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“What her name?”
“Nina! Beautiful name—Ukrainian! My name Svitlana.”
“Hello, Svitlana. I’m Ellen,” I said.
“Why you carry her like tis?” She asked pointing at my makeshift sling.
“She cannot walk. She has cerebral palsy.”
“Ah!” Svitlana looked at me with understanding, then gently patted Nina’s head. “You pretty girl. Nice girl.”
“She doesn’t understand you,” I said
“Oh,” the woman said. She smiled gently at Nina and patted her head once more. I realized she had understood my statement to mean Nina had a mental delay.
“She only speaks Ukrainian, and I believe some Russian too,” I added.
Svitlana looked at me, puzzled. “Tis not your children?”
“Yes. But I just adopted her.”
“You adopt her? Tis child? Wif paralysis cerebral?”
Svitlana looked directly into my eyes. She gently nodded and stood tall, a hand placed on my shoulder once more. Because of my previous scene, people around us had been paying close attention to our exchange of words, so when Svitlana cleared her throat and began to speak to the people around us, they were listening. I knew she was speaking about me.
A man with a deep voice yelled out at me, “Tenk you.” A young woman, her English crisp and lacking the strong Russian accent, approached us and offered help. Svitlana used the opportunity to have someone translate for her: “Thank you. This woman says you have taken one of our children despite her disability. We hide them in institutions. We do not take care of them. We are ashamed. But you have saved one of our own and loved them in a way we never could. Thank you.”
A person next to the service window called to me. “Plis, plis, you come. You be first.”
The crowd nodded in agreement and moved to the side to let me through. I slowly rose from my chair. Svitlana quickly grabbed my suitcase. “I help you,” she said, nodding toward the service window.
Svitlana stayed by my side for two days. She fed Nina, she changed her diapers, she sang lullabies and she rocked her to sleep.
Once in Frankfurt, it was time to say goodbye to Svitlana. I clung to her in a tight embrace as we both cried into each other’s arms.
“I know you will disappear as soon as I let go,” I said to my new friend.