Mission to Mars
By: Richard Mark Dixon
Underwear, shirts, socks, and school uniforms hung on a wire between two willows. Empty feet and legs opened and kicked with wind as if waiting for flesh and bone to fill them once again. Our church van drove past the waving toes and collars and parked in front of the office at Oasis del Niño in Mexicali, Mexico.
As we got out of our van, a crowd of kids surrounded us. One boy held a soccer ball, another a jar of marbles (some as big as eye-balls), a girl held a Raggedy Ann doll, and there were lots of scraped knees. One boy in particular caught my attention because his head was much too big for his dwarfed body. “Must be sick,” I thought.
A nun who introduced herself as Sister Paz accompanied the children; she had a very peaceful manner about her. She thanked our university group for coming to spend the day at the orphanage and explained six sisters cared for 120 orphans. “We couldn’t survive without people like you who come to help us.” She then took us on a tour of the orphanage.
The room for babies was a parking lot of cribs. Above each crib hung a colorful mobile of monarch butterflies. The dorm for four-, five-, and six-year-olds also had lots of beds; the walls were painted with colorful flowers. The older boys and girls, ages seven to ten, were separated into two dorms. The boy’s dorm was decorated with green hulks painted on the walls and murals of worms and ants tunneling in the earth with lots of jungle plants and mango trees above. Kids were excited to point out anything that belonged to them. “Here’s my bed,” said one boy. “I sleep beyond the Virgin, in that bed,” said another (in the middle of the dorm was a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe). The boy with the large head grabbed my hand and told me his name was Maximo. Before I could introduce myself, he was dragging me off to show me something. When we got to the side of his bed, he reached up and pulled a model space ship from a shelf and told me he was from Madrid in Spain and that his father was an astronaut and was on his way to Mars. “But Mars is too far, so he had to drop me off with the sisters.”
I told Maximo I always wanted to go to Spain, but I’d never given much thought to Mars.
“In Spain you can stay at my house. My home is your home.” Maximo’s lopsided head tilted and he told me his home had balconies and a swimming pool and a soccer field and horses and dogs.
At that moment a boy passed and whispered to me, “Don’t pay him any mind. He’s crazy.”