Nobody picks me up and swings me around as soon as she sees me. ‘We’re dancing?’ I ask and she laughs at my question. There is joy in her eyes and I know she has been waiting for me to come out. I know, because she was waiting for me when I went inside to take a nap. With her ball and her limited speech and a mind full of misfiring circuits, Nobody is simply waiting for the scraps of attention that somebody might toss her way. Leftover pieces of affection that she can scrape from the dirt and call her own.
The truth is, I don’t want to dance with Nobody. I don’t want to hug her or sit too close to her for fear of lice and fleas. Nobody, in her 14 year-old body, is host to a cocktail of crawling life that threatens the threshold of my personal bubble whenever she is around.
Nobody lives in a house, if you can call it that – a ramshackle structure – that was once a house. No window panes. No doors. Two mattresses that were once attached to frames. She dwells in this place with Brother, Mother, and Aunt.
I have met Aunt before, a scroungy being sitting at the gate of the school in the dark in a drunken stupor. Her voice is the broken chord of a mistrung violin. It crackles and screeches, even in her sober moments unable to string together the syllables of a coherent story. A hard worker by day, local farmers hire her to slop the animal pens and load the dirty refuse onto her back. They pay her in the cheapest alcohol for her labors and use her body as a source of release.
Once upon a time, in her younger days, she fell in love with a village man and got pregnant. The man did not want her. The village decided together to abort her child.
This is the way of life here in the village.
Perhaps, too, it was the reason that Aunt rescued that squawking, naked, freshly birthed baby-girl from the trash can. With grunts and groans, Nobody was heaved into this world, an unwanted, unneeded piece of squirming life. Mother, used and abused and broken by the wants and whims of a village, deposited her in the trash and carried the garbage in the rolled up hem of her shirt. Aunt pulled that tiny morsel from the bin and rocked her to sleep.
Nobody fought, demanding her spot in this universe. And, she continues to fight valiantly today.
I have known Nobody for years. Watched her grow from a small wisp of a child into the edge of womanhood. Heard her push past grunts into one-syllable words. Tried to imagine the moment when somebody wanted to love her simply because she was Nobody.
The school in the village takes Nobody and Brother in, they welcome them daily, give them clean beds to sleep and warm food for their stomachs. They give Nobody safety for her body and warmth for her soul. It is the one place in this world where Nobody is loved.
And so it is with a sordid array of emotions that I stand in the scorching June sun in a courtyard and watch this slip of a girl teetering on womanhood bustle forward to receive a recognition award when her name is called. It is the end of another school year and every child hears their name called, valued, appreciated, noted for who they are – even if their story begins as an unwanted baby in a bin.
Standing in that sun this week and picking through the pieces of my own prejudices, it seemed right to voice Nobody’s story. It seemed right to say that her life has value and to recognize the depths of her courage, her resilience and her strength in what can be a cold and dark world.
This is your story – N. And though you will never read it, the World needs to read about you. God speaks to us through your story, N. You challenge us to be a voice of justice and together with God, you do change this world.
To your teachers and to your pastor who labor for you in love in a tiny point on the planet that few will ever visit – thank you.
Now, to Him who is able to do abundantly more than we ever asked or imagined – let’s dance, N. Let’s dance.
Although you may never meet N., you can make a difference in her life and the lives of other children like her. The Church of the Nazarene supports ministry in Roma villages through a school that welcomes everyone and through Nazarene pastors.
Donations via the Sunberg Deputation (click here) account can be directed to this ministry via this link. Thank you!
A Note on why I used the name ‘Nobody’. Firstly, I wanted to protect her identity. She deserves that. And, on a more personal level – it is way too easy to relegate people with disabilities to that place of nothingness in our societal structure. In essence, they can become a nobody to us. I mean to highlight that tendency in my life, and perhaps in yours, to relegate certain people to places of inconsequence. I mean to highlight it, but more importantly, I mean to ask forgiveness for it. May God continue to stretch my heart and my mind toward the Truth of what it means to be made in the Image of God so that I am compelled towards the Mission of God. It is true, is it not, that all of us, somewhere in our hearts would say with N – ‘Come and dance with me Jesus.’