This week Taylor’s taking a break from sharing her powerful story, Innocent Eyes. Instead she has a beautiful nugget of love and loss and discovery. I hope you enjoy!
By Taylor Anne Vigil
A boy of six bolted upright in his bed.
“Mama!” he cried. “Mama, where are you?”
His pillow was soaked with tears and his nose was red and raw. Within seconds, his mother came near, holding her arms out to him as she always did. He reached out for her, his heart stretching further than his arms, and she held him tight to her.
“You were gone,” the boy choked into his mother’s robe. “you were gone and I couldn’t find you.”
His mother’s hand was on his hair.
“I’m here, my boy.” She whispered to him.
She held him closer and he breathed in her scent. She looked at him and placed her finger under his chin. The candlelight danced in her eyes.
“I promise you this, my little one.” She said, “I will be here for you, always.”
The boy nodded. His mother kissed him and put him to bed. As she had said, she did not leave. Instead, she sat by, singing softly to him the song that he loved so well.
“Baby mine, don’t you cry. Baby mine, dry your eyes. Rest your head close to my heart, never to part, the baby of mine.”
A boy of eleven ran home crying. His mother locked him in her arms.
“Why am I so different?” he asked, looking up at her.
His mother sighed, pulled away, and ran her fingers through his thick curly hair. Her face grew paler than usual.
“What did they tell you?”
The boy wiped at his tears.
“They wouldn’t let me play with them. They said I didn’t belong here. They told me that I wasn’t your son.”
His mother sighed again, bowed her head, and gently clutched a handful of her son’s hair between her fingers. She knew this would happen. She’d known all along. Why hadn’t she prepared him for it?
“My boy,” she began, crouching down to him. “We all have hands and feet and toes and fingers. Look here.”
She held out her hand, spreading her long fingers before him. The boy didn’t understand. Was his skin not darker than hers? Was her hair not straighter? Were his eyes not the darkest brown?
“Now, what differences do you see?” asked his mother.
Not wanting to disappoint her, the boy simply said, “I don’t see any.”
His mother hugged him again, not knowing it was the biggest lie he’d ever told.
A boy of nineteen packed his suitcase. His mother watched him from the doorway.
“Are you sure about this, my son?” she asked, teary-eyed.
The boy turned slowly. He never wanted to look at her when she sounded like she did now. He did look at her, and he received her, pulling her close to his body which had once been so little.
“Mother, I must know things now. I must ask the questions that you have forbidden me to ask. I must find the answers that you are unwilling to give me. Please, allow me to do this.”
His mother pulled back. She reached up and laid her hand on his bearded cheek.
“I have something for you.”
She turned and left the room, returning minutes later with a piece of paper, yellowed by time.
“From your moth-”
She couldn’t say it. He took the letter from her, taking immediate notice of the spot of red that sat in one corner. He read the sloppy handwriting.
“Is it a big city?” he asked, looking at his mother.
She shook her head.
“A village,” she said, almost sadly.
The boy looked at the letter again, at the address.
“I need to find her.”
His mother took him by the elbows, holding him firmly in place.
“Listen to me,” she said, firmly. “No matter what you find. No matter what she tells you. Promise me that you will come back to me. Safe….”
He answered with a kiss.
A leather sack filled with food, a jug of water, a donkey, a stern warning. This was what the boy was given when he took his first steps onto the unfamiliar soil. The air was hot and thick. The streets were broken and the land was sorrowful.
Beggars were everywhere, sitting on street corners, hunched over piles of rubble, weeping for those who were lost to the war. And the little ones, boys and girls with hollow cheeks and sunken eyes, sat in the arms of their mothers, begging for what no one had to offer; more food. Fathers were all but extinct.
The boy walked on, pulling the donkey behind him, determined to seek out the answers to his questions. He took the leather sack off the beast’s back and gave out what food he could to the children. He poured water from his jug into their parched mouths. He crouched to give them what little comfort he could.
The boy stood and turned toward the voice. A man dressed in shredded clothes, like the rest of the beggars, pointed in the direction of an oncoming truck.
“Keep your eyes down when They pass by!” he warned.
The boy did so, looking at a chunk of rubble that rested near his boots as the truck lumbered by. When he looked back up, he saw Them. Men in black robes with guns in their hands and smiles on their weather-beaten faces, a crying child tied up at their feet, even a wild turkey hanging from one of their belts.
“They’re the only ones who can afford meat now.” the beggar said. “And They do it by ransoming children.”
The boy inhaled sharply.
“You’ve always been so obedient.” a voice said, from afar. “Even as a baby.”
The voice was not that of a man, but a woman. She sat a few feet away from him, in front of a pile of burnt-up rubble that looked as if it had once been a home. She smiled when his eyes met hers.
“You’d stop crying the moment I asked you to.” she continued, grinning at the memory. “You were such a good boy.”
There was no address, nothing to tell him for sure that this was where he wanted to be. Still, he moved slowly towards her. He narrowed his eyes.
“H-how do you-”
He couldn’t finish. The woman chuckled. Her eyes brightened under her dusty vail.
“A mother never forgets her child.”
The boy sat at her feet. He crossed his legs. She was boney and thin, starving like the rest of them. She had no shoes and missing toes. But, she had his smile. She had his eyes.
“What happened here?” the boy asked, looking all around him.
The woman sighed and told him.
The war had begun nineteen years ago and hadn’t stopped since. They came and took everything, food, clothes, rights, children. They burned every town and village. “They” forbid women to work and forced the men to fight in the war. They watched as children starved. They killed anyone who stood in their way.
The boy listened to all of this but said nothing. What could he say? The woman paused and sighed again.
“I’m going to tell you where you came from. Please, do not ask questions of me. Do as I tell you and listen.”
The boy nodded. The woman ran a hand over his hair.
“A mother never forgets her child. I know this because you are my child and I have never forgotten you.”
She paused again, her hand moving to his cheek.
“You were wanted, but I could not keep you. They would not let me keep you. I wrapped you up and took you to the orphanage. And I left you there. I wanted so badly to run away with you tucked safely in my arms. You were my delight. But I knew They would find us. I knew They would kill you as they killed so many other boys. So I left you and I prayed. I prayed that you would be given a new mother. A true mother. One who would love and protect you as much as I did. And now-”
She stroked his cheek with the back of her hand. Tears filled her eyes. They spilled down her cheeks.
“Now look at you. You are healthy and strong. Your heart is kind. You are as great as I knew you would be.”
She moved her hand away, onto her lap. The boy looked around once more, at the starving beggars and the dying little ones. So many little ones, crying and hungry. And, he was nearly one of them. He felt the woman’s hand on his. He looked at her.
“My boy,” she began, looking into his dark eyes. “I know why you’ve come here. But I am not your mother. The woman who took you. She is your mother. Now, you go to her. Let your mother love you.”
The boy nodded and stood up. He turned away from her and made his journey home. He never saw her again.
A man stood at his doorstep. His mother opened the door. They watched each other silently.
“Did you find what you looked for?” his mother asked.
The man could only nod. He dropped his suitcase.
“What did you learn?”
He had so much to tell her, so much to remember, because so much had happened. The woman’s skin was dark like his. Her smile was crooked like his. Her hair was curly like his. But this woman, the one who stood before him, had a heart like his. His handwriting looked like hers. She taught him everything he knew. She’d been there for him, always. He didn’t say this. He would never say it. Instead, he received her, took her into his arms, and whispered in her ear.
“Mother,” he said, slowly. “I am your child.”
She wept. They fell to the floor. And, he held her tight to him.