The sun had long since disappeared, and with the dark had come the cold. The Casa Hogar is a long, outdoor hallway, with three bedrooms, a sala, a kitchen and a bathroom lining the neat stretch of white tile. Open-air hallway because it’s Mexico. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get chilly.
Earlier in the evening, my family had been at the Casa Hogar with me. We had enjoyed cookies and frosting with the kids, and then spent some time coloring, talking, and hanging out.
