Dear Desmond. My little Desmond.
My perfect little fragile boy.
It’s me. I can see me there, reflected in your eyes.
A black shadow… colour faded…
I think about you every single day.
I remember the smell of your afro hair, the sound of your giggling voice, the feel of your skinny legs wrapped around my shoulders, your hand clasping mine. That connection we had… how you depended on me, trusted me so quickly. How I felt you were my very own child.
You know, it’s been over three months now since I left. Three whole months.
I wonder how you’ve been, what’s going on in that precious little head;
if you’re happy, if you’re confused, if you will even remember me properly… if you will forgive me. For leaving.
Well, I remember you.
Of course I remember you.
I remember the first time I met you. You were so much smaller and skinnier than all the other kids. I spotted you almost immediately. I asked your name, thought you were just adorable. Desmond, you said; so tiny and precious. You had a kind of smile in your eyes as I asked you how old you were, questions about the orphanage, school and your life – I remember how you kept nodding and saying ‘yes’ to my every question, regardless if it made sense or not… You just seemed happy to be getting some attention, I think. Though you were shy, timid, not so used to this kind of softness, care;
and yet there was something about you that made me smile every time you walked by, and we made eye contact… you would just look at me. Stare. As if I had something you wanted…
I could see sorrow in your eyes. An innocence; but something was missing. Something seemed to be lost… or never had.
You are just a child. A little child… Had you ever felt the love of a mother, or a father? Had you ever felt the love that I had growing up, the love of family? The knowledge that you are valued, wanted? Have you ever felt wanted?
I felt a pain, a longing around you. You were confused. I could feel it. Your energy was so easy to read. There was something about this particular boy that stood out from the others to me. I could see straight away that you needed someone… the others all seemed to have each other, their friendship, some union. They would do everything together.
But not you.
You were always alone.
When all the other kids went out to play, wash their clothes, went to town for church, you always seemed to be inside the huge dark orphanage, alone, walking round barefoot in the dust, playing with little bits of broken toy or books donated from previous visitors – books you couldn’t even read.
I would sit on the terrace, a place where the children weren’t allowed, and I would hear your voice come through the window. “It’s me”, you would say. “It’s me”, to get my attention.
You wanted my attention, and yet it was clear to me you were scared that I would reject you, tell you off like the other adults did, tell you to go away and stop annoying me, like all the older kids did. Everyone seemed to treat you like you were a nuisance, always in the way.
It was obvious to me you were just craving attention, love.
So I would come and sit inside at one of the large tables so you didn’t feel so alone, whilst I sat and read my bible, my Humphrey Bogart biography, or sit and do some diary entries. Your little face would appear at the end of the table quite soon, tentative, unsure, but curious. I told you to come and sit on my lap, but at first you wouldn’t… you had been told not to annoy the volunteers, repeatedly, in the past…
But how could you ever annoy me?
“Jesus said, “‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'” – Matthew. 19. 14.
As each day passed, and with every quiet moment, I would find you, standing at the end of my table, happier and happier as I accepted you with open arms; and one day that smile finally appeared.
You finally allowed yourself to trust me, this tall stranger with pale skin, who came from nowhere and suddenly sits at the big table, everyday, calls you over and reads you stories, tries to teach you some English… tries to make you smile.
That smile came easier every day…
It was hard, from then, to not let it show to the other kids how I cared for you particularly, how you were my favourite. I became your guardian, just like that.
Suddenly you were my responsibility.
Suddenly it was my job to protect you, teach you, guide you.
And what an honour.
I would come find you in the morning, make sure you ate all your breakfast, help you get dressed, find any excuse to walk past your classroom at school and give you a wave, make sure everyone knew that I knew your name, personally, and that you knew mine – that we were friends.
It gave me such joy to think of us as being connected, to see the happiness on your face. To see you shine, like every child deserves to.
To see a child shine because he knows he is loved.
I watched, day by day, as your face changed.
“This is curly hair” you would say reaching out for my hair: the words I taught you. “And this is aflo hair”, you way say, holding your own in just the most adorable voice. I couldn’t bring myself to correct you. You seemed so happy to be learning. I was so happy to be teaching you.
Eventually, everybody knew – you were by my side almost every minute of the day, sneaking onto the terrace to sit up the ‘adults table’ in the shade of the garden, so I could read to you and teach you. The other kids must have been envious, to see you breaking the rules. But you were allowed to, because I said you were. Because you were my boy.
