.
I dialed her number one more time. Still no answer.
Latika squawked, protesting the extra time in her car seat. Dicka bounced a stuffed animal in the baby’s face, tapping it to her nose every few seconds.
I checked my cell phone again. “Girls, it’s been twenty minutes. Let’s go in and find her.”
I carried the baby, and the girls toted her things to the building’s back door—the one we had seen Sheena use—right near our parked car. When a tenant emerged, we slipped in. Once inside, I scanned the place for a directory. Nothing. And the access door to the apartments was locked.
“Let’s head back out and around to the front,” I said. “We shouldn’t have come in this way.”
We exited and trudged around the building with Latika and her possessions. We passed a bus stop, swarming with people, but when a bus hissed to a halt, no one got on.
Inside the front doors of the high rise, I spotted a directory. I clicked through it, trying to locate Sheena’s name. No success.
Just then, a broad-chested security guard hustled toward us, a gun in his holster. “I saw you on the cameras trying to come in the back, and I thought, ‘They don’t belong here.’” The man’s mouth flatlined. I caught a hint of a Brooklyn accent. “Who are you looking for?”
I blew a piece of hair out of my eyes and told him Sheena’s full name, shifting the baby to my other hip. “We’re a host family for Safe Families for Children, and we’re trying to return her baby to her.”
“Well, isn’t that sweet of you.” The corners of his mouth curved up slightly, warming his expression. “She’s got a bad deal with her health, poor lady.”
“I know.” I shot a look around the lobby. Even in the broad daylight, it was dim. The walls were dingy, the atmosphere tattered. People meandered around the room, pelting us with looks. A woman cooed at Latika.
“I’ll take you up to her.” The security guard flicked a finger for us to follow him, and then he mashed the button on the wall. He eyed the lit numbers above the elevator doors, and when they opened, he motioned us on first, and then he followed. And so did two other men, so tall their heads grazed the elevator’s ceiling. One of them tilted his ear to our conversation, glancing between the guard and me as we spoke. I furrowed my brow and steered the topic to trivial things.
We exited the elevator on Sheena’s floor. The security guard sauntered to her door and knocked. When she answered, he gestured for us to enter. I thanked him, and he disappeared around the corner.
Sheena closed the door behind us and plunked down onto a bed, which was set up in the living room. The suffocating heat of the room blasted us. A can of something heated in a pot on the stove. Boxes of medical equipment lined one wall.
I frowned. “Are you feeling okay?”
She waved away my question. “Oh, yeah.”
Maybe she thought she had to be brave for us. Or for herself. But had she been too sick to answer her phone?
“Did you get my messages, Sheena?”
She shrugged, taking the baby from my arms. “Sometimes my phone acts up.”
I briefed her on a few things about our time with the baby, and before we left, the girls and I took turns planting kisses on the crown of Latika’s head.
When we stepped back into the hallway, I spied the security guard leaning against a wall. He joined us again. On our ride back down in the elevator—free from prying eyes this time—he handed me a slip of paper with some information scrawled on it.
“I’m Vince, the supervisor. If you come here again, call first.” He tapped a finger on the paper. “This is our security line. Ask for an escort to accompany you from the parking lot. Don’t come in on your own again.” His eyes sparked intensity, even though his voice was even. “This place is full of lowlifes. Dope dealers, you name it. You don’t belong here.”
And we had just left a baby there—with her ailing mother. Maybe they didn’t belong there either.
“I’ll do what you say,” I said, leveling my gaze at Vince. “But I’m not afraid. I live in north Minneapolis.”
He darted a look at me, frowning. “You live on the Northside? Why?”
“Because we’re supposed to be there.”
Vince raised an eyebrow, bunched his lips to one side, and then nodded. When our elevator ride ended, he walked us out to our car in the parking lot. Before I drove away, I glimpsed Vince in the rearview mirror, and I thought of Sheena again.
Many people hover just one ugly strike away from poverty’s grip. Bad choices or unfortunate circumstances—like Sheena’s—toss humans away, so poverty can gobble them up, its appetite never satisfied. But we don’t belong in a broken world of unmet needs or in subsidized housing where a security guard works overtime to keep us alive.
We belong in a better place. We were all created for more.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.