All at once the room went black. I plunged my hand into the darkness and fumbled around for my headlamp. “Se fue la luz!” reaffirmed my Dominican roommate. My fingers grasped ahold of the headlamp. A stream of light illuminated my surroundings, highlighting the mosquitos stirring around me. My roommate appeared in the doorway, gesturing me to follow.
A few steps along the dirt road and we were in the center of Punta Rucia, Dominican Republic. I use the word “center” liberally, considering it was merely a convenient store on one side and a beachside arbor on the other. The convenient store and the arbor boasted the luxury of a generator, so light prevailed even during the daily power outages. In this rural beachside village, I was assigned with researching and restoring the coral reefs off the coast.
In the center I was idly listening to the locals converse in Spanish when I realized I was being watched. In my peripheral vision I spotted two big round eyes peeking out from behind a wooden bolster. I looked into the eyes and they ducked away into the night. I refocused on the conversation, trying to decipher meaning through what little I knew of the language. Suddenly the same eyes appeared again, observing me curiously. I turned to meet them and they quickly disappeared, this time with a smile and a giggle. Peekaboo, I realized. This time I pretended not to notice as the eyes emerged from the darkness once again, inching further and further into the light. Behind the eyes materialized a little boy, shirtless, shoeless, dusted by dirt and sand. I turned to him with a big smile and in a squeal of laughter he ran for cover. In Spanish I called, “what’s your name?” He popped back into view with a smile, “Carlito!” He gushed.
From that moment on little Carlito followed me like a shadow. I exchanged what words I could with him in Spanish, but our main form of communication was play. Whenever I went for a swim, he would find me and splash in the water with me. Whenever I sat down to watch the sunset, he would show up and we’d play chase as the sun dipped down behind the ocean.
One day we were sitting in the sand after collecting sea shells when he suddenly revealed, “You’re like a mother to me.” Taken aback I asked him about his real mother. “My parents are gone” he said. As this information washed over me I felt emotion ripple through my chest, “As long as I’m here, I’ll be your family” I whispered as tears welled in my eyes.