Mariana's Safe Place

The headlights from an incoming car blind me for a second before I adjust my own headlights. My hands are clammy as I grip the steering wheel, despite the coolness of tonight; I’m sweating through the thin blouse I’m wearing. My heartbeat is back to its normal rhythm and my focus is back.

“Where are you taking me?” A small voice asks me from the backseat of the car.
I look into my rear view mirror and find big brown eyes staring into the back of my head. I don’t miss the fear and sadness in them, the eyes belong to an eight year old but looking into them it’s like they belong to someone well past their childhood.
“The house I told you about Anna, do you remember when I talked to you about it?” I say to the little girl.

I get a nod from her and I know our short conversation is over. She places the pink colourful headsets back into her ears and continues to play on the tablet I gave to her earlier on in our trip. I remind myself to talk to the Child Therapist tomorrow morning to schedule an appointment with her. I am what our organisation calls an extractor. We help abused individuals by taking them out from the abusive environment and providing them with lawyers, therapists, work agencies and a place to live until they can get back on their feet. With large donations from celebrities, politicians and well-wishers over the past year, our extractions have become more frequent as this is my fifth extraction this month.

Adam Levin’s ‘Girls like You’ drowns through my speakers alerting me to an incoming call has me on high alert again.

“Hello?” I say into my ear piece. I look at my phone and see the number isn’t saved in my phone book.

“Hello, is this Maya M’hango?” An unfamiliar voice asks on the other side of the phone.

“Yes this is she, how can I help you?” I say to the person.

“My name is Lisse; I am calling you from Saint Mary’s Hospital. A Jacqueline Witika has you listed as her emergency contact. She came in with some injuries a few minutes ago. She has to be in surgery for the head injury she sustained. We need you to sign some papers on her behalf.”

“I’ll be there in 20 minutes.” I say as I mentally calculate the time it will take for me to drop off Anna at the safe house and back the same route to Saint Mary’s Hospital.

“Ok, you’ll find me by the front desk. If you get lost ask for Nurse Lisse.” She says to me and immediately ends the call.

“Was that my Mummy?” Anna’s voice asks me, I look back at her and see the hope in her eyes.

“No sweetie, your Mother is already at the safe house I told you about. That was another person’s Mummy.” As the words leave my mouth, I’m reminded of Jacqueline and her children, Micah and Lily. Dread spreads through my body and settles in the pit of my stomach. Thankfully, Anna doesn’t notice my panic attack as she goes back to being immersed in the tablet.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I turn onto the gravel road which leads to the safe house. I slow the car down to a slower pace as I think about Jacqueline and her kids. Jacqueline is the first woman who I had been assigned to extract by my organisation. I was too over confident back then; I didn’t pay attention to the little things. Jacqueline was the first and last woman I had let down in this job.
I let down my window as I stop at a big black gate, I reach my hand out to type in the gate’s code and the gate opens with no sound. 
“Is this going to be our house now?” Little Anna asks as we drive up to a white mansion style like home, Jacaranda trees line up from the gate up to the back of the house. The purple creates a fairy tale sort of look and I understand why our founder planted the trees in the first place. It’s to make hundreds of kids just like Anna and their guardians feel at home after passing through hellish situations.

“Yes for as long as you and your Mum need to stay.” I say to her, the childlike wonder lifts my sour mood as I pack the car. The large front doors of the mansion are pushed open before I can exit the car and a short woman comes running down the steps to us. I lean my head onto the steering wheel as I hear the mother-child reunion taking place outside of my car. This is what I fight for every day of the year, to see the happiness and peace radiate from the women I bring to this place. Another woman walks out of the door. The smile on her face brings warmth and reenergizes my tired body. I exit my car and I’m immediately engulfed in a bone crashing hug.

“Thank you so much.” Anna’s Mother whispers to me, giving me a peck on my cheek before she lets me go.

“Thank you Miss Maya.” Anna says as she repeats her Mother’s actions giving me a brief hug instead.

“Hey Anna why don’t you go in and check out your room? I’m sure you’ll love everything we have for you in there.” My words have the desired effect on the little girl as she is pulling her Mother towards the open door of the house.

I lean against my car as I watch their retreating backs with contentment in my heart.

“Hi baby, rough night?” the woman I saw earlier asks.

She comes to stand next to me and I automatically lean into her. This is my Mother, the founder of this organisation, Mariana’s house.

“It’s Jacqueline. She’s back at Saint Mary’s.” I feel her stiffen against me.
Jacqueline was not my Mother’s favourite topic. She had broken Mariana’s house rules so many times which had led my Mother and other board members to make the painful decision to ban her from the house.

“I gather it’s bad this time?” My mother asks with sadness in her tone. “Ok, let’s go.” She adds as she reads my face. It doesn’t surprise me when she says those words. My mother, Elizabeth M’hango, has a big heart. She has given so many people countless chances over the years. I hope Jacqueline finally takes the chance my Mother gives her this time around.

Before I know it I am back on the highway with my Mother beside me going to give another woman a chance to start over. 
 I dial the Hospital and Nurse Lisse’s voice comes through. “Hello, this is Saint Mary’s Hospital, how can I be of assistance to you?”

“It’s Maya M’hango Ma’am. I wanted to ask if you have any information about Jacqueline’s children.”
There is a pause as I hear her looking through her papers. Another minute passes by and I hear her clear her throat.
“Micah is getting a cast put on a broken arm and Lily just got stitches on her jaw.” I hear the restrain in Nurse Lisse’s voice as she gives me the details.

I hear my Mother let out a quiet cry beside me as she hears the words. A social worker will probably be called in the morning so I make an impulsive decision.

“I will take them home with me until their Mother is well enough. We are in the parking lot of the hospital.” I say to Nurse Lisse.

“Ok, I guess you know this place very well, I did some research on you and what your family is doing for countless domestic abuse victims, see you soon.” Nurse Lisse says and disconnects the call.

I park the car and I watch as my Mother dabs against the tears in the corners of her eyes. Her body language changed the second I turned into the hospital parking lot. This hospital holds bad memories for her, her sister Mariana died in this parking lot fifteen years ago. A gunshot to the head by her husband of ten years killed her. The tragedy had shaken my Mother and the entire family and two years after, my Mother, two of her brothers and my Grandmother poured funds into founding Mariana’s house for abused women.

“We can’t save them all, we try our hardest to but some will slip through our fingers.” My Mother’s voice says to me, I know she says the words for both our benefit.

“I know I still want to try with Jacqueline, she still is so young. We can try with her.” My mother nods her head in agreement.

I gather two kid’s tablets, headsets, candy and other essentials into a satchel bag and we exit the car.