On Angelina’s first trip with us, unhosted, one boy from her orphanage monopolized the conversation during our question and answer session. Finally cajoled to speak, Angelina uttered four words before the boy’s mocking silenced her. I broke rule one by bringing her on a second trip, still unhosted, because of a situation where I thought she stood a chance. During a game requiring each participant to share a personal factoid, Angelina collapsed into the couch at her turn; even gentle encouragement provoked tears. Finally hosted on her third trip, I was elated by her opening up when focused on; alas, it was not enough to earn a family. So I brought her again this June, as even unhosted, new circumstances offered her a possible family.
Arriving at the train station, Angelina rushed to give me a hug of remembrance. Day one, she mingled admirably, and seemed drawn to two hosts. Walking the second day, she attached to one mom, delighting me with the premonition that she’d found her family. My joy evaporated, though, when the mom politely asked me to lure Angelina away, as her hovering was off-putting to the child the mom really wanted. When another family echoed those sentiments, I buddied up with Angelina the rest of the trip. Grasping her stiff palm, I held her hand much more than she held mine; when I let go, she returned at once to the others, glancing accusing daggers my direction. Only with my repeated and exaggerated collecting of her hand did she resign herself to the truth that she was specifically rejected, and acquiesce to my more institutional attentions.
As we walked hand in hand, I winced at her shirt bearing a Cosmopolitan-like magazine cover photo, spewing innuendo mercifully in English, and hoped no Angloglot thought I’d dressed her. Perhaps a number of these had been donated to the orphanage, as another child wore this remarkable shirt, in a different color, on a previous trip. While she was surely oblivious to its message, the shirt felt a flashing neon announcement of her alone-ness, and I grieved her privation of anyone to guard her innocence and dignity.
During our discussion session, the chaperone Svetlana, from Angelina’s orphanage, encouraged her. Asked what she liked to do, she had no answer, so Svetlana extolled her as a “good girl” who “liked everything.” Later, in a whisper, Angelina identified her favorite colors, ice skating as a preferred sport, and English and math as best subjects, though she kept mum about her life’s dream.
The last day, I asked Svetlana privately to describe Angelina. From a dog-eared booklet she pointed to the words modest, kind, serious, just, and hardworking. Through the translator, she confided Angelina had never attended school while at home and was not a stellar student, but always tried her best. Svetlana reiterated that she was a good girl, yet without many friends after four years in the orphanage. I ached to ask if she had any at all.