He was in me, small as a bumblebee, and humming like one too, that’s how I knew,” she sang, high heels skidding sideways, sloppy with relief, burdened by grief, letting go. She lurched forward, her skinny legs and weak knees finding all the cracks between the cobblestones of this highbrow town. Tightening the straps to her purse up around her shoulder, she turned the corner, saw the bus and froze.

Her head spun. Everything in her wanted to run back to the house, bang on the door and demand her baby. She would fight the tiny blond woman who had clutched her son in her arms as she left.  She would—she could (she felt certain)—overpower that puny, bald, bespectacled husband of hers, grab her son and run.  By the time they called the police, she would already be on a bus (there were several of them lined up now), then get off at the first stop and disappear.

It was her baby, after all. Her son. And he needed her.

Damn the papers, the lawyers, the judge. Damn them all to hell. Together, she and her son would escape. It didn’t matter how, just that they would. They would live on the run, under bridges; maybe they could fish, like they did in the old country. It wasn’t too hot or cold here, they could survive. Then she could sing to him in their language, the songs of her people, teach him the old ways, tell him the stories her grandparents had told her. She wouldn’t go back to drugs, she wouldn’t sell her body any more, spending days under the sweating, panting, heavy bodies of men who smelled like sour milk and rust. She would live clean, close to the earth, with her child, following the advice of birds, the paths of foxes, waiting for the moon.

An hour earlier she had stood on the steps, knocking on the door beside the social worker and lawyer, still holding him in her arms. He had cried all the way there, so she was sure he knew what was to come and was protesting. She lied to him, murmuring that they were just going on a little vacation to visit some nice people. There, he would be warm, and loved, and have plenty of toys and room to explore. But when they opened the door, and she saw the toys, and the beautiful, clean crib, and the soft carpet where pastel baby blankets were laid out expectantly, she knew then that it wasn’t a lie. Her stomach plunged and everything moved in slow motion.

They were speaking English, and she understood English, she understood everything that they were saying and she nodded in agreement, passing over her baby to the pretty blond young woman. Her baby drooled, but everyone kept talking, agreeing, nodding, and no one noticed the drool—it wasn’t right.  The woman didn’t even notice it when she cooed to the baby, bouncing him up and down, making it run in a shiny, bubbling line down his cheek. He had fallen asleep by the time they walked to the door; he looked like the perfect, innocent child. But she knew better. He was hers, after all. He would be furious once he woke, he would scream for her, he would not give up until she came.

Papers were signed, a flurry like the beating of wings with staccato explanations in both English and Spanish. She took the box she had brought for him out from the paper bag. The bag was from Macy’s, it looked nice. The box did not: it was smudged with fingerprints and creased. But the box held the treasures she had made for him, so that someday, he would see he had been loved. He would see he came from a special people, whose colors surged like parrots in flight in the jungle where they lived; these were the linens she had embroidered, small baby clothes she had made, rhythmically stitching rounds of people, flowers, birds, lizards, mountains, suns and moons, covering the soft cloth like wishes, like the skin of a drum with a song calling the wearer home.  She was proud of them.

The husband and wife had opened the box and held up her gifts for the child.  At first, the young woman snorted, but then clamped a hand over her mouth. Eyes wide, eyebrows raised, she slowly thanked her for the gifts but quickly put them back in the box without re-folding, setting them behind her on an end table and returning to the child. When she saw Mariela’s face, she apologized, thanked her again and tapped the box.

“We will save it for a special occasion!” she blurted, looking to her husband to confirm.

“Oh, yes, indeed,” he concurred.

When the lawyers got ready to go, they offered Mariela a drive home, but she wanted to hold the baby again, to say goodbye. “I will catch a bus,” she explained, having seen the buses at the depot a few blocks away. She had gotten good at buses, and figured it would all connect somehow. The lawyers protested, yet they looked relieved when she insisted.  The young couple seemed uncomfortable, as though they wanted to signal the lawyers for help.

Mariela held her baby one more time, but it was not comforting.  The young woman kept trying to talk, offering her food and drink; she hovered around impatiently. Biting her lip, Mariela stood up and passed her baby to the woman who snatched him away. The couple made many comments meant to be polite, wishing her well. Mariela could not understand—there was a buzzing in her ears, it started in her baby’s new house and got louder and louder as she left and walked down to the bus.  That’s when she started singing the song. The song was about how she had known she was pregnant:

“He was in me, small as a bumblebee, and humming like one too, that’s how I knew.”

She remembered the moment. She had a needle filled, flicked and ready, when, like a signal, a tiny beating flickering in her abdomen purred briefly in protest. She had stopped then and been clean ever since.

The song played in her head, sweet and sad, but when she opened her mouth to sing out loud, her voice cracked.

Suddenly she was there, at that corner, wondering, plotting, planning, angry, sad, and unsure.

She shut her eyes tight, praying, whispering words to angels, pleading with Maria.

That’s when the children came running by her, having spilled like flower petals into water from the school bus beyond.

Their faces were upturned, happy; they surged around her like a tide, embracing, releasing, and surrounding her with laughter. She felt their backpacks buffet her lightly, the braids of one girl tickle her arms, and she forgot, for a moment, her pain.

There. It was clear. The sadness was still wrapped around her, bittersweet, but the anger had lifted. She would remain clean and pure, just as her Indigenous ancestors had been, for her son, for one day when she would see him again.

Or she wouldn’t. But she would stay clean. And he would know.

She turned and moved back toward the bus. This time, she would go home, really home.

And she let her prayers run past her, skip up the street, round the corner, to where a golden-haired young mother rocked a new son.