Seoyoung L., 12th - Millburn, NJ
Emma held the baby closer to her heart as the winds grew stronger and raindrops intruded through the unstable umbrella. She wrapped her flimsy coat around Mia tightly, willing to transmit any heat she could spare. Or maybe she was just doing it to huddle closer to a source of warmth; Emma had always been a selfish girl.
During her thirty-minute trip to this alleyway, Emma had encountered so many people in the bus and on the streets. If she had been herself a year ago, dressed in a neat school uniform and giggling with her group of friends, she would’ve not even noticed the people sitting around her. They would not notice her. But with this thing inside her arms, people’s indifference glimpses transformed into disapproving and pitying glances.
“Look there mama, a baby,” a little girl sitting across from Emma pointed.
Emma instinctively tugged Mia closer into her breast and lowered her head, wanting to disappear into the scratchy fabric of the seats.
“Look away,” the mother tugged down the little girl’s arm and whispered, “That’s what happens when you stop studying and start hanging out with boys.”
The bus had reached her stop. Emma’s thin legs wobbled under the weight of her baby and the weight of the chilly air cinching around her skin. She struggled to balance a tottering umbrella on the crook of her neck and embrace Mia protectively at the same time.
“Do you want me to hold your baby for you?” A man had asked when he noticed her struggling to lift her umbrella.
Instinctively, Emma had paled and backed away from the generous offer, shaking her head violently and strengthening the grip on the warm body.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the man seemed to be offended as he walked away, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
But it wasn’t the man that scared Emma. It was herself. She was afraid that if the man touched the baby, he would know what Emma was thinking-- going to an alleyway, dropping her sleeping baby inside a plastic box, and closing the lid. He would be disgusted at her. But the words of the man, short and sweet, had ignited a transient warmth inside her stomach. That was the second match lit. But when the man walked away, it created a gust of wind that blew out the warmth in an instant.
Emma stared at the man’s back, remembering when the first match was lit. She was with Harry. Harry’s eyes were the waters of the lake, and his voice was the steady splashes of water calling out into a peaceful night. When she was with him, she felt serene like she was on a calm rowboat, relishing his voice, flesh, and bones encircling her form. When he made love to her, she felt like she could trust him; she could sit back, close her eyes, and let his waves carry her to a beautiful place.
“I’m pregnant,” Emma whispered.
Harry’s eyes were shadowed as if a whale intruded into his pristine lake. But he soon recovered. He let Emma fall into his strong arms and smiled calmly. His warm palms rubbed her stomach, and he began to whisper the familiar steady splashes again. He put her in his rowboat.
“We’ll get through this together,” he said, lighting the first match inside Emma.
When Emma went to school the next day, Harry’s family had moved away.
The red bricks of the building were fading into a color of brownish mud. Old help wanted posters, torn from the rain, clung onto the walls with glue and gum. To Emma’s relief, nobody was there, except for some ugly potted plants and a delivery truck parked in front of the building. Emma hurried into the alleyway and to the sign, The Baby Box. The plastic box was placed inside the wall with two hatch doors that could be opened from the inside and the outside.
Emma carefully took out Mia from her arms and kissed the warm cheek. The girl stirred, clenching her eyes in distress. For months Mia and she shared the same life and the same breath. She was what kept Emma alive like a piece of her heart or her lungs. Emma slid open the small door and pushed the small creature inside.
“I’m so selfish...I’m so selfish…”
The muscles of her face started to tremble and a stinging sensation shot up her nose. Emma could almost imagine herself on a rowboat with Harry and her girl, riding the mild waves of the lake. But absentminded sailors do not prepare well for the tumultuous storm. And when the turbulence smashed the boat, Harry abandoned them to drown. And now, she was doing the same to Mia.
Emma closed the door shut, and a loud bell rang from the inside of the building. Ding! Frightened, she dropped her umbrella onto the cement floor and started to run out the alleyway. Sweet raindrops swam down her face mixed with sweat and tears. Rivulets streaked down her body and dirtied her shirt and soaked her shoes.
When Emma heard the voice from the building, she turned around. A middle-aged woman had swung open the door, hair disheveled and face bloated. She was bent down over a small baby, feeding it a bottle of infant formula. Another baby was strapped to her back with an intricately-tied piece of clothing that had old coffee stains. She looked silly, trying to rock one baby and feed another.
“Miss, what’s her name?”
“I...I…” Emma wanted to flee the scene, “I...I don’t know. She’s not...she’s not mine anymore.”
“What’s her name?” The woman’s voice grew softer, as if she was calming a crying child. A young, distressed child. The young girl peered into the woman’s eyes. A small flickering light was ignited inside Emma’s chest and started to grow. It blazed wilder and hotter until her whole body was engulfed with flames, and she couldn’t notice the chilly wind.
The final match was lit.
The baby box (or the baby hatch in the U.S) is where a struggling parent can place their baby to be taken care of. Parents don’t go there to abandon their babies, they go to save them.
Students 6th-12th Grades