‘You can offer him a better life than I can. Please. Take him,’ she begged. How can I fall in love with a child and then leave him behind?’: Woman takes in Haitian shoeshine boy, ‘I didn’t birth him, but he is mine’

More Stories like:

“‘How did you get here?’ I ask him over a pile of mashed potatoes. It is storming outside and I am thrilled to be eating cold-weather food on the normally hot island I moved my family to a few months prior.

The boy I am talking to is holding his fork with all four fingers wrapped around the hilt and stabs at the soft mound on his plate. He has dark skin, round eyes, and a brilliant smile. His birth certificate says he is nearly 14, but I have my doubts.


‘From Haiti?’ I gasp. ‘You walked from Haiti? With your mother?’ I ask incredulously.


‘But where did you sleep? What did you eat?’

‘You can sleep anywhere when you are tired enough.’

‘Were you scared?’ I ask.

‘Yes,’ he says simply in the same sort of tone one would typically use to attest to the fact the sky is blue or the grass is green.

Then tears start cascading down his cheeks.


Courtesy Jaci Ohayon



When he came back to shore, we offered him some of the pizza. He smiled at our offer, and I noticed his beautiful teeth. His eagerness to share our meal, coupled with his size, told me he was about 11. Maybe 12, albeit a small 12-year-old.

At the end of the meal, he told us that he had to go to catch his bus back home. ‘Where is home?’ we asked. ‘Far away,’ he replied, and then he enlightened us on his daily doings. Each day, he took a bus back and forth with his shoeshine box to clean shoes for 25 cents per pair. He was a boy with a job.

After that day, I began to look for him. Each trip into the village resulted in me searching for a small dark face and white teeth, hunched down cleaning shoes. Sometimes I saw him and sometimes I did not. Each time I did, it was a hug and a meal. ‘Eat with us,’ we would say. ‘I can’ or ‘I can’t,’ he would say. He pushed our kids on the swing at the park. We marveled at his much too short pants and much too big shoes. ‘How do we help him?’ we took turns asking each other. After all, we wore flip-flops, not very shoeshine friendly attire. We gave him money anyway, once for a shirt and pants. ‘How much do you need?’ we asked. ‘Four dollars,’ he replied. ‘Shirt and pants for 4 dollars?’ we wondered.

Then there was the night we drove him home. It was the same exact pizza spot, but this time, instead of taking glee in each savory tomatoey gooey bite, I was irritated. My husband was leaving soon, and my world was off. Then he walked by.

I could tell when he sat down that something was amiss. My Shoeshine Boy, normally all smiles, looked like he was about to cry. ‘What is wrong?’ we asked. ‘Nothing,’ he muttered. But I could tell there was something. I was a mama. I knew these things. ‘What is wrong?’ I persisted.

‘I missed my bus,’ he replied. ‘I cannot go home tonight.’


‘I will sleep somewhere in the village. Probably on a bench at the park,’ he replied.

I thought about the park he was referring to. It was not a park filled with secret spots and shade-providing trees. It was small and exposed, filled with girls in revealing clothing and men trying to sell cell phones. It was not a park where a boy could spend the night, unnoticed and unharmed. Even though I had no right, even though I was not his mother, I knew I could not allow this.

‘Would you like us to take you home?’ I asked. We had offered before. The answer was always, ‘No.’

‘Yes. Please,’ he pleaded. His quick response shocked me. In that moment, I wondered if he was actually younger than 11 or 12. Maybe he was a big ten-year-old.

我丈夫去买单,我和孩子们headed for the car, but on the way, a man approached us. My Shoeshine Boy flinched. He was scared. The man pulled him aside and I saw money change hands. ‘Why did you do that?’ I asked. ‘For protection,’ he replied. His face crumpled, and I could tell that he was trying to hold back his tears. I puffed up. I willed myself to grow large and scary. ‘He is with me,’ I boomed in my best French accent to the man who took the money and now glared at us from across the street. ‘He is with us,’ my husband, in his perfect French accent, confirmed. He threw his arm around our shoeshine boy as if to publicly proclaim, in an act, what we just verbally said. ‘He is with us.’

We got into the car and started driving towards the direction he told us to go. ‘Are you sure we should do this?’ I asked my husband. We had been warned not to go in this direction, especially after dark. Twenty minutes later, we still had not arrived. Hairs began to stand up on the back of my neck. ‘What is this familiar sensation?’ I asked myself. Bubbles start popping in my belly. Anxiety, I realized. Something was amiss.



Our charge, quiet in the back seat, said nothing. He had become a mouse. ‘Where do you live?’ we took turns asking. ‘Further,’ he replied. ‘Past the river.’

‘Mommy, where are we going?’ a small voice asked from the back seat. My born children, seven and nine, were growing restless. ‘How much longer? Where does he live?’ they took turns asking.

‘Should we turn around?’ my husband wondered aloud. I wondered that, too. Perhaps our shoeshine boy could just come home with us, sleep on our couch.

但我们继续唱赞美诗和holding onto faith we would be safe in the very area we had been warned not to go. Soon after, he told us to stop. I looked around. I saw nothing but a shack of a restaurant with a tool shed and some dilapidated houses. ‘Where do you live?’ I asked. He couldn’t hear me because he was already out of the car and running towards the dark tool-shed.