You spoke hardly any English, which made communication hard, but somehow this made our connection even more special. So much was unspoken, uncommunicable, and yet unnecessary really…
How you would try to tell me “This is mine” when I gave you something, for you, to keep. “This is mine” with such pride. Of course, whatever I gave you was always snatched away by one of the bigger, older kids, in minutes. But it didn’t matter, I would always give you something else. You knew I would.
And they couldn’t snatch me away from you.
Dear Desmond, you are a little shining light, and you brought a love to my journey I thought I’d never encounter in all my life. You are surely a God-send.
A Star Child.
I remember the first time they said it – “Desmond’s father” – as we walked across the yard together one night, hand in hand. I always lead the way and you were always happy to follow.
I underplayed it, but inside, when I heard their words, I was the happiest man alive.
Dear Desmond, I am so proud of you.
I feel so blessed that you came into my life.
You have made me the richest man in the world…
And then it came…
Of course it came… I was a fool to somehow think it wouldn’t catch up with us.
Time. My last week at the orphanage.
I had to go home.
“Can’t you renew your visa, stay a little longer?” asked Mawusi, the founder and caretaker at the orphanage. “The kids like having you around, and you’re so good with Desmond. I don’t have time to walk around and pick him up like you do. I think it’s good for him.”
But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t, not this time. It would mean cancelling flights, travelling back down to the capital, more money and more time than I had.
Of course I had to tell you.
You would have to know sooner or later that I had to leave.
So I told you one morning, using one of the older kids to translate from English to Ewe, that I would be leaving in a few days, heading back to Europe.
It was very difficult to ascertain how you felt. You had such an odd relationship with the other kids. They had little time for you as you were so ‘annoying’ to them. So their translation was brief. All I could do was hope you understood… I still hope, everyday, you understand.
I kept trying to talk with you, as the days went by, tell you again that I had to leave in a few days, ask you how you felt… but it was impossible know. You just didn’t understand me.
But I did notice something changed in your face… you still smiled. Sometimes. When we played. But you started to frown too. As if you were angry with me, or confused. And yet I had no idea how you felt, if you really were angry, if you understood me when I said I would come back again, that it wasn’t goodbye forever.
I think eventually you accepted it. I hope you did.
Although I’m not sure I ever accepted it…
I made more effort to spend every moment I could with you, in the last days, and savoured each and every precious chance. I would make sure I was by your classroom at the end of each school day so that you could sit on my lap in the taxi home. I would make sure you had a pencil of your own while we sat all together, and I taught all the kids how to draw and write. I would make sure the other kids didn’t take your food, you poor skinny thing. I noticed you gave your food obligingly when the bigger kids asked, even if you were still hungry, to gain their friendship. You broke my heart, kid…
I remember with such joy how you would spot me at the end of the long corridor in the orphanage and run as fast as you could, and how I would lift you and throw you high in the air so you could touch the ceiling, and then catch you; your little skinny chest firm in my bare hands. I would rather lose my arm than drop you.
I would hang you upside down sometimes, and relish in your smiling face looking up at me.
You trusted me, and that meant the world.
You loved my camera, and my cowboy hat. How you loved to pose! I like to think you take after me somehow. You loved running down the hill so I could take pictures of you, your beautiful little smiling face.
I gave my camera to the other kids and taught you how to pose…
Like father like son.
I’m sitting and writing this now and feel so happy to remember the joy we shared, which gives me hope for the future, and helps me cushion my memories of the end.
Desmond, saying goodbye to you was the single hardest thing I have ever done.
You utterly broke my heart, and even now, I can barely see for the brimming tears.
My pain was for you, for your confusion, for the void I knew I would leave in your life.
I don’t know why it had to be that way, so hard, but it was.
But my pain was also for me, because I love you, with every inch of me.
You are my son, I so very quickly got use to the roles, and I have found it hard to get back to just ‘me’ since.
The day that man came to pick me up from the Orphanage I felt a death, inside, a rotting, cankerous death, leaving you behind, as I said goodbye, promised my returned, as you said nothing but just stood by the front door of the orphanage as I crossed the road and waited for my taxi. I waved over to you many times during that twenty minutes waiting for a taxi to come by, felt more like hours and hours, and you didn’t wave back, not even once.
All you did was stare, and watch me go out of your life.
Your mother has been ill ever since you were born, and I have never heard anybody mention your real father… and I don’t really want to know.
I cried all the way home on the airplane, watching movie after movie as that great metal bird moved across continents and I saw night and day rise and fall around me. You were all I could see, all I could hear.
Your giggle, your smile. Your tiny, delicate hand in mine…
We fit together like a kind of puzzle.
