When she first started coming by to ask us for food, she would call me Seño (“Miss”). That’s if she spoke to me at all.
I would try to engage her in conversation but she would always scurry away claiming she was too busy, no time to stay and eat with us. I would invariably see her later in the day sitting on some street corner, nowhere else to go. It was a long time before we even knew her name or how old she was. (78? 79? She’s not exactly sure.)
Slowly she opened up and allowed us all to love her. One washes her clothes, another bathes her twice a week. She lives alone in a rented room but now we have become her family.
Now she sits in the green chair we bought just for her, in the corner by the kitchen. She arrives for lunch and stays the rest of the afternoon, watching the kids come and go during mealtimes, absorbing the rise and fall of noise and laughter. Everyone calls her by name, Doña Carmencita. She is our adopted grandmother.
Back when we first met she was scattered and nervous and I was sure she suffered from dementia. Now that she has let us in I realize that she doesn’t ever miss a beat. She’s the first to notice when I haven’t had my lunch, and she chides me to make sure I don’t miss a meal. She used to tense up when I would take her arm to help her up and down the stairs, unaccustomed to being touched. Now she takes me in her arms each time she greets me. Sometimes I just stand beside her when I’m looking out at the buzzing room, breathing deep and taking it all in, the wonder of what we’ve created, all that Education and Hope has become. She reaches up to hold my hand and I know she’s doing the same.
In time and with trust Seño became mi Señito (“my Missy”). Now she calls me mi nenita linda (“my lovely baby girl”).
Yesterday during our Mother’s Day celebration she hooked her arm inside of mine and pulled me close to ask, “What does it feel like to have so many children? You have hundreds of them! You give so much love to everyone. Even to me. It’s as if you are my mother. But you have been more than a mother to me.”
Then she leaned in closer and said something in my ear that I couldn’t quite make out. I asked her to repeat it. She said, “You are love.”
You are love. The words are written on my heart.