Last Wednesday, I handed my driver’s license to a woman in the main office of an elementary school in St. Paul. She looked at it—and me—and handed it back.
“I’ll let her know you’re here,” she said, scooting her chair back from her desk and exiting the room.
Minutes later, the final bell rang, and a teacher emerged from a classroom with seven-year-old Zeva. The girl clasped my hand and left the place with me, a stranger, skipping to my car like I had promised her ice cream instead of a ride back to her host family. I knew the mom of the home where she was going; the woman’s kindness was as irresistible as a frozen treat. And clearly, the girl felt it too.
Zeva was a collector of stories, and she lavished them on me as I drove from eastern St. Paul to a western suburb of Minneapolis.
“She’s white like you,” the girl said about a classmate. “And she’s my BFF forever.”
The storyteller’s eyes sparked with life, and I smiled. Next, she told me about her sister. At a stoplight, I jotted her sibling’s name on a notepad, along with the sister’s nickname, Honey, so I could remember.
“That’s not how you spell it,” Zeva said, tapping her finger on my paper.
“I just wrote Traynesha how it sounded.”
“I mean, her other name, Honey. It’s H-U-N-N-Y.”
“Okay, got it.” I made the correction at the next stop.
Then Zeva pulled me back with her to a winter night two years earlier.
“It was after Christmas, because I had my Elsa doll. And Mama woke me up.”
The girl displayed her story like a child bringing crime scene evidence to Show and Tell, and the truth whispered through her innocent delivery and speared me in the gut. Did she know what she was saying? How long until she pieced together the reality of that night?
“What happened then?” I said, not wanting to know.
“The cops came. They said, ‘What happened? What happened?’ But I said, ‘I don’t know. I was asleep.’” She shrugged, raising upturned palms. “Then they said other stuff, but I said, ‘I don’t wanna be a foster kid!’”
I released a slow breath, my eyes fixed on the freeway. What had I just heard?
Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace, Wednesday’s child is full of woe…
Mother Goose had intended her pronouncements for birth days—not for a child I had happened to meet on a Wednesday. Only a silly nursery rhyme, I told myself. But still I wondered.
The traffic clipped along, and I let Zeva choose the music on the radio. Like a hummingbird, she flitted from one story to the next, classic hip hop playing in the background.
At last, I dropped off the seven-year-old with her host family. I had transported a ray of sunshine from St. Paul, and she had perked up my day, but the darkness of The Winter Night remained lodged in my chest anyway.
At 11:30 that night, Husband and I heard voices outside on the street. While I stayed in bed, he went to look. A minute later, he was back.
“The police just took some kids from Kaiya’s place.”
Kaiya, a sixth grade girl, waited at the bus stop each day with Dicka and me. Like Zeva, Kaiya had a spark that ignited her stories during those few minutes before the bus hissed to a halt at the corner. Like Zeva, the life in Kaiya’s eyes danced like dappled sunlight on a tree-lined path. And like Zeva, the girl on our street knew about grown-up choices and the police and dark nights.
The next morning, Dicka and I strode to the corner to wait for the bus. There stood Kaiya, her feet shifting from side to side under the weight of a new story.
“Did you see the police car at our house last night?”
“Yeah,” I said. “You okay?”
A hint of a smile. “Two little kids were walking around outside by themselves, so we took them in and called the cops.”
The March night had been cold—temperatures in the teens. I shuddered. “That was nice of you.” More questions pecked at me. “How old were they?”
“Maybe two or three years old?”
The bus came and took the girls away, deserting me with my thoughts. But maybe there were answers. Maybe the word woe didn’t have to bind Wednesday’s children to dark endings. Maybe the adult hands that steered the kids this way or that—toward parents or away from parents—could also hold the burden of their stories for them.
And maybe one day those little ones would find the Light Who could finally guide them home.
*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.