He looked at me with wide incredulous eyes. Then the smile. Brighter than I had ever seen before. It was him just as he had ever been. His little swollen face couldn’t hide his total surprise nor could his slow and gentle movements hide his excitement. He couldn’t rush up to me or jump up and down on his bed. But I could see he was dancing behind those big brown eyes.
Mine was a fleeting visit today, not like those long summer days we spent in the hospital playroom just four months previously. We didn’t share the same language – my Romanian was ‘survival’ – but we seemed to get on just fine. I remember one word still to this day, almost eighteen years on: “galben”, which means yellow. It was his way of telling me he wanted to play with this yellow-backed domino set I had brought with me from back home to entertain the kids with.
But today was different. He was different. His prognosis was different. I gave him his Christmas present and watched him watch me. I had kept my promise of coming back soon. I wonder if he had understood me or even believed me when we said our goodbyes at the end of my two months of volunteering during university holidays.
I tried my hardest to push down the burning knot in my throat and to hold back the river of tears that were welling. I knew that the floodgates wouldn’t hold, so I quietly slipped away while the nursing staff ooohed and aaahed as his hands slowly unwrapped the colourful Christmas paper.
I wish I could remember how we said our final goodbye. But I don’t. Maybe it has faded with time. Maybe it’s my way of swallowing the sorrow.
But I do remember our new hello.
As I walked down the busy streets of Bucharest that bleak December morning, I felt a cold tickle on my nose. I looked up at the grey covered sky and saw the tiny delicate sparkle of pure white snow. Each flake totally unique and unrepeated like a fingerprint from heaven. Each shimmer a reminder of what’s truly important. And each touch the beginning of what I’m here to do.
Snow isn’t something I get to see that often where I’ve lived and travelled. So, I wear it round my neck – a single silver snowflake – handmade and one of a kind. Close to my heart it helps me remember and share the greatest of lessons that I have to give to my children, the world:
Know when you are lucky. And turn that good luck into a gift for others.
A co-written and crowd-funded book by almost 70 mothers from around the world of their messages of life meaning for their children.