I soon as I was back in the UK I realised I’d made a mistake, or at least, I needed to act before I did make one. I sat for hours scrolling through the net, trying to find if I could adopt you, how I would do it.
But how could I?
A single, twenty-five-year-old, with no permanent home, address or job?
That was never meant to be.
Still, I sent a message to Mawusi to send to your mother, to see if she would ever even consider it if I could find a way…
At first she said no. You were all the hope she had, and if she ever recovered, you would be all she had to recover for… And I could never take you away from her under those circumstances. The thought that somebody, even if they couldn’t act on it, did care for and want you, made things easier for a time….
Then I got a message a few weeks later.
From your mother again.
Apparently you keep talking about me, ‘calling’ me were the words used.
You kept asking for ‘yovo’ meaning white… Meaning me.
I’m not sure what that means and I don’t really want to consider it fully because, right now, my heart simply cannot take it, and I wouldn’t be able to function.
But, your Mother, whose health gets worse everyday, said if there is ever a way, that she would indeed allow you to be my son fully, that I could adopt you after all, because she believes I would give you a better life.
My dear boy, I do believe you are the real reason I have been ill these past three months… I’ve been so ill. Yet, somehow, God has brought us together, and you have become a part of my healing, and me a part of yours. This is a story I don’t fully understand yet. But I know it’s not over.
For you are the golden page in my diary.
You are my son.
I love you so much,
And will fight, everyday, to make your life and your world a brighter place.
p.s. my flights are all booked back to West Africa for the end of May, starting with a whole month in Ghana, at the orphanage, with you! You can believe me when I say I am counting down every single day…
Click here and find out more about The Volta Children’s Fund.
Came to tears reading this.Desmond is such an amazing boy. Very nice post James.
wow…. Thank you… this was so real and raw and wonderfully deep when I wrote this… still brings tears to my eyes also, and always will I am sure. XOX
Every morning, after my Bible reading, I always find time to read your posts like my precious found pill of strength and encouragement. Like you, tho, I only traveled my country (all 7100 islands) and mostly South East Asian region, but never documented a single picture or writings (coz my medium of art is drawing).
This is heartbreaking, for I encountered the same when I used to volunteer in remote areas of my country and find my self in love with a little boy, i found myself tearing apart to the day it was time to leave, I gave my time and search people to help me adopt the kid, but to no avail, it is very hard to give me permission for I am a single lady who loves adventure and travel….they see me as incapable one (that gives insult to my being) but moving on, I always find time to visit that kid and so happy to see him go to a family who adopted him eventually.
May God give you much strength and a more big heart. I will always include you in my prayers and personal devotion.
Bless your kind heart.
Sending more hugs wherever you are!!
I am deeply moved by this. I am so happy and fulfilled that my posts have provided some sort of light and strength. What a deep honour that is for me.
Thank you for sharing this, and your story.
Very similar to my own.
I truly believe that regardless of things not always working out quite as we’d like at the time, you and I obviously have a different path to take here, one that could not involve a child, just yet… we have other work to do and we have to give it up to God to drive us forward in the right direction. We are his sheep after all… but I am sure we have made an impact of the lives of these children, in a way we probably will never know or conceive. But what a privilege and an honour to be such a light and to receive so much love and precious experience in return.
Wishing you all the best, my friend.
Stay in touch.
With all my heart.
Your words make me the happiest. The world needs people like you, I hope the future will hold the best for both of you.
🙂 …thank you so much… really. Jx
I’m sobbing right now.
This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read, an emotional story of pure love.
Honestly, I’m so in love with your soul and Desmond’s one.
Thank you, James.
You have been a God-send for him, trust me. You didn’t reject him, you didn’t treat him like a nuisance, but like a loved son and he will remember you forever with a smile on his adorable face.
I know I’m late, but, did you see him again? And, what about the adoption? I hope he’s good and happy.
I wish both of you all the best in this world, you deserve it.
Thank you… so much. Wow, what a time this was for me, and has been these past few years. Been back to visit my little Desmond every year since my first encounter in 2015… He has blossomed fantastically. I’ve seen so much progress in him, seen his spirit grow and shine. He has become much stronger with the other kids, no longer bullied or singled-out as a weakling or needy. He is over the moon every time I arrive. Means so much to him, it’s obvious… and to me. He always fights back tears as I leave but I promise to return… and I always will. Didn’t go ahead with a full adoption as it simply wouldn’t be possible at the moment, what with moving around all the time between different countries, being a single adoptive parent is also impossible under Ghanaian law. But that could all change, who knows, in the next couple of years and maybe one day I will be in a better position to fully adopt him. I also became very aware of how important it has been for his development to grow up around his own people, speak his own dialect and continue to grow in the environment he knows. I don’t really know what the future holds for us both, but it’s in God’s hands and I trust His divine conviction. I will continue to support this boy and the orphanage when I can, with fundraising, visits etc. And yes… I think, you are correct – having me in his life, even if I am not always there, has been, and is, some kind of divine blessing, as it is for me. We have been a big part of each other’s healing… believe me.
