the boy in the box

She gave birth to him without insurance, without prenatal care, without knowing much about anything. She labored alone, birthed alone, and held her baby alone.

The next day she was asked to leave. The birth was normal, they told her. It's time to go. You do have somewhere to go, right? (the answer to this question needs to be yes) and so she left. Alone, she left the hospital and waited at the bus station. Her clothes and the blankets from the hospital wrapped around the baby.

The bus came and she got on. There is a bus that rides all night long, it's infamous; a mobile shelter of sorts. She rode, and as she rode she got to know her son. She gave him a very big name, four different names with many syllables, so many perhaps, to cloak himself with. His name is very exotic, it's fit for a king. Her son and his very big name.

After two days of riding the bus she got off. Hungry and tired, unsure. A mother. Somehow she was directed to us, somehow she wandered in. Head down, voice low, she mumbled. A mumbler, I thought. Mumbling isn't good.

At her feet was a box, a box one might think is full of clothes, of a few belongings. As she waited at the counter the box made a noise. A noise making box, I thought. This also isn't good.

She reached down and lifted up the boy with many names. A baby is in that box, I thought. This is really, really not so good.

I am so tired of riding the bus, she said. I can't do it anymore. And nor should you. You must be hungry, let's get you something to eat.

She pushes up her sleeve when she sits down, medical bracelet still on her wrist. I notice then there is one on her son, it's still there too. May I hold your baby so you can eat? Only if I sit right there, and sitting right there is fine with me.

He is beautiful. A head full of hair, snuggled in sleep. He sighs and jerks. You must be exhausted, I say. She's yet to look me in the eye.

As luck would have it, we have room for them. After dinner she settles in, other moms swarm around her, advice brimming, useful and not. She sits quietly, head lowered. I imagine her wishing she could disappear. She holds her son to her chest.

In the morning she takes her baby to the makeshift clinic onsite. The nurse says he's fine, and makes sure she knows how to feed him. It's not often she gets to show someone how to do that, and she's kind with the woman, so kind. She finds a can of formula, just in case you need a break or he's still hungry after you feed him, she says. She also arranges to see them again tomorrow, and somehow that made things feel a bit better, at least for me. Please, I say. I know, the nurse says. I'll do all I can to help.

I met her three years ago this month, this woman and the boy in the box with four very big names. After six months we lost track of them, but I hope those six months mattered. She lived in the shelter, and she learned how to be a mom, perhaps not in that order, but together all the same. This boy and his mom, in a different sort of box, a kind not so easily disposed of. I remember this night like it was yesterday.

I can't help but think about how M was born six months after he was, and how they are so close in age and yet so far apart. I wonder how we can make that gap smaller, and not just for this boy in a box with four very big names.