When Urbain pulls up to the uneven road outside of FEPSI there is a short, silent boy behind him. The boy has the same distance behind his eyes that I've seen in all the women who have been victims of this ridiculous 'weapon of war.' I hate soldiers. The Chief of the village is on the back of the motorcycle with his arms wrapped around the boy, holding him on. The Chief gets off first, and then the boy leans forward slowly and starts to remove himself carefully from the motorcycle. It's obvious he's in pain and it takes him several moments to carefully get his leg over the seat of the bike. I walk up and nod silently to Urbain, before leading them through the welcoming gates of FEPSI.
The boy looks even younger than 20. He has tiny snails of hair sprouting out in clumps from his chin and above his lips. He doesn't smile as he walks into the courtyard and keeps his eyes on the ground in front of him. His pants are filthy with dirt that's accumulated over several days and is meshed into the jean threading, turning the blue pants a light shade of brown. I lead the trio in through the red gates I'm coming to love and immediately into the reception office. Someone swings a chair around for the boy and he sits down slowly.
Urbain talks to the nurses and the receptionist. I wait outside of the room and pretentiously shoo people away when they come to pay their bills or look for a friend. After what he's already been through, I can't imagine anything worse than having unfamiliar people standing in that room listening to his timid story. The boy's name is Christopher and pieces of what he has experienced come forward during the shuffle of reception. It's sad, but no longer unfamiliar.
-They captured him when he was working in the field. The soldiers robbed him of everything he had and then raped him.
People tell me things I have no right to hear. I have no judgment in my body, but there's no way for me to tell him that. When people start to tell me the personal details I ask them to stop. I know enough to know there's a lot to be done. I'm motivated. The rest is his. If one day, he wants to tell me himself, I'm all ears.
Urbain and I wait downstairs while Christopher is ushered upstairs to speak with Joelle. I've already greeted Joelle with the typical absurd amount of enthusiasm. He is somehow, one of the happiest people I know.
People walk by in a blur, Urbain paces out of the compound and then back in. I do the same. We're waiting for nothing, really. Christopher will spend the night here and there's not much more we can do, other than pace around and want to be helpful. I remember, happy for something to do, that Christopher has to eat.
-Does he have a guardian? I ask Urbain.
Guardian means someone who will sleep in the vicinity of a sick person and alert the doctors if something goes wrong. They also find food and cook for the person, who is normally a family member or friend.
-No, says Urbain. But Maman Marie's oldest daughter, Consolee is going to help.
-We should probably bring her here soon since it's getting dark.
Urbain agrees and leaves on the motorcycle to get her. When she arrives she is a stunning, younger, thinner version of Maman Marie. She shows up and asks about the boy, asks what she should prepare for him and asks how she'll be able to buy the food. I give her the money. She's sixteen. I extend my hand to give some paper, but this sixteen year old beauty queen is more than ready to stick around with a boy she doesn't know and make meals for him for an unknown amount of days. Again, I'm in awe. When I was sixteen I was sneaking out of the house after midnight and getting annoyed with my parents for making me sit at the dinner table until I was "excused."
Consolee leaves with Urbain who wants to give her more instructions and a message from her Mom. I sit in the busy compound by myself. After a few minutes I see Christopher leave another room. The nurse leading him is carrying clean bed sheets. Christopher has already spoken to Joelle, hopefully heard some encouraging words to redirect the negativity I'm sure is swirling around in his head. As Christopher walks by me he looks at me briefly, nods his head and smiles.
The tiny movements make me feel lighter than I have in days. I sigh as if a cow sitting on my chest just got off. It's just one boy, I did almost nothing, the people who work for COPERMA did everything. Yet, I was able to watch this young man come from a place of certain terror to a place of clean sheets, a soft bed and a group of people who don't know him but care anyway.
Urbain comes back into the compound.
-I just saw Christopher, he's getting settled in.
I can't help but smile. Urbain smirks at me.
-Consolee went to buy the ingredients to make him dinner. He'll be able to eat in about an hour and then she'll stay the night here in case he needs anything.
There is so much evil in this country and yet so much unbridled kindness. Presidents don't hold a candle to these people.
-Well, it's getting dark and we both know I need to leave. I smirk back at Urbain. I'm not sure why he or I are smirking rather than just smiling but it feels fun anyway.
He walks me outside to my bike. Suddenly Joelle is by my side. He's seen me heading towards the exit. I forgot to say good bye.
-You're leaving now?
-Yes, unless there's something you need me to do. I think he's getting settled well. Do you think he'll be okay?
-It's not the first time, Joelle says in his soft way. It's not the first time.
We both look at the ground and not each other for a moment.
-Do you think he'll be okay?
-Yeah, he says. He'll be okay.