International Arrivals

By judy b.

The Girl From Ipanema, its samba beat neutered by violins, fails to sedate her. She can't hear it. Nor does she hear the acid female voice command Mr. Park to pick up the white courtesy phone. Santa Claus could be meeting Pokémon at the baggage claim, and she will never know. But in that brief blank space between where the announcement ends and the song resumes, all Lorna's senses register the swoosh of cold, stale air when the frosted glass doors slide apart.

The baby in Cynthia's arms looks nothing like the picture: she's paler than Lorna expected, a little peaked—is that one of the things she's not supposed to say, one of the things she is supposed to think about before saying out loud? Is it one of those things that even though she means it in a caring way, makes her sound insensitive? At some point Lorna went from being out of touch to being wrong.

It happened around the time when Cynthia changed her name to Cinthya and went off to the other side of the world to find herself—and then got herself a little child. That's how Cynthia—Cinthya—had said it: "Mother, I got myself a little child." To which Lorna had replied, "What do you mean?" And Cinthya had said, "I mean what I just said. Why are you always trying to deconstruct and complicate what I say?"

It was one of those traps, a question that was meant to shut her up but also begged her to speak—but to say only exactly the right thing. In 23 years Lorna hadn't figured out what that was, so she just said the first thing she thought: "What kind of little child?" The sigh that came through the phone was cold and sharp. Lorna pursed her lips and blinked. Waited. Expected but didn't batten down against the gale force of Cinthya's words.

"Mother." Just that one word, a firm declaration, in a tone that implied she was a bad one. "You wonder why I moved so fucking far away."

The curse word made Lorna wince. And it gave her inspiration and courage to speak. "Now, I don't see the need for cursing. I'm just wondering. You tell me you have a child, you 'got a child,' and I wonder what that means. Did you 'get' the child before you went over there, or after? And by the way, what kind of way to talk is that, 'get a child'? You know, I can't expect you to tell me anything if I don't ask. I never heard about any husband or boyfriend, and now there's a child. I just want to know what kind of child: a boy or a girl? An infant? A teenager? Does the child look like you? Now, don't get defensive. When we adopted you, people asked me these questions, and I didn't take offense. People just want to know, that's all. Because they care." And she kept silent, resolved to say nothing more, no matter what.

Cinthya spoke slowly. She plodded through her words with a certain resignation. "She's just a child, Mother, a baby. It doesn't matter where she came from or what she looks like. She needs me and I need her and we are together. I love her. I love her dearly." There was another silence, another sigh; this time the slow breeze that escapes when shoulders drop into gravity's pull. "It's time for us to come home. I want to come home."

Over the next two months the two mothers spoke more than they had in two years. The elder lectured on nutrition, lactation, and exhaustion; and the younger held forth on people of color and communities of color, the importance of sensitivity, and the inevitability of racism. They both tried hard to think before they spoke.

But still she's nervous and worried and—whoosh—there they are, and Cinthya looks just as anxious, but she keeps walking this way, and mother and child are in grandmother's arms, and the music continues, but no one hears, because they are all thinking things they are unable to say.