I was walking Roxy along the cobblestone sidewalk in Kendall Square during a much-needed late lunch break when the inevitable happened. I adopted a child. My friend Ann, a long-ago graduate of MIT’s Linguistics Department, had been on my mind, and the all-American curly-haired blond teen who approached me reminded me of her son, Galen. Despite Roxy’s insistent pulling at the other end of the leash (she was just feet from an overflowing trash container), I made eye contact with the young man. He began his well-practiced spiel, quickly acknowledging that I was obviously a person who cares about the thousands of children who die of starvation each day, shrugging his shoulders every once in a while for emphasis, as if to say, “No brainer, right?”
My sponsored child, courtesy of ChildFund International, inspired by Maya Angelou (it said so on the card) would be a young female named Rajani. Rajani lives in India. She has dark, almost black, eyes and hair, a choppy boy’s haircut bearing a strange resemblance to my childhood pixie cut, and the barest hint of a smile. Purple ruffles were superimposed below her neck in the photo, presumably to underscore that she is indeed female. I looked over at Roxy’s pleading stare, a Cocker Spaniel trait, and thought about how Laura and I have a deal that we will never spend money over the phone, by mail, etc.,(although we never specifically discussed on the street) from a solicitor without checking in with one another. This is not a trust issue – it is an issue of two women with big hearts and long fingers reaching down deep into their well-worn wallets.
Finally convinced this was legitimate, I gave my bankcard information to the young man and walked away with Rajani’s paperwork, reminding myself that I didn’t have to adopt her completely. Even if I didn’t continue paying thirty-three dollars per month, the money I had just donated would go toward something she needed. Laura would surely forgive thirty-three dollars for a young girl in need.
I crossed the street toward the MIT Coop, eyeing a shady spot on the grassy mound in the center of the Wednesday Farmer’s Market, and felt again some strong resistance from Roxy. I turned to see her short stub wagging as she sniffed a small white Shih Tzu with dirty paws and a face in need of a warm, wet cleaning. She has not always been good with smaller dogs, but has mellowed in her old age. “His name is Prince,” the girl holding the Shih Tzu’s leash said, speaking and moving with slow deliberation. The dog’s tousled hair was standing up in the center of his head, and he resembled the young woman, who had a thick cluster of braids standing straight up in the center of her head, flaring outward like perfectly cooked asparagus at the edges of the wide band that held it all. I commented that her hair matched her dog’s, and she seemed pleased at the concept, as if she had never before considered the resemblance. Roxy has gently curling hair on her ears that resembles Laura’s hair on a good day, though her brownish-gold hair coloring and brown eyes are like mine. Yes, there is often a resemblance between pets and their owners.
Roxy and I found a cool spot under the trees, and I put the ChildFund booklet under me to protect my white pants on the grass. It’s been a long time since I played in the grass, but I assumed it still stains white clothing. I took a deep breath to settle myself as Roxy sniffed the grass where someone had no doubt once upon a time dropped food. Then I heard a familiar voice and turned around to see the Shih Tzu and the young woman. She wore dark jeans and made the bold decision to sit directly on the grass.
“I know your dog’s name, but what’s yours?” I finally asked, figuring she must want to talk, since she was staring at Roxy and me. “Kanji” she said, and I’m sure I’m spelling it wrong, but that’s what it sounded like phonetically. “I’m Nigerian and African-American,” she said.
I remembered my goal when I was in my mid-thirties to plan a trip somewhere out of my comfort zone, somewhere breathtaking. After spending many nights with a large globe in my lap, I finally admitted my outrageous dream – to go to Africa on an animal safari. I ended up planning a two-week trip a few years later to Tanzania with my friend Cindy, who had spent time in western Africa with the Peace Corps. I told some of the story to Kanji. “It took a lot of my savings, but it was a highlight of my life,” I said, realizing it had been almost twenty-five years since I took that trip.
“I would like to go to Nigeria one day. My brother wants us to go and visit there,” she said. She had striking features, and a gentle, soft way about her.
“Why not practice saying, ‘I will go to Nigeria one day,’” I suggested.
A smile gradually stretched across her face as she looked to the side and pondered the concept. “I will go to Nigeria one day,” she said, looking back at me with bright eyes.
“Are you a student in the area?” I asked.
“No, I’m not a student. In fact, I’m unemployed.”
“What kind of job are you looking for?”
“I don’t know, but I made a first step and talked with someone who can help place me. I’m waiting to hear,” she said. And after a pause, “I actually love writing. I want to be a writer.”
“I can help you with that if you’re interested,” I said, and I gave her my card. “It helps to read the writings of others. I suggest that you read something of mine, or anything someone else has written, and tell me how the story makes you think about something in your own life, and we can start a correspondence. I tutored many people your age when I was working on my graduate degree.” I didn’t tell her that I quit before finishing my master’s in psych counseling when the focus shifted to kids. I would have wanted to take them all home. Not just the kids, but all of the troubled people who would confide in me. I would be too sensitive for that work.
We chatted a little more, and then it was time for Roxy and me to get back to MIT. “Thank you” she said, taking my hand and shaking it firmly, smiling again.
They say things happen in threes. I felt today that I had three adoptees – Rajani, Ganji, and our beautiful Roxy, whom we met thirteen years ago at just over a year old. We had gone to the vet to have our two cats checked out, with no plan to adopt a dog. But then we saw her immense brown eyes peering back at us through a matt of dirty brown hair, waiting to be seen by two big-hearted women.
I was sure that Laura would forgive my accidental adoption, and maybe we would even do it for an entire year. No brainer, right?