3 weeks ago



Sophie 175 branches. The

Sophie 175 branches. The mother tries not to look embarrassed, but this is a small town, and everybody knows that little Sophie, who was adopted from a Romanian orphanage, is a bit “unusual.” She takes tree branches with her everywhere, and only with the greatest reluctance will she put them down outside the library or her house. She never says hello or returns a greeting. At the library, she refuses the librarian’s help, rushes to the same bookshelf, and takes down the same book day after day—the story of a little girl who always likes to wear red clothes. If, for some reason, the book is not available, Sophie becomes upset and starts to run around the library until the librarian can find another book full of pictures of red things. Her mother often has to chase after her daughter to avoid disrupting the other patrons. When Sophie leaves the library with her mother, she picks up the tree branch outside the building and walks home, looking for other feathers or sticks. If she sees something that catches her fancy, she will drop whatever she is carrying and pick that up instead. She always has something in her hands. Her mother is relieved to be going home to make lunch. She looks forward to dropping Sophie off at the child development center in town that afternoon and having a bit of a rest. * * * Greg and Marianne led a comfortable and prosperous life. She was a civil servant and he worked as a land registrar. They were sweethearts in high school and stayed together through college and various job positions, eventually settling down in a small town within commuting distance of a large urban center. Long ago they decided not to have children. They liked the freedom and added income that not having children allowed them. Greg and Marianne have lived in this small town for more than ten years. They have made lots of friends, enjoyed giving parties at their house and chatting with the neighbors. They took trips to Europe every two years and often went into the city to go shopping. In 1990, as the Communist regime was crumbling, reports came out of Romania describing the deplorable conditions in the orphanages. Greg and Marianne happened to watch a show on TV with pictures of babies in cribs, tiny infants who were dirty, crying, with their heads shaven, lying listless in filthy cots. Marianne decided they should try to adopt one of these babies. The reasons behind this decision were not clear to her or to Greg. It is not that any maternal light went on, they

176 A MIND APART were not particularly religious, they were not committed to changing the world or to saving the earth’s children out of some sense of duty. Instead, the sight of dying children made them think of their own death: “I didn’t want to think I could have done something but didn’t. I did not want to have any regrets when I died. Adoption was a way of doing something useful. Who wants another one of us anyway?” Marianne explained to me one day. The only stipulation they made in their own minds was not to adopt a baby, because it was difficult to test for AIDS, or a child with a handicap, as that would have been overwhelming. Eventually they were approved for an adoption by the Canadian authorities but had no definite plans to go to Romania. One day, they heard almost by chance on the radio that the Romanian government was intending to limit foreign adoptions. If they did not make a move now, they might not be able to adopt at all. Within forty-eight hours, Marianne was on a flight to Bucharest. She had to be there by Sunday, choose a child within a few days, complete all the paperwork, and be home the following week. Bucharest was filled with North Americans looking to adopt children as the government was teetering on the brink of collapse. At the airport, each prospective parent was assigned an interpreter. Finding accommodations was a problem as there was no room at any of the hotels and Marianne did not have a chance to make a reservation from Canada. Many of the interpreters rented their own apartment to the North Americans, demanding rates higher than hotels would have charged. The interpreter, a woman of slight build and old-fashioned clothes, was kind enough to take Marianne to her own apartment in the city and not expect these exorbitant prices. Marianne was shocked to see how poverty-stricken the interpreter was; the apartment was filthy, the couches were overstuffed and torn, light bulbs without shades hung loosely from the ceiling, there were streaks of grime on the walls, the wallpaper was bulging from wet spots in the structure behind it. Marianne was left alone while the interpreter went to find a child to be adopted. Only the mice scratching in the kitchen kept her company, unconcerned by any human intruder. After three days the interpreter came back and told Marianne about a “beautiful baby” she had found. She was “gorgeous, very smart and very intelligent. Would Mrs. like to see her?” “Yes, of course. What do you know about her?” The interpreter replied that the three-year-old child, whose name was Sophie, had lived