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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Write in the ADVENTURE genre (05/24/07)

TITLE: Mirror of My Heart
By Amy Michelle Wiley


Calm. Professional. Detached. Solomon Santiago was a newspaper reporter and photographer. That’s all. He went. He clicked the camera, reported the facts. He left.

As Solomon stepped into the Vietnamese orphanage, he gazed across the room, looking only for the best lighting and camera angles. He stepped against the wall and took a long shot, capturing the striped shadows that fell upon the yellow-stained sheets filling twenty cribs stretched from wall to wall. Only a few of the beds were occupied.

“Where are the kids?” Solomon stepped in front of a nurse.

“They’re outside.” She thrust past him, throwing over her shoulder, “we need help--not pictures!”

He found a door to the courtyard. Even outdoors the air was laden with the sent of feces and urine. One by one, dark eyes spotted him through the wooden slats of the playpen crates. The constant wailing grew in intensity and dozens of matchstick arms reached out, futilely hoping for comfort, attention, human touch.

Solomon’s lens immortalized the longing eyes, the tear that slipped down a toddler’s cheek, the naked bottoms sitting on dirty slats.

He was in the middle of his third roll of film when a voice paused him.

“Mr. Santiago?” A woman stood before him, her Australian accent tinged with urgency. “I am Rosemary Taylor. Do you have any connections here? We need another flight out. The government has issued evacuation notices to all of the foreigners. Saigon will fall any day now and it will be impossible to leave.”

Solomon raised his hands. “Look lady, I’m just here to report. I can’t help you. But maybe you can answer me something.” He jerked toward the boxes behind them. “What’s with the cages? With trays to catch their waste like they’re gerbils?”

“Mr. Santiago, there are over two hundred babies and only six workers. Trust me: not a day goes by that my heart doesn’t break for them. We do the best we can with what we have.” Her eyes flashed. “That’s why it’s so important to get them out of here! They have wonderful families waiting for them in America and Australia. They must be evacuated immediately.”

He shrugged. “I’ll call my boss. That’s all I can do.” He turned his back and finished the roll of film, moving toward one child who stood in the corner of the courtyard. She was old enough to be free of the pens, apparently, but the freedom didn’t seem to touch her.

He stooped down to her, pulling out his notebook. “Do you speak English?” Her eyes didn’t so much as flicker. Only when Solomon touched her arm did she react, jerking and turning her face away.

He lay in his hotel bed that night, with the sounds of protests and panic rising from the streets. That tiny girl’s face, stone hard and expressionless, tugged at Solomon, seeming somehow familiar, despite the almond-shaped eyes and straight dark hair. She was so different from the children at home, solemn and beautiful, yet somehow the same.

The same as children everywhere who waited love. Who, perhaps, had waited too long for that which never came, until the waiting itself was abandoned.

Solomon fell into a restless sleep, his dreams mixed with fragments of memories from long ago.

“A small cargo plane will evacuate you if you come now.” Solomon didn’t react as Rosemary burst into tears at his words. “Everything’s packed and ready, right?”

“Yes.” Her answer was simple. “I knew God would provide.”

By the time the cumbersome plane lifted from the ground, Solomon could hardly move. Toddlers were strapped along the few seats. The babies and remaining children covered the floors, cardboard boxes serving as temporary cribs.

“Her name is Tâm.”

Solomon started and looked toward Rosemary. She smiled. “I noticed you’ve been watching her. Her name means heart.”

He turned back to the girl. Her unmoving eyes were fixated on a crack of light dancing on the wall. “Fitting name.”

“She has an attachment disorder. She never got the attention she needed as an infant. Tâm will have to go to a very special home.” The woman’s eyes were full. “She may never learn to bond.”

“I know the feeling.” Solomon smirked a little, and turned back to Tâm. “A special home,” he repeated, “with someone who understands.”

And for the first time, Tâm looked up. For a brief moment their eyes met, and looking back at him, Solomon saw a mirror. A mirror of his heart.

Immediately before North Vietnam overthrew South Vietnam in 1975, the government okayed an emergency evacuation of a large number of orphans. Operation Babylift resulted in around 3,300 babies and toddlers finding adoptive families in America, Canada, Europe, and Australia. The resources for this story were found at http://www.adoptvietnam.org/adoption/babylift-index.htm. While Solomon and Tâm are completely fictional, Rosemary Taylor’s true story can be read at the above website.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Pat Guy 05/31/07
Boy! I was with him all the way! It did read like a scene from a movie! And I remember this time. Wow - this was great.

And sad.
Kate Grey05/31/07
Great story, and good development of your MC. My favorite line was: "waited too long for that which never came, until the waiting itself was abandoned." And the one about the mirror of the journalist's eyes. :)
Mo 05/31/07
Dee Yoder 05/31/07
Very Professional. Good flow.
Pam Carlson-Hetland06/02/07
The title drew me in. The story is sadly fascinating. The MC was developed well. But it was the ending that brought tears to my eyes. I had a neighbor once with an adopted child from Romania with an attachment disorder. Indeed, it takes a special home to handle that. So very well written. Masterful work of writing.
Shari Armstrong 06/02/07
Wonderful and heart breaking. One little thing I noticed -sent/scent. But, you pulled me right in :)
Venice Kichura06/03/07
Well done adventure entry on a subject that tugs at the heartstrings.
Sara Harricharan 06/04/07
This gave me goosebumps. I liked the short, clipped sentences that really showed the character inside. The last few lines were especially poignant. Very beautiful...and well written. ^_^
valerie chambers06/04/07
WELL DONE kept my attention the whole time.
Jacquelyn Horne06/04/07
Good accounting of a serious situation.
Joanne Sher 06/06/07
This is amazing. You did an absolutely masterful job of portraying the reporter's gradually changing heart. This tugged at my heartstrings like no other entry I've read yet this week.
Jan Ackerson 06/06/07
Excellent writing all the way through, and the ending is spectacular.
Kristen Hester06/06/07
This is a very touching story. I was moved by your words. Thank you.
Beth Muehlhausen06/07/07
Wow Amy...you sure had me in the palm of your hand from beginning to end. The images are effective but also the character studies are so true-to-life!

This tore at my heart and made me think twice about my lack of personal involvement with missions that target underprivileged kids. I ache for those little ones suffering with the attachment disorder you mention here....how tragic.
David Butler07/10/07
Powerful and very moving.
How can you report something of that nature and remain detached?
It stirs us into wanting to do something for the war orphans.