Confusion. There was no sound coming from the telephone receiver I was holding to my ear except for a tiny bit of static. Something had just been said though. And it was something big. So big that it drove all other thoughts out of my head – there was only room for this one thing. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand it.
“Hello? Hello? Are you still there?”
A second thought emerged amid the confusion: If I don’t say something now, he is going to hang up! So, in desperation, I sputtered out the first thing that came into my head.
“Does she . . . have a name?”
There was another brief silence on the other end. Then I heard “I forgot to ask. I will hang up now and call the orphanage. You call me back in ten minutes.” And he was gone.
I hung up the phone. I stared at the clock on the phone display, trying to figure out what time it would be ten minutes from now. The solution eluded me.
I went to find my husband, who had not gone golfing, but had put himself out of earshot of the telephone call. I told him about the conversation and noticed as I did so that it was starting to become comprehensible to me, if not exactly real yet. We went back to the telephone together and started the dialing process again, which reverted to being the usual frustrating experience. On attempt number 12 or 13, we finally heard a ringing sound on the other end. Mr T. picked up.
He launched immediately into another torrent of words. Her name was “Maria” – but the way he pronounced it sounded more like “Marya” – and she was three weeks old, not three months. There were four other families who wanted her, but we got her (and he seemed quite proud of that fact.) He said he was trying to get us an early court date now. When I asked about the timing – when that date might be and when we could reasonably expect to come get her, he said something about “two weeks.” We arranged a day and time for our next phone call.
Two weeks?!? Had he really just implied that we could fly to Addis Ababa two weeks from now?
Our information so far had been that two court dates were necessary. In the first the adoption is initially approved. Then an announcement including a picture of the child is published for 30 days during which people can come forward and claim the child as a relative. If no one does, the adoption is finalized in a second court session. Mr. T. had mentioned something about the adoption getting approval – so was he talking about the second court date already? It seemed impossible except for the fact that nothing about our adoption so far had followed the usual procedures. We had a representative, Mrs. Herewego, from whom we hadn’t heard a peep, and this official at the Social Ministry, who seemed to have taken a personal interest in our case. We supposed it could be possible . . .
(Must stay theoretical. “Marya”. Three weeks old. Must stay theoretical . . . )
We called our contacts in Addis Ababa to tell them the news and ask them to visit Maria in the orphanage – maybe send us a picture – but otherwise made an agreement not to inform the family until we were more certain this was all really happening. Five minutes later, I broke that pact and called my mom. She was so excited, but tried, like me to hold back a while yet. We talked for ages. I finally forced myself to hang up and go to bed – I had to bring my beloved dog to the vet the next day for her operation, and there was a crew of 10 men coming to work on insulating and plastering the house the following two days. They had to be supplied with meals and drinks and be cleaned up after. Multiple trips to the store for materials were also part of the routine.
(What is it like for her in the orphanage? Is she being well taken care of? Does someone pick her up when she cries?)
There comes a point when the brain overloads and I was well beyond that point. I couldn’t feel my life anymore. Everything was intangible. Luckily I was mostly too busy and distracted to notice. A phone call from one of our contacts in Addis – the Viennese man who was down there finalizing his family’s adoption – set my mind off on a new rampage of questions. He had seen Maria and described her as “tiny” and “always sleeping”. He promised to send a picture as soon as he caught her awake. At that moment she began to become real.
(She is all alone. When can I come and get her?)
My dog survived the operation, but she was in bad shape and the prognosis was iffy at best. The tumor had been huge. I did my best not to annoy her too much with my attention and to shield her from all the workers stomping through the house. On Day Two, once all the men had left and my dog was asleep, I went to my computer and checked my email.
There it was – a message from the woman in the embassy in Addis with a picture attached to it. It took me a minute to work up the nerve, but I finally opened the attachment, took a quick peak, and immediately closed it again. I paced around the house aimlessly and nervously. A half hour or so later, I took a second peak and, again, closed it after only a few seconds. It was dark and fuzzy, but this time I took in just a little more. When my husband came home an hour later, we went straight to the computer and I finally had a long look. I held my hand up to the screen, placing my fingers over the adult ones in the picture – they were life-sized. I realized how very tiny this baby must be.
This was Maria. She was real. She was beautiful. Who would be there when she woke up? When could I come and get her?
I spent the entire next day on the couch, sleeping, throwing up, and crying.