He banged on the door and a second later it opened. A tall woman stepped out. ‘Mama!’ he said. She saw him and pulled him to her. I got out of the car and made my way towards the shed. No light emitted from the interior.

When Mama saw me, she rushed towards me. I was balancing on crutches and almost fell. She caught me. Before I could even utter a salutation, she had my cheeks in her hands and covered my face in an array of wet kisses. ‘Thank you,’ she said over and over and over.

I tried not to stare at their ‘home’ as I headed back to the car. ‘He lives THERE?’ my children asked. ‘Yes,’ was all I could reply. I knew this was the time for another lecture about how blessed and fortunate we were, but I had said it over and over and over since we arrived in this country and was out of words. Besides, I couldn’t believe he lived there, either.


Halfway through our ivy hanging session, he yawned and then fell asleep, arm still outstretched with a plastic piece of ivy strung from his hand. I didn’t believe he was really sleeping. I told a joke, and he didn’t respond. I nudged his arm, he didn’t respond. He really was sleeping, I realized. I pulled the curtains down that I had just hung and made him a bed. ‘Sleep here,’ I roused him. He obeyed without question.

When he woke up two hours later, there were children in the courtyard making crafts. Each craft cost two dollars. He stared at my daughter and marveled at her creations. ‘Would you like to make something for your Mama?’ I asked. ‘I don’t have the money,’ he responded, looking at the floor. I held it out to him, the equivalent of cleaning 16 pairs of shoes. He grabbed it enthusiastically and ran to the craft table. Maybe he is nine, I thought.

One candle set and one Christmas tree made from a book later and he was all smiles. He proudly showed me his artwork. ‘For my Mama!’ he said. ‘She will be delighted,’ I replied. I really believed that she would be. She must be. Oh, please be delighted, I silently told her on the wind, one mother to another.

Then Mama showed up at my door. She looked different than the last time I saw her. Her clothes were still worn, but she was dressed nicely. She had on a skirt, a button-up shirt, and a pretty scarf. It looked like it was an important day in her world, and I wondered whether it was a Haitian Christmas holiday I wasn’t aware of.

‘Hello Mama,’ I said to her and kissed her on both cheeks. After she pulled back from me, she clasped my cheeks in her hands and stared into my eyes. I was puzzled but returned her gaze. I saw tears in her eyes. When she let me go, she thrust a plastic sack into my hands. It was a little garbage sack, the size of a bathroom wastebasket, and it felt like there were some clothes inside of it.

‘You can offer him a better life than I can. You can change his life,’ Mama said to me. I felt her words like a slap in the face when I realized what she was asking of me. She wanted me to take her boy, the one that we both loved, but she birthed. ‘Please. Take him,’ she begged.

I looked down to the ground as I held back my own tears. She was probably right. I probably could offer him a better life, at least materialistically. Even broke, like I have been so many times in my life, I probably had more than she ever dreamed of. I’ve been poor. I’ve been very very very poor, but I have never ever had nothing. I have never lived in a toolshed without electricity without indoor plumbing or furniture. We always had some sort of food. ‘Please. Take him,’ she begged me.


“我不能带他,”我重复更严厉I meant to, more to myself than to her.

‘Please,’ she said. ‘Even if it is only for a few months. Show him what you can. Teach him what you can. Show him how to change his life. Show him how to become a man with a future.’


He lives with us now. He says he is 13 almost 14, but I am pretty sure he is more like 11, almost 12. He does the dishes, always, without me asking. He mops the floor, always without me asking. He waits to eat until everyone has had their fill and then won’t eat seconds at all if he thinks someone else might. He is the most nonintrusive person I have ever been around.

Courtesy Jaci Ohayon

I love him. I love him as I love my own natural born babies. But with that love comes fear, because I don’t know how I can possibly keep him safe, long term. Focus on the now, I remind myself over and over. This was never supposed to be forever, so just focus on what you can teach him now. But what can I teach him?


I hesitate before I respond, because how the hell am, I supposed to respond? My motto has always been that boys absolutely can cry. There is no shame in crying. But it is easy to teach my golden-haired son that because I am not preparing him for a life in the underworld, a life surviving the streets. Maybe shoeshine boys shouldn’t cry. Maybe crying boys who live on the streets get killed.

I hug my crying Shoeshine Boy and, for the trillionth time since he came into my life, I pray fervently over him. ‘Please God,’ I beg, ‘Please. Please help me help him. Please.’

I don’t know how this story ends. I don’t know how in the world it will have a happy ending, but I remind myself the world has nothing to do with it. God does. All I have to do is have faith and wait for the answer.

I didn’t birth him, but he is mine, my Shoeshine Boy.”

Courtesy Jaci Ohayon

This story was submitted tobeplay网络一直不畅byJaci Ohayonof Colorado. Follow her on Instagramhere。and visit her websitehere。Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story这里。Be sure to订阅to our free email newsletter for our best stories, andYouTube为了我们最好的视频。

Read more stories from Jaci here:

‘Please,’ I pleaded. ‘He must go to school. He must learn to read and write, or he will shine shoes on the street forever.’: After woman takes in boy, she fights for son’s education

‘If you do this, Kara, you will not be able to undo it. It will be permanent, forever.’: Woman writes letter after cousin’s suicide, ‘You must not know the impact it’s going to have on the rest of us’


Do you know someone who could benefit from reading this?SHAREthis story on Facebook with family and friends.

Share Tweet