I stroked the dark, velvety cheek of my little girl. “Tu es une jolie bébé,” I whispered in her tiny crumpled ear. Soon silver studs would make her look more feminine.
Little Elisabeth relaxed from the breast and puckered her pink lips. Her eyelids flickered a bit before closing in sleep. I loved her curly eyelashes. I brushed my fingers over her fuzzy head that would someday be plaited into dozens of tiny braids. I put my finger in her palm, and she clutched it with her delicate fingers. Her fingernails looked like pearls.
I gave Elisabeth a kiss on her forehead and wrapped the white flannel around her shoulders. I tiptoed from the room and walked downstairs. The air was thick with humidity. I fanned my neck with a piece of cardboard torn from an empty box. Easing myself onto the front steps, I watched the neighbor children chasing each other through the cluttered street. I was one of them only a couple years ago, not a care in the world. Now I am a woman, caring for a child of my own.
I leaned my head back against the post. A ruckus of birds caught my attention. Some palmchats lifted from the trees—squawking and flocking. They seemed restless, circling and settling—only to fly off again. At least they could fly away. I felt trapped. Being a mother sure changed my life. I missed fluttering around with my friends.
Natalie, next door, waved. I nodded my head. Elisabeth would probably sleep for two or three hours. If we sat outside, I would be sure to hear her. I skipped up the steps for one more peek. She lay sprawled in the middle of the bed, her little fist in her mouth. I looked out the window to Natalie’s porch. I wouldn’t be very far away.
As I reached the bottom step, my foot slipped, and I grabbed the banister. A roaring, growling sound rumbled down the street. The floor lifted and dropped. An earthquake! I turned to go back up the stairs, but the walls and ceiling crumbled and cracked before my eyes. I ran for my life.
Outside, people screamed, dogs barked, buildings crashed. As I saw the roof of my house collapsed, I cried out, “Ma bébé! Ma bébé!” The ground heaved beneath me. I fell to my belly and lay sobbing—my tears mixing with the white dust. “Ma bébé!”
I don’t know how long I lay there. It didn’t matter. My baby was gone.
We crowded into rows of tents. There was little water and less food. The air stank. I felt sick. I curled my body against the world. My father brought fish and begged me to eat. I heard him praying to God for me and for my baby. “Pépère, my baby is dead.”
“Michelene, maybe it is; maybe not. God knows, and I will keep praying until I know.”
Days were spent searching and burying bodies. Nights were filled with sounds of wailing and mourning. A week passed by. I did not care. I did not think God cared either. Why should I pray to a God that let so many people die?
On the eighth day, my tent door flapped open. “Elisabeth is found! She is alive!”
I did not believe my father.
“Come! Come!” He tugged my arm. “You must come!”
I stumbled along after him as he pulled me toward the medic tent. People cheered and clapped as we passed by. I heard, “Grâce de Dieu! Grâce de Dieu!” Many followed along. I still did not believe. How could a newborn baby live a week, trapped beneath a fallen roof? A bundle of sheets was laid in my arms. It was my little Elisabeth. Tears flowed from my cheeks to hers. “Ma bébé, ma bébé,” I whispered.
“It is a gift from God!” My father praised God for answered prayer. “Everybody knew the baby was dead, except the Lord.”
"Tu es une jolie bébé." - "You are a pretty baby."
(Elizabeth Joassaint, a 15-day-old newborn, survived for a week beneath the rubble of her home in the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, in Haiti.)
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