It was the stench that first drew Annalisa. The eleven-year-old American lost a piece of her childhood on that foreign jungle trial, staring at the decayed body of an infant. The horror she felt in that moment stayed with her all her life.
Her mother pulled her away and hugged her tight, but comfort was not to be found. There is no easy way to explain to a child that babies can be left for a slow death simply because they are unwanted.
The family’s safari vacation was the beginning of a vision for Annalisa. She vowed then, in her young heart, that she would fight against this practice. She would do all in her power to save these abandoned babies.
“Mba! No!” Uloma’s hands reached, still bloody from the child that had been wrenched from her. The pain of her heart drowned out the throb in her still-heaving womb. “Umu aka mü! My babies!”
Her scream dropped to a whimper as her husband stepped into the room. His voice was hardly a hiss. “What have you done? You have been cursed.” He spat on the two naked infants squalling on the dirt of the floor.
Uloma could not bare to watch as he snatched those of her own flesh. Guilt welled up in her at the feelings of love she felt toward the twins. How had evil violated her in such a way? She looked toward the god of fertility in the corner.
“Forgive me. Protect me from the Evil One.” She buried her face in her hands and rocked. “What have I done? Oh, what have I done to deserve this?”
Kwemto slunk against the wall. Even his hands pressed against his ears could not drown out his father’s drunken shouts. The child’s belly protruded, swelling painfully within his paper-thin skin. He did not dare ask for food, though it had been two days since he had eaten more than a mouthful of yams.
As though his thoughts had been heard, his father turned upon him. “What are you staring at? Do I have food? Do I have clothes for your back? Get out! Get out and do not come back!”
Kwemto ran, scrambling for the door. He pushed away his thoughts, his feelings, and concentrated on the pounding of his feet upon the packed dirt.
“Nne Liza! Ms. Lisa!” Two pairs of dark eyes gleamed at Annalisa from the crack of her door. “A woman just had twins. We followed to where they were left, just like you told us. ”
“Da alü. You have done well, girls.” Annalisa opened the door, her heart beating fast. “Soon it will be dark and we may go to them. Hurry, help me prepare.”
Time dragged as the three waited for darkness to fall. Finally they slipped out of the mission. The flashlight barely illuminated the tangled path, and every shadow seemed to be a snake tensing to strike. “Pray, girls.”
A faint cry reached Annalisa’s ears, and in a moment she was kneeling beside the twins. One of the infants’ eyes were wide with panic, yet even her scream was only a whimper. The other’s eyes were glazed over, and the child lay still. Annalisa stifled her tears as the light caught a grotesque bulge in the child’s arm. “Be careful of her arm. We will set it when we get her back to the mission.”
The path back home seemed to take even longer. Annalisa kept her ears trained to catch the sound of approaching footsteps. Just as the little procession neared their door, a muffled sound startled her. Lord, please, protect these little ones!
Yet the form the light caught was no angry soothsayer, intent on ripping the babes away. No, it was a boy not much more than a babe himself, crouched against the wall. His grimy hands covered his mouth in an attempt to stop his sobs.
Annalisa smiled gently. “Are you hungry? Come in and have some ofe. Don’t be afraid.”
She led them into the safety of the mission--this threesome that had become six. As she lifted the weaker twin to her heart, pulling her close to comfort her cries, she knew her vow had been realized. The ever-present memory of that first dead baby faded and became a vision of the future. A vision of a house, filled with plump children, singing the praises of a God who wants the unwanted.
Author’s Note: Though this story is fiction, the abandonment of unwanted children and babies, especially twins (who are viewed as cursed), is very much a reality. May we lift in prayer those like Annalisa, who have been called to reach out to “the least of these”.
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