Somewhere along their path of benevolent deeds, Lex and Renee picked up Clara and her two children, Makenlove and Christlove. I cannot imagine what possessed the single mother to tack ‘love’ on the end of her children’s names, but it adds a dash of romance to what could have been a tragic tale.
The three of them came to live at MoHI, residing right in the middle of the compound. Clara cleaned and cooked for large groups while the boys learned how to work the blan to win sweets, trinkets, and affection. After the earthquake other children lived at MoHI, but eventually moved on to established orphanages, leaving Makenlove and Christlove as the resident objects of missionary affection. Last month, Be Like Brit built Clara a house of her own and moved her halfway up the hill between MoHI and the orphanage, but there is little action on the quiet hillside, so the boys can usually be found hanging around one of the construction sites.
Makenlove is six now, thin and bright skinned with perfect teeth and a ready smile. Of all the children Len Gengal likes to fawn over, Makenlove gets prime attention, including a gorgeous portrait of the boy on the cover of a book that promotes BLB titled, A Lot Like Me.
As someone drawn to the quirky and less obvious, I am in the thrall of Christlove, whose charms are more obtuse than his older brother’s. Christlove is Matt Damon to Makenlove’s Ben Affleck, a leading man in his own right though hardly a matinee idol. Christlove is three, stout for a Haitian, with a large head and a solemn expression. He seems wise beyond his years, like the stone heads on Easter Island. Not because of what he says or does, but because of the gravity of his presence.
Christlove does not talk. He hums about and mumbles a bit, but I have never heard an actual word emanate from the sage youth. He is just tall enough to stretch up and open the shanty door, slip through, and close once inside he always pauses and presses the door tight behind him. He is a careful child. He toddles over to the work table and shuffles the chair on castors until he gets it where he likes. Then he stands next to it until I reach down, pull him up, and tuck him to the table. Once settled he motions towards a pad of paper and a pen. I supply him. He flips to an empty sheet and begins to draw. Christlove draws tiny ovals, dozens of them in a pattern all over the page. Sometimes he will draw B’s and to me, his labored breath sounds like ‘Be Like Brit’. But I could be mistaken. BLB mania has captivated Grand Goave; here the letter B floats on the breeze.
Christlove’s breathing is labored because the child has a permanent runny nose. A mass of shiny goop occupies the space between his nose and upper lip. If you wipe it away, it reappears instantly, if you let it be, it gathers force until it either drips away or gets swallowed by his tender mouth. Maybe it is due to allergies or a chink in his sturdy constitution. He’s had sporadic medical attention, not enough to determine the cause of his over productive nose but enough to determine he has HIV, a diagnosis that is hard to get the treatment he deserves as a poor three year old Haitian.
Christlove may not speak but his lungs are first rate. He has an ornery streak, and when he doesn’t get his way he screams almighty hell. Yesterday he was in the office silently punching buttons on a calculator. Makenlove stopped by and started playing with one too. Then Job, their cousin, joined the accountant team. Three boys, three calculators, perfect harmony. Until Christlove decided he wanted two, took his older brother’s, upset the equilibrium and wailed without end when Makenlove reclaimed that was his. Order evaporated until I kicked them all outside. “Tout deyo.” Makenlove and Job scampered down the hill but Christlove took his sweet time exiting, carefully putting the sandals back on his feet and then standing outside the door of the shanty, his stocky body pressed against the glass, channeling his best Dustin Hoffman from the closing scene of The Graduate, screaming against perceived injustice.
His cries finally gave out (my own children can attest that no scream has ever bent my resolve). Later I headed down the hill to work at MoHI. He followed me. I slowed down. He caught up with me. We walked, silent, two misfits in this strange land. He slipped on a rock and landed on his bum. He cried out. I reached down and helped him up. He tottered a few more steps and fell again. I gathered him up and held him tight to my chest until his weight relaxed into me. After a few moments I set him on a pile of rocks outside his mother’s house and walked down the hill. He screamed, but I kept on. He is a survivor I thought, he will calm himself. And sure enough, an hour later he showed up a MoHI, standing silent and wide eyes before Renee until he snagged a snack.
Christlove pens circles