The next morning, Claudine sat near me, watching as I packed away a few remaining items. I reached out to rub her back and she shrugged away from my touch and gave me a look of utter revulsion. For a moment, it was too much and I broke.
“Eske ou pa vle mwen, Claudine? Eske ou pa vle mwen? I said. (Do you not want me, Claudine? Do you not want me?)
She appeared startled by the question then, her face softened and she looked away. I recovered and returned to packing. The moment faded as quickly as it flared.
We proceeded to say our goodbyes and give away any and everything we did not need. Emmanuel hit the jackpot with over the counter medications for his two young children, dresses I knew I could spare and he would treasure, shoes, toys, and loads of snacks. Over and over again he would say, “Thank you, my sister. Thank you.” We had two LED wind up flashlights. Michael took one to the night watchman, who was thrilled. I took the other to the cook. When I explained to her how it worked and that it never needed batteries, she screamed and wrapped me in a bear hug that lifted me off the ground.
As the time drew near for us to depart for the airport, Claudine began to change. Emmanuel had done everything in his power to ease her transition. He held her on his lap and told her all about going on the airplane, although I doubt he had ever ridden on one himself. He made it all sound like the greatest adventure ever. The next thing we knew, she was running out to look for the driver every few minutes with her little pink back pack loaded up and ready to go. Although there would be miles of grief left to tread, for the moment she had mourned her losses, said her good-byes and was ready to go home. I was in awe of her strength.
Finally, the driver arrived. Claudine was the first one in the van and somewhere along the way to the airport, I looked down to find her hand resting on my leg. I nudged Michael and whispered, “Look. She is touching me!” It was a small first step, but miraculous nonetheless.
At the airport, we went through multiple security checks and finally made it to the final one at the entrance the the American Airlines waiting area. There in front of it was a small coffee stand (Haitian coffee is wonderful!) and Michael bought two Cappuccinos. From our chairs in the waiting room, Claudine spotted our coffee and said, “M’vle caffe.” (I want some coffee.) We were shocked. “They gave you coffee in the orphanage?” I asked in Creole. “Oui!” (Yes!) she responded.
Her Daddy held down his cup and she blew us both away with her ability to sip it even though it was hot! She took one drink, put her fist in the air and shouted, “Nous allez avion!” (We are going on an airplane!) How wonderful it was for the four of us to at last be bound by a moment of joy and laughter. She proceeded to drink all of her Daddy’s Cappuccino and part of mine before I decided she had had quite enough caffeine.
The call came to board the plane and when we finally made it to our seats, we felt like we had accomplished something big. The flight to The States was full of good “firsts”. Roseline began to relax and show off part of the feisty, teasing personality we would come to recognize as pure “Ro-Ro”. She began to kiss me on the cheeks and laugh, although she was still wary of any strangers who attempted to tell her how cute she was. The airline attendants doted on the girls, bringing us extra snack packs. Michael unwrapped Claudine’s first ever piece of chocolate and we watched for her reaction as she tasted it. She took a tiny bite and a look of pure wonder and pleasure crossed her face. “mmmmmmm,” she said. Even today, she can remember that first taste of chocolate and will remind us that the wrapping was yellow and red.
“She loves it!” I said.
“Yes,” Michael replied, “She is just like her Mama.”
Last night, almost a year and a half later, Claudine sat at our kitchen table with a piece of Easter chocolate while her Daddy and I were cleaning the kitchen. Her siblings were off playing, after-dinner treats long devoured. Claudine, however, was still quietly savoring her chocolate. Tiny bites were carefully taken and tasted completely before she swallowed them. She was absolutely absorbed in the moment. I tried to scold her for taking too long and for the chocolate that had melted all over her hands along the way, but the chastisement had no heart in it.
I know where she is coming from, and I still see myself in her. Just as she savors the precious sweetness of a piece of chocolate and can remember so vividly the first taste of it, so I savor each hug, kiss and “I love you, Mommy” she and Roseline send my way. She can never take the confection for granted, because she can remember what it was like to have none, and so I who once longed for my daughters with every fiber of my being and can never stop savoring the reality that they came home.
It is a blessing that is sweeter than chocolate.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:8