Maria could hear her mom calling her name from far away. Quiet and muffled, her voice became increasingly louder and more insistent until her voice pierced the darkness of Maria’s sleep. It was the middle of the night and Maria’s five-year-old mind could not make sense of the commotion.
Scooped into her father’s arms, her mother following closely behind, they slipped into the darkness. The town was eerily quiet. No distant rumble of tanks or the shudder of buildings as bombs exploded. The soldier’s shouts and the scream of sirens were silent. The silence brought with it a sense of foreboding that spurred Maria’s parents to push on past buildings to the edge of town.
As they reached the boundary the stillness was shattered by shouts and screams followed with the staccato of machine gun fire. Bombs dropping in the distance lit up the night sky to reveal other families leaving.
All of the families banded together and fled, travelling until dawn. Exhausted they found a place to hide where they could sleep and eat before continuing on their journey. Soon, patrols would be out looking for them. Shoot to kill, take no prisoners. The time limit to renounce their faith had passed and now they must flee.
The more distance they put between them and their town the more their terror subsided. Despair replaced fear as they trudged hundreds of miles in the hot sun with little food and water. Their only hope was to reach the land of the free. There they would find peace and a new life.
After months of steely determination they finally reached the border. They could hardly believe what they were seeing. They made it to the promised land. Their hearts were filled with joy. Their joy was soon replaced with fear as the border guards approached the caravan. The border guards, similar in uniform and demeanor to the soldiers back home, were intimidating.
The guards with guns in hand, ushered everyone into a large gated compound. The caravan waited in fear as they wondered what would happen next. Maria slept in her mother’s arms as they sat in the dirt under a hot sun. The crowd began to murmur as they awaited their fate. One guard stepped forward and started shouting orders. The refugees became more agitated as the guards spread out and began to separate the men, women, and children. Maria looked up at her mother for reassurance.
Women screamed for their children as they were ripped from their arms. The men shouted in anger, knowing that they were helpless to do anything. Maria started to cry. With tears in her eyes, her mother told Maria that they would be apart for a little while and then they would be together again. The watery smile on her mother’s lips did little to comfort her.
Maria’s mother kissed her gently and then took her tiny hands and planted a kiss on each palm. Whenever you feel alone place your hand on your cheek and know that I love you. And when you look up at the night sky and see the stars twinkling know that I see the same stars and I am with you.
It was in the loving embrace of her mother’s arms that a guard came and dragged Maria from her mother. Maria screamed as a guard held her mother. Mother and child desperately stretched out their arms to each other.
All day and into the evening Maria and the other children in the caravan were inconsolable. Outside the guards were not moved by the sobs or the chorus of voices crying for their mothers. When darkness fell many children to exhausted to cry fell into a deep sleep. Maria could not sleep. She rested her head on the bars covering the window. Placing her hands on her cheeks she looked up at the starry sky and said, “Mama, I love you.”
Note: The idea behind kissing the palm of Maria’s hand comes from the book, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. I read this book to my daughter and whenever she needed a little reassurance I would kiss her palms and she would kiss mine.