Truly beautiful my friend. Just remember, when you are the right course, and following love, the universe will conspire with you to make your dreams a reality. If love is at the heart of all that you do, it will allow you to find a way. I may not share your religious zeal, but I am a man of faith. If there is any way that I can help, please let me know. Eli.
Thank you, Eli. You speak truth. You have already helped me. Jx
Keep us updated James 🙂
I most certainly will 🙏
James, this is heartbreaking and hope-filled at the same time, an amazing post. Hang on in there both of you.
By the way for some reason your weblog keeps slipping away – this is the third or fourth time I have had to press the ‘follow’ button, but a post like this makes it well,worth it.
Thank you, Anthony. This is all very real for me, and a story only just beginning to unfold. I am full of hope for a bright future… I think this is a wordpress problem. I had the same thing happen to me a while back when I was trying to follow a blog. Hopefully it’ll get fixed. But thanks for coming back all the same! JX
Thank you for sharing this. As someone who hopes to adopt one day, I found reading about how your love for this sweet boy (and his for you) blossomed so inspiring. It’s truly amazing how love can transcend differences in age, color, and language. I pray God makes a way for both you and Desmond to find joy and a future together, whatever that may look like. -D
Thank you, so much, for the support. I see a bright future… I’m confident you will find that love with a child too, and I think your hopes to adopt are noble. There are so many children in the world who deserve the love and support many of us had. What a gift to share in. Here’s to whatever’s next!
How heartbreakingly warm and beautiful I hope your dream comes true.
Thank you… means a lot.
My pleasure. Thanks for sharing your heart.
That, is my pleasure 🙂
Sweet post. I can understand your connection to this young soul. I started my early work life using my degree in early childhood education and even before graduating, was volunteering in my son’s schools. Occasionally I would feel such a deep connection with a child that it felt, like you describe, that this is my child. I went on to teach creative music and movement to children and same thing, would sometimes meet a soul I just connected with, and I believe these are souls that we have traveled with in other lifetimes.
While teaching on the Navajo reservation, I met a young girl whose Mom had committed suicide and whose alcoholic father had nothing to do with her. Her grandmother was raising her and I was living and teaching on the rez, with my son, being a single mom since he was nine months old. This young girl sometimes spent weekends with us, and a few years after meeting her I was set to adopt her. When I arrived to pick her up, (this is before all the paperwork), her Aunt had nixed the plans. We were all disappointed but I later found out that the tribe doesn’t allow adoption outside the tribe anymore. We tried to stay in touch but she quit writing at one point.
20 years later, after searching everywhere I could, I found her on FB. We united. I have been to see her and her 9 kids and as I can will spend much more time with them all. She calls me Mom and the kids refer to me as their Grandmother.
So please take heart friend. If this is meant to be, it will be. Looking back now, given my nomadic tendencies, raising my son alone, etc. she was better off growing up with her Grandmother and some other family members on the Rez. But I’m glad we are back in touch now.
Your story has really inspired me. Thank you so much for sharing. I don’t know how my story will turn out, but I do know that Des will be in my life in some form or way, and I will continue to be significant to him. The thought that one day he may be grown up with a family of his own, call me Dad, or Uncle James, or just brother, good friend, is such a peaceful, comforting thought. You have blessed me with a beautiful vision… Thank you.
this made me teary-eyed. I seldom read long blogs but this one made me feel not wanting to stop, and make sure to read the very last sentence. I will be very happy to see photos when you two get reunited 🙂
I am glad you read mine and Desmond’s story. Thank you… it is not over, and now, I’m actually feeling more and more optimistic about this situation… writing this letter has helped me so much. Thank you.
every word in this blog expressed too much emotions. it revealed how compassionate you are. God sees the depth of your heart. i sure am He will give what it desires ~ to see Desmond again real soon. keep the faith 🙂
Thank you. I will… 🙂
James, as Mani said, just believe, don’t think when and how, just believe and thank God for meeting that little boy. God knows when and how, you just believe.
So sad, happy and full of love is your letter. I will prey that your plans come true.
