She was beautiful and strong, and I liked her immediately.
It was an average day at Skatties, kids playing outside. One of our Skatties mommies was staying with us for a couple of weeks to have a rest for the relentless exhaustion of addiction and darkness. Her three children joined my three in cycling up and down the driveway, and in eating all the food and drawing on all the things. It was busy. And in the midst of all the mess and tears and scattered cups, this mommy forgot herself and her own journey, and she said to me, you need to help my friend.
She came. We drank tea and sat on my sofa, her sinking a little deeper than me, nine months pregnant. Life had been excruciating up until this point, with her traditional cycles of escapism only adding darkness to dark. She was just out of hospital recovering from a trauma only those at the end of their rope know about, when you can’t go on and you give up, but God had stepped in and preserved her and her tiny baby. She was beautiful and strong, and I liked her immediately. We stood in the garden, and she said, I feel love so deep here, that I can’t go back to the old ways. And since then, she hasn’t.
Her sweet baby boy Malakhiy Storm Varrie was born into the world on a clear, sunny winter morning, at home. His mommy was taken to the local hospital, and that’s where we met him. His skin was soft and golden, his eyes were deep, dark chocolate, sparkling at the centre. His warm naked body was wrapped in blankets, and he was unbelievably beautiful.
It was a fight to get him home – social workers, nurses, everybody seemed to halt the process. Days passed and Malakhiy would stay in the hospital nursery, sleeping and waking, sleeping and waking. They were worried he wouldn’t be safe at home. His mommy tirelessly visited him, sometimes shooed away by nurses who said she was “interfering with their routine”. One day she couldn’t find a taxi home, and she walked the entire way – for hours, as the rain thrashed down on her body that had given birth days before. And then one lovely day they all agreed he was ready and she bundled him up into blankets and brought him home.
Soon after, Malakhiy’s mommy, Malakhiy and his brother moved in with my friend Clare down the road. She rested from the trauma of the last few months, the toddler brother played, Malakhiy fed, cried and slept. One afternoon I went round there with my three kids, and all Malakhiy’s brothers and sisters were there, and it was busy. I was so tired that day, and as I saw little Malakhiy sitting in his chair my heart sighed. I’m so tired, but this little one is here, and he deserves all the cuddles in the world. And so I reached down, and picked him up, tiny precious boy, and rocked him in my arms. And slowly, rhythmically, he relaxed. He closed his eyes, and he fell asleep. I laid him down, slowly, slowly, on the sofa, but moments later he was awake and being passed around. “Mummy!” Lily cried. “He’s putting his fingers around my pinkie!” And there he was, and we were all so touched that someone so beautiful, someone so fresh from heaven, would reach out and touch us.
A few days later, I was standing by the sink, it was early in the morning. My mum was in the kitchen too, chatting with the kids as they flitted around, in and out. My phone rang, and it was Clare. “Morning!” I said, surprised my friend was calling so early. And I heard her words, shaking on the end of the line. It’s bad news. Someone’s just called me to say Malakhiy’s died. I don’t know any more, her sister just called me. Everything slowed down to a blur. I’m driving there now, do you want to come? I’ll be there in five minutes. And soon we were driving through Manenberg, praying with every piece of love we had. When we arrived at the house his mother was heaving and gasping on the floor. People passed in and out the house, a crowd was gathering. And there on the bed, this tiny boy lay completely still, eyes closed, face up.
By the time we reached the clinic he had been dead for forty five minutes. The nurses busied around his body, but quickly walked away. It was too late, it seemed like cot death and there was nothing they could do. And we were left, just like that. Instantly I saw a picture in my mind of a tiny fragment of metal, like a jewel, like a star, embedded in the Father’s great heart. But I didn’t want to see that, I wanted to see him raised so we prayed under our breath, fiercely. As we prayed we waited for the line of people to come – people who never feel like they have the right to come – police, ambulances and then two men to take him away in their car. What should have happened quickly didn’t, and we waited in that tiny room for five hours. We wept and wept until we sat in silence, the electric heater pumping hot air on our feet, and then a wave of weeping began again. Malakhiy’s mommy rocked him, sang over his warm body, just like she was singing him to sleep. I held his body longer than I thought possible, I wanted him to be held if God blew breath into his lungs, and even if He didn’t, I wanted Malakhiy to somehow know we loved him, even now. The hours passed, his fontanelle dipped inwards. And at one point his mother screamed into the air he’s getting cold, he’s getting cold, he’s getting cold, and we broke.
They arrived, brought out the a little navy blue carry cot, placed his body in it and placed him in the boot of the car. And they drove off, just like that, and of course his mother collapsed on the road. I wouldn’t blame her if she ran through the streets after that car like a mad woman – they were driving off with her baby.
I got home and hugged my children, and felt like I had cried all of my insides out. As we shuffled the kids into into bed, Lily ran out into the garden. “Look!” she shouted into the night. “Look at the star!” And I looked. A tiny, strong, searing star cutting into the night. Atiny fragment of metal embedded into the Father’s heart. “I see it, it’s beautiful,” I said. “Now come inside.” It was beautiful, but a star in the sky wasn’t enough when a mother bled for her baby, when we all cried out for his life.
The weeks passed and though we prayed for resurrection, it didn’t come. It is true that God is inside us, and all around us. He was with us. He showed himself in a vision to Malakhiy’s mother. He met us every morning. Malakhiy’s brother Tithon has joined our Skatties family, beginning his weekdays with us, surrounded by toys and cuddles and healing. Malakhiy’s family have moved back in with Clare, and his mother constantly astounds me as one of the strongest, most beautiful mothers I have ever met. She is quite simply a miracle herself, and I wish I could gather the world around her feet to listen to her.
We sat on the floor yesterday at Skatties, we were playing doctors. Zuraida brought over a baby to me. “Oh hi!” I smiled. “What’s your baby’s name?” “Malakhiy,” she replied. And as soon as she said his name, Tithon reached out his three-year-old arms for the plastic baby. He took this little doll, and held him. He stroked his fingers over his tummy, over his face, gently over his eyelashes. I didn’t want him to see me cry, but of course he did. Yes, God is inside us, and He is all around us.
It was a hard few months. We are coming out of it now – we are feeling the warmth of rest and provision and it feels wonderful. But when I look back, I’m aware that we walked through a rocky few months. Sicknesses in our family – pneumonia, laryngitis. A friendrelapsed, and another, and another. Robberies, breakages, a dear friend lost another baby. But in the days after Malakhiy died, partly for therapy, and partly as warfare, I threw myself into the preschool. I moved the furniture, I bought stuff, I rearranged our routine, and it’s all bearing so much fruit now. The kids are loving it, they are coming alive. Zeeha’s writing her name, Zuraida is looking so well, Omie is shooting ahead, and Tithon is stroking a doll, healing under the shadow of free play and God Himself. And many nights I still look up at that star, that white ball of flames, and it teaches me that even in the darkness, we can build a fire. A roaring one, a lasting one. And we all know how fire spreads.