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Fortunately, there wasn't much anxiety because she was recovered before anyone even knew she was gone. Craftiness had been a survival skill in her early life and she'd timed her departure well: at the beginning of the weekly assembly she slipped out the rear door and she and her bulging backpack were across the narrow side yard and over the fence in seconds. Since nobody took attendance at assembly nor at lunch following, she wouldn't have been missed for at least two hours and she had already been found before then.
It both was and wasn't remarkable that she was recovered so quickly. There wasn't really anything that unusual about a person addressing the doorman at Hotel Lafayette in perfect French to ask directions to the Thai consulate. It was, however, quite remarkable that said person, obviously not French, was alone and appeared even younger than her seven years. The doorman surreptitiously called 911 while providing fabricated directions in minute detail until the police arrived and took the young girl to child services.
Ruth, the assigned social worker, quickly learned that Sarai had been adopted several months earlier from an orphanage in Thailand by a childless American couple. Recently, however, her adoptive mother had discovered that, contrary to all the doctors' prognoses, she had become pregnant. With a natural child on the way, after overhearing comments by some family friends and being displaced from her room, Sarai soon realized she was no longer wanted and decided to make her own way home before her new family sent her back.
Ruth called the child's mother and, after a private talk, told Sarai that they would have to go to her erstwhile home to collect the rest of her belongings and have some papers signed before she could be returned to Thailand.
Upon arrival at the modest suburban home, Ruth and Sarai were ushered into the living room by both of the girl's new parents, the mother swollen in that stage where one declines to ask about pregnancy to avoid upsetting a woman merely overweight. The four of them sat in uneasy silence for several minutes, nobody knowing quite what to say. Finally Ruth spoke, “Sarai tells me that since you will soon have a child of your own, you no longer need her. She thought she could return to Thailand without causing any trouble, but I've told her that there are formalities, papers to be signed and such. This won't take long. I just have to verify that everybody is in agreement that this is the best thing for Sarai – and for the two of you, also, of course. So, is this what you all want?”
Husband and wife looked at each other, then he answered, “Well, yes, I guess it is. We didn't realize Sarai has been so unhappy here but since she is, of course she should return to Thailand if that's what will make her happy.”
“No, I haven't been unhappy!” Sarai exclaimed, “You have been very good to me and I was very happy here. But now you will have a real child; you don't want me any more.”
“Why would you think that?” the mother demanded, “What made you believe we don't want you?”
“You'll have your own child, one you made. You don't need somebody else's.”
“You're right, we don't need somebody else's child. But you aren't anybody else's any more, now you are supposed to be ours. That's what adoption means. You are our real child and we are your real parents.” Her father continued, “It's true our son is special to us because we made him. But you are special because we found you. We went halfway around the world to find you – do you have any idea how many pictures we looked at, how many children we saw before we picked you? And how anxious we were until you picked us? We loved you at first sight and we've never stopped.”
“But how can you love me the same as your own baby?”
He thought a moment, then answered, “We won't love you the same. You never love anyone the same as anyone else, but that doesn't mean you love one less. My sisters, your auntie Margret and auntie Sarah, you know how they are. Margret is so proper and neat, and Sarah is... well, as you remarked, Sarah is a happy mess. I love them both as much but not the same. I love each of them for who they are and they are very different people so I love them differently. I love our son because he's a boy, and I love you because you're a girl. I love you because you're first and I love him because he's younger. We have enough love for both of you. And for more in case we have another child or all decide to adopt one.”
“But you took away my room!”
The wife replied, “The baby's room has to be next to ours so we can hear him cry, and so we can feed him at night. That’s why your old room is being remodeled as the nursery. If you slept in our room now I might wake you every time I get up – that happens a lot when you’re pregnant! We told you you'd only have to sleep on the cot in the family room for a little while.”
“Yes, until you send me back to Thailand.”
“No!” the husband exclaimed, “Just until we got your new bedroom ready.”
“What? There aren't any other bedrooms.”
“Come on,” he said, taking Sarai by the hand and leading her to a door off the hall, “there is another one now,” as he opened the door.
“But this is your office,” she protested, then stopped, staring in shock.
“Not any more,” he replied, “Your mother and I are sharing her office now. This was supposed to be your new room. I guess we should have explained, but we wanted it to be a surprise.”
Sarai's expression made it obvious they had succeeded indeed. The girl walked around the room, looking in wonder at the familiar bed and dresser, the new chair and desk, the frilly curtains, the flowered wallpaper on three walls and on the fourth, above a jumble of drop cloths and paint cans, the nearly completed painted mural of a family of elephants marching through a jungle with the indistinct outline of a Siamese temple in the background. “This is mine?” she asked in disbelief.
“Well,” he replied in a studied tone, “It would have been if you hadn't decided to return to Thailand. I guess now we'll have to go back there, too, and find another little girl to adopt, so the elephants will make her feel at home.”
“No!” she almost screamed, “I'm not going anywhere! Please,” she turned to her mother and Ruth standing in the doorway trying to keep straight faces, “Let me stay. I won't run away again, I promise. I didn't know you wanted me, but you wouldn't have made this room for me if you didn't. Please let me stay?”
“Well,” Ruth answered slowly, “It's rather unusual. But if your parents want you to stay?” she paused and looked questioningly first at the girl's mother who glanced at her husband who looked thoughtful for several seconds.
Sarai ran to her father and hugged him, “Please, Father, let me stay. I'll be good, and I'll be a good big sister to baby brother when he comes. I can teach him lots of things, like Thai and French and Russian. Please!”
“Russian? How do you know Russian? Well, no matter.” He stalled another few moments in deep thought before shrugging agreement, “Oh, OK, if it's all right with your mother.
Taking her cue from her husband, she waited a short while before saying, “I suppose so. After all, you're already here and we've gone through the adoption procedure – it'd be a waste to have to start that all over again.”
Sarai ran over and hugged her, too, saying, “Oh, thank you Mommy, you won't be sorry … oofff … why are you hugging me so hard?”
“Because that's the first time you called me 'Mommy' and I like it.”
Ruth interrupted, “I'll have to talk privately with Sarai for a few minutes to make sure this really is what she wants without her being influenced by anyone else.”
“Oh, yes, this is what I want!” Sarai replied as her parents left the room and closed the door behind them.
“I think you're making the right decision,” Ruth said, “Your parents really love you. Look at the effort they put into this room. They even painted the elephants themselves, so you would have something to remind you of Thailand if you ever get homesick.”
Sarai laughed and Ruth asked, “What's so funny?”
“Because I only saw pictures of elephants in Thailand; I never even saw a real one until Mother and Father… Mommy and Daddy took me to the zoo here. And they were the wrong elephants there, too, just like these.”
“What do you mean wrong? What's the matter with them?”
“They're the African kind. See,” she pointed, “They have great big ears and slanted heads. Elephants in the pictures in Thailand have much smaller ears and more square heads.”
“Oh, well, I'm sure they can fix them.”
“No!” Sarai replied adamantly, “I love them just the way they are. They're like me. They're from another place and they look like they don't belong, but they do, they belong right here. Just like me.”