So for the past few months, I’ve been cradling certain memories and stories in my heart. There are women and girls that I’ve met here that have touched me in such a deep place. These beautiful women have shown me what bravery, kindness, selflessness, perseverance, and love look like. Part of me has wanted to tell their stories, but I don’t want objectify them for the sake of a story. I do, however, want to share the way that God is stirring something up in my heart because they have been in my life, because they have lived. So, today, I want to tell you about Zeba.
I met Zeba when we moved here 8 months ago. I remember the very first time I saw her. When we moved in, I was (for a short time) a sort of celebrity with the neighborhood little girls. All of them came to our house everyday to ask a barrage of questions about life in America, how to make cookies, or my favorite colors and movies. While the girls piled into my kitchen to make cookies one day, Zeba stayed outside, her body flat against my house with one ear pressed to my kitchen window screen. I caught a glimpse of her hair through the window, so I invited her in. I’m pretty sure her big brown eyes doubled in size at my invitation, but she said yes. Zeba was a short and stout seven year old. She was calm, quiet, and I remember how quickly she worked rolling lumps of cookie dough between her hands and arranging them neatly on the cookie sheet.
After our first meeting, I learned that Zeba’s mother worked as a maid for my next-door neighbor. Zeba was the oldest of her children, so early in the morning before school, Zeba came to work with her to learn the tricks of the trade. Then, after school she would return to my neighbor’s house to work. Sometimes, if the housework was slow, Zeba came outside to play with the other girls for an hour or two. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say things like this, but Zeba quickly became my favorite. She was just so kind. I would sometimes see the girls outside playing. If one fell down, Zeba would console her. If one was rude, Zeba would quickly try to resolve the conflict between them. If one was crying, Zeba wiped their tears. She had this natural way of nurturing everyone. The other girls were pretty mean to her. When no one was around she was a fine playmate, but when there were others to choose from, Zeba quickly became an outsider and the butt of all their jokes. She tolerated it beautifully. And somehow, she always smiled and laughed.
I couldn’t help myself. I found myself sneakily giving her extra cookies or saving some of our American food to let her taste. When the other kids weren’t around and she was outside doing work, I’d sit with her and try to tell stories with my bad grammar and limited vocabulary. When she was too busy and couldn’t come out, I’d wink or wave at her from my doorway. She and I would sit and laugh and make faces at each other. One day, Zeba didn’t come out at all. It was around Bakra Eid, so I didn’t think much about it. I figured the busyness of the holiday meant extra work. But, then two or three days passed and I still hadn’t seen her. I asked my husband about her. He told me he learned from the neighbors days before that Zeba had been sold to a family in Delhi as a house maid. She wouldn’t be going to go to school anymore, but would take on full time work for our neighbor’s relative. He didn’t have the heart to tell me sooner.
I have seldom felt the way I did at that moment. It was like all of my internal organs moved from my abdomen to my feet. My heart raced, my face flushed, and tears came flowing. I still miss her. I find myself praying for her often. Every now and again, I still cry for her. When I see her mom, I always ask how Zeba is. She says she hasn’t gotten to talk to her much. At first, I was angry. And then I was ashamed that I didn’t see it coming and hadn’t tried to do something to help her before she was sold. But then, finally, I found myself in surrender to the Lord, just trusting Him to hold on to this sweet, innocent one. And I sense Him leading me to continue to walk with my eyes and heart open for little ones like Zeba. I may have only given her extra cookies, but maybe by God’s grace, in the future I can offer another little girl something more.