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The Invisible Children

From: Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics
Volume 2, Number 2, Fall 2012
pp. E4-E6 | 10.1353/nib.2012.0034

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Исчезаю в весне,
в толпе,
в лужах,
в синеве.
И не ищите.
Мне так хорошо...

I fade into spring,
or into a crowd,
or into a puddle,
sometimes into the blue.
There's no sense in looking for me.
I feel fine . . .

—¾"Absentee" by Arvo Mets

"You have to go through Lesha to get to Danil," Alexandra told me. Lesha was a small but unmoving dog with matted hair and a fierce growl. The dog was pressed against the little boy, who looked no more than three or four years old. Alexandra later told me he was eight. Danil was wearing a Spider Man shirt that was four sizes too big and came down to his feet and mismatched sandals. He was huddled against his dog not only for security but warmth. His tiny arm circled Lesha's neck and he looked at me with a mix of curiosity and caution. I knelt and put my hand out for Lesha to smell me. Apparently I didn't pass the smell test. The dog didn't budge from his post. We stood like that for a long time, at the base of the steps to the shelter. I tried the few Russian words I had learned while visiting as a volunteer. The dog didn't understand my broken Russian, or pretended not to, but I managed to get a shy smile from Danil.

Alexandra, a nurse volunteer at the shelter, eventually mediated the standoff by giving Lesha, the dog, a cookie. I introduced myself to the little boy. And just like that, he leaned up against me and put both arms around my legs. It didn't matter that I was a stranger, and a stranger who spoke terrible Russian. "Spidey" was an affectionate little guy. He gripped my hand while Alexandra led us up the steps and Lesha followed close behind. Inside was a small room, warm and full of color. One wall was covered in kids' drawings. Another had public health posters in Russian, some with instructions for condom use, others on literacy. There were about fifteen kids in the shelter that afternoon. The young ones were drawing pictures at a low table. Two teenage boys were hunched over a small TV playing a video game. There was only one teenage girl, Irina. She was cooing at the little kid's drawings, showing one girl how to draw a princess. Alexandra said quietly to me, "Most of the teenage girls are only here in the morning. The rest are back at work right now." I found out later "back at work" meant on the streets as sex workers. This city was frequented by businessmen and itinerant workers heading to the factories or lumber mills in the North. The best money for homeless girls was in prostitution. Danil unwrapped himself from me and ran over to the two older boys playing video games. One put his controller down long enough to pull Danil into his lap. The three boys stared intently as Super Mario hopped from mushroom to magic cloud, golden coins spinning above his cartoon head.

To the right of the main room was a closet-sized office for the shelter director, Anya, a pediatrician who donated her time to running the shelter for homeless and orphaned youth living on the streets. Alexandra and I stood in the doorway waiting for Anya to finish a phone conversation. Her desk was covered in papers. Behind her were photos of the kids who had "graduated" from the streets. There were cards and letters pinned to a cork board. When [End Page E4] she finished, Anya greeted us with bear hugs and showed us to the clinic area. Next to her office was a small bathroom with a shower and tub. She explained that bath days were on Wednesdays. Around back, with a separate entrance was the small clinic space. The outside metal door had a sliding window that you see at some nightclubs. They ran a needle exchange program out of that door. It was funded for street youth, but from time to time they would get adult addicts. Anya was adamant that this side of the clinic remain separate from the central space for the children. In reality the distance was a few meters. Because...



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