Cltkty, cltkty, cltkty, Maria dropped the coins till the lights glowed 00.00 and the machine started whirring, with water trickling from the sides and foaming the soap. Engulfed in the overpowering smell from the detergents and fabric softeners, the wall mounted TVs blaring sports and news in English and Mexican, and the sight of long rows of washers and dryers, she settled on one of the metal row chairs for another three hours of waiting, waiting for the inevitable to happen.
She flashed her congenial smile at the fellow moms yelling at their kids to stay put, and averted attention from the men who milled around grandstanding their domestic efficacy. Julio prefers it that she stays nonchalant to other men. He is acutely aware that even in her mid-thirty’s and despite her freckles, she could easily seduce any strong man with her slender frame, dark brown eyes and tresses of black hair. He knew she was a keeper, precisely the reason why he had knocked her up at twenty. And here she was, washing his briefs while he went about consorting with the neighbors’ wives.
And then it happened, a man walked in holding a white trash bag by the blue drawstring, filled with bed linen. She gasped and held on to the chair’s arm for support. Resorting to any distraction, she walked to the kiosk to change a twenty dollar bill, though she had quarters enough for another three washes. The retching sensation only got stronger, how much ever she tried to avoid the sight of the trash bag. It triggered her ugliest memories, the endless days of carrying her things from one foster home to another, never to be adopted.
And since then she has been on her own, earning a modest wage and invisible at the boarding house, never letting wants come in her way. One trash bag and her life would fit in it any day, even with a husband and a teen daughter, a luxury she had earned by living life merely on the surface. She had endured a fate she wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Maria isn’t privy to statistics that raise the concern on foster kids suffering PTSD more than veterans.
She was to expect a grandson in few days, the curse of teen pregnancies unfortunately didn’t skip generations in her family.
Julio walked in with his usual insolent gait, throwing a go-f””k-yourself look at the nurses, with the social worker in tow. The pediatric recovery ward at the hospital felt stuffy, even though there weren’t many mothers and families hovering over new born babies. Maria stood near the table, holding on to the packed bags, ready to leave. Gloria sat at the bed, hugging Alejandro closer to her chest, who was already wrapped in a thick blue blanket. The doctor had mentioned that the baby’s body temperature has been stabilized and he doesn’t need his mom’s warmth anymore, he was healthy to be discharged.
“I want to keep him”, Gloria murmured, reluctant to handover the baby.
“I’ll wait at the visitors lounge, please call me once you are ready. I have another appointment at 5”, the social worker had no patience for soulless families.
A promiscuous teenager delivering a baby out of wedlock with the boyfriend nowhere at the hospital, the narcissistic father who thinks that he is doing this family a huge favor by arranging for the baby’s adoption, and a mother with those deadpan eyes who didn’t seem to have a will, the social worker hoped they’d quickly get over any plausible melodrama. Unfortunately, decades of experience finding homes for new born kids whose families weren’t prepared to have them, had hardened the social worker more than warming her up to the families opening their homes and welcoming those kids into their lives.
“Sure mam, we’ll be ready in no time”, Julio waited for the social worker to leave the ward and turned to Gloria exasperatingly, “Are you f””king kidding me? Do you even know what you are talking?”
“I want to keep him dad”, Gloria hugged the baby closer.
“That bastard ain’t gonna marry you or fend for the child. Are you even sure that he’s the dad?” Julio was at his best ghetto behavior.
“I want to keep him dad, I can’t let Alejo leave”, tears streamed down Gloria’s cheeks.
“Perra(bitch), what you doing? Watching a movie? Why don’t you tell your stupid daughter that she can’t keep this baby? We can’t keep the smart lady waiting now, can we?” Julio wasn’t having any of this nonsense.
Maria didn’t trouble herself with the exchange between her daughter and her husband. She stood still, looking at Alejandro, the bundle which look crushed in his mother’s embrace. Alejo, that’s how Gloria had called the baby. She wondered why it had never occurred to call her daughter Lori, Lola, Aria, anything more affectionate than her given name on the birth certificate.
“Perra, you’re not the one out of labor. You better get to your senses and explain to your daughter that we got to handover this baby right now” Julio grew agitated, he wasn’t one to lose a bribe of five thousand dollar bills for picking a single woman over forty five to be the mother of his grandson. He believed that the social worker wasn’t astute enough to know his schemes.
Maria didn’t flinch, as Alejo held her captive in his overtures for attention. He cooed and charmed, but all she felt was the hospital room spinning around her. It wasn’t like her emotions stirred for her grandson, which she didn’t feel for her daughter when she had first laid eyes on her. It wasn’t love, it was envy. Alejandro was an entity wanted by his mother and another stranger wanting to be his mother. It dawned upon Maria that this was what belonging meant. She felt anew and decided she’ll do right by the baby, no matter what.
“She’ll keep the baby”, Maria let go of the bags and walked to the bed where Gloria sat.
“Cállate coño(shut up c**t)”, Julio was beyond his wits’ end.
“Julio, she’s the mother of the baby and if she wants to keep him, she’ll keep him. You cannot force her to do otherwise”, Maria didn’t realize that Gloria’s gaping eyes were fixed on her, she had never heard her mom speak up to her dad.
“You both don’t have any more place in my house. You can take that nuisance for a baby and get lost”, Julio resorted to intimidation.
“That house is mine as much it’s yours. If you want us out of your lives, plan for alimony”, Maria knew well on how to call his bluff and that sure shut him up, “You will leave now to inform the social worker that we’ve decided against handing over Alejandro for adoption.”
“Will he come back again to get the baby?” Gloria couldn’t believe the turn of events.
“Will you regret this decision later?” Maria sat next to her.
“No, never”, Gloria kissed Alejandro’s forehead and hugged him even closer.
“Then, that settles it. No one could stop you from having your son for yourself.” Maria said it as if was a simple matter of fact.
“What shall we do now?” Gloria’s helplessness was palpable.
“You will resume college and go get a degree. Isn’t that what you had planned to do after handing over Alejandro?” Maria reached out for the baby.
“But things are different now”, Gloria handed him to her gently.
“I’ll take care of Alejo till the time you are ready to do so on your own”, Maria rocked him.
It wasn’t envy anymore. She’ll be his adopted mother, the kind she’d been waiting for all along in her life. She belonged to him, she thought she was a faint smile settle on his tiny lips.
She’d later go on to operate a day care center at her house to assist her daughter’s college and Alejo’s upbringing and to make up for all the lost years of love. She wasn’t living her life like floating on a glass-bottom boat anymore!