Thank you… yes, I am focusing on the beautiful unknown. It is nice to be reassured… and your words are so true – I should be more thankful for our meeting, rather than simply consumed by the distance. If I can know he is happy and looked after I can rest. Going back is a miracle – and it’s so soon really. I am blessed… Thank you, friend, for your advice. ..Jx
Handsome little gentleman, James… As a father/son relationship it would be different, as persons from different countries and cultures it can have their risks, probably it can mean a change in your way of life. But we don’t have time to follow other thing that our hearts so if yours have already decided then the only thing you can do is, as you know, to follow it. I hope any road you both take ends in happiness.
Thank you… It would change everything really… which would be a difficulty in itself. I don’t know how to be normal or stay in one place! That scares me… but, like you say, the heart speaks. And, even though it may make no sense to me now in many ways, I truly believe this is all part of the plan of my life, and that little man has come into my life for a reason. I won’t abandon him.
James, you know I find it impossible to comment on this post. At least in the way that I wish I could. You know from my own writing how deeply I understand. As I read, I wanted to tell you a million times…please, James, do everything you can to adopt him. It doesn’t matter that your 25. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a permanent address. The only thing matters is the way this boy is going to change your life and the way he is going to change yours. And yet I also understand the complications of it all. I understand the need of the mother to have her son still be a part of her life. I understand that there is bureaucratic hoops to jump through. I, too, have researched adoption (in Uganda) because of my dear Sharon. I’m not sure what the differences are in Ghana, but it’s possible that it is easier than you think, especially with the permission being given by the mother. I find myself wanting to ask you to please stay in Ghana…for Desmond and the other kids. And yet I also understand that it’s not fair of me to offer such bold suggestions. What I will say…is that I understand, with my whole heart and being, what it means to be a parent to someone so far away. Bless you, dear James. May God guide you clearly and make a way for whatever is meant to be.
Thank you so much Jessie. I know that you know what this whole thing is about, and I can tell you, writing this post was very hard indeed – although it has helped, relieved some of the knotting pain inside. All the things you say go through my head often, and something will happen, I’m sure. This is not resolved yet. The first big thing for me is going back – I know I have to prove to him that I meant what I said, and I will. I will see how my month in Ghana goes with him, the other kids, who I did adore too, although I wrote only about Desmond in this post… just my boy. I’m sure this whole saga will turn out exactly as it’s meant to… Desmond’s mother can’t really go to visit him, as she’s so ill, so I will go and see her – I’ve never spoken to or seen her directly… I know God has a plan. Something like this happens only for a reason… Jxxx
Amen, James. Please know that I will be thinking about and praying for you and Desmond every day. I pray he will never feel abandoned, even if life needs to physically separate the two of you at times. We’re capable of more than we realize. Or maybe I should say GOD is capable of more than we realize. Whatever the outcome, I pray for both your and Desmond’s hearts. Everything changes when it becomes as real as this. I find my whole life focused on Sharon now. Nothing will ever be the same again. Bless you, dear friend.
Bless you, Jessie. Thank you so much. You have a very compassionate heart. God is capable of more than we realise. Your words shine with truth. I will pray for you and your precious Sharon too. It’s such a comfort to know I’m not the only person who has had these feelings or experiences. Thank you for being there for me.
Wow. I’m speechless and I’m not at the same time. I really felt that. It was heartbreaking and it was heartfelt, and loveful and joyful. There was so much going on inside me and in my mind as I was reading through. Before you mentioned in your letter, the thoughts about you adopting this little boy did come to my mind, even though yes: you are twenty something, single, and a wanderer. You guys have a long and deep relationship, you are soulmates. I don’t believe a soulmate has to be the romantic kind like people often use the word. I can’t even imagine the pain you both went through when you departed.
Personally I would wait until mom is no longer. If she’s still in the picture, it would also be heartbreaking for her to lose him. But I obviously don’t know the whole situation.
I hope you are feeling better from being sick, and I’m glad you get to reunite.
Thank you, Mani. This is something I really just had to write, not so easy, but absolutely necessary. Your ‘soul mates’ comment just made me well-up… I think you’re right, yet, like I said, not really sure how this one’s going to turn out so I’ll just have to give it up to God. I’m sure He has some plan. I also know that it wouldn’t be fair to take Desmond out of Africa when he hardly speaks any of my language, or a language that I know… so we will see. I want to go visit his mother when I’m back in Ghana, just so she knows I will look after him, someway, somehow… Jx
I think your plan is perfect. The best thing we can do is give it to God. It was amazing of you to share that letter. Happy weekend!
🙂 …thank you, Mani. Thank you, God. Happy weekend.