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The Butterfly Children
I held my daughter as she died. As the light in Grace’s eyes went out, the light of my world went with it. My baby had leukemia and lost the battle when she was eight years old. As a single mother, after Grace’s death, I lost myself in a dark sea of grief. But this is not a story of sadness. No, this is a story of closure, of discovery, and of hope.
* * *
One year later, I found myself on a spontaneous “vacation”; stepping out of a crowded plane into an equally crowded airport in South Asia, with nothing but a guide book, a suit case full of hastily packed clothes, and the words of my travel agent still ringing in my head, “No, Hawaii is so crowded this time of year.. Hmm, I know! You should go to India…”
It was in the country’s capital, New Delhi, that our story really begins. On the second day of my trip, as I explored the bustling streets in the unbearably hot sun, I saw the people who would change my life. Actually, they were children; but they were life changing nonetheless. These children were barefoot and wore tattered clothing. They worked on the street, selling colourful butterflies in cages to tourists and locals, saying it was good Karma to set them free. After each butterfly was released, another child hiding in the dense crowds would catch it to be sold again. How ingenious, I thought to myself.
I frequently came back to watch the children over the course of my trip. I felt that I could relate to the beautiful butterflies they sold. I would be released from one cage, or think I was starting to recover from Grace’s death, when I would see her favourite teddy bear or hear a little girl laugh and the sorrow would come flooding back, and I would be caught in another cage.
I began to wonder –and I suppose now that this was my idle motherly instincts coming back from an early retirement— where the children lived, if they had enough food to eat, and if they had parents to care for and nurture them. One evening, as the children began to pack up their cages, I walked over to them, unable to stand my curiosity much longer. A small olive skinned boy looked up at me with wide eyes as I approached. I knelt down to his level and said hello.
After a pause he said, “Good evening,” in perfect English.
I asked him what his name was, Ishaan, and how old he was, ten. I was about to ask him where he lived when a tall, thin boy walked up. He had a little girl around eight hiding behind him. The boy looked at me with his piercing brown eyes, the exact same as Ishaan’s, and asked who I was. I am not sure why, but right there on that street corner, on that warm New Delhi evening, I told the three children everything; about Grace, why I came to India, and how I wanted to know if they were taken care of.
When I was done (and in tears, I might add), the tall boy scooped up the little girl and said, “You want to see where we live? I will show you.”
I followed the children and learned that the tall boys name was Raj and he was fourteen. The little girl was Anya and she was Raj and Ishaan’s younger sister. Anya reminded me of Grace as she held Raj’s hand, absentmindedly gazing up at the orange sky; lost in her own world. Raj told me that he and his siblings were orphans because their parents were killed in a factory fire.
I asked who took care of them and Ishaan answered, “My big brother of course, who else?” He smiled admiringly up at Raj.
The children’s home was a tiny hut that looked like a strong gust of wind could knock it to the ground. As soon as we got there, Raj sent Anya and Ishaan to get water from a nearby well as he cooked the children a dinner of rice and beans.
Once the little ones were asleep, I sat with Raj outside the hut; he told me about their life before their parents died and that he used to go to school, but after the fire, he had to drop out to keep his siblings alive. I was deeply touched by the children’s struggle and how they never lost hope for a better future. I was unsure of what lay ahead for the children, but I was sure of one thing, I needed to help them.
After meeting Raj, Ishaan, and Anya, I went back to Toronto and decided to use the money I had saved for Grace’s education to help the siblings and other street kids have a bright future.
* * *
Six months later, on a warm New Delhi evening, the Butterfly Children Orphanage was officially opened. Raj, Ishaan, and Anya set their butterflies free for the last time. As all of the children and staff went inside, I watched the butterflies disappear into the sunset and noticed one last butterfly in the cage. I set the tiny creature free and watched it fly away. I saw an image of Grace in the pink and orange sky; she was free and happy. I knew it was time to let go of my baby, she was in a better place, a place without hardship. Grace faded into the sunset and I felt someone take my hand. I looked down and saw Anya looking up at me with her deep brown eyes.
“Come on in, Mommy,” she said, smiling sympathetically.
As the sun set over New Delhi, a new, beautiful sun rose over my ink black sea of grief, promising a new day and a new life, for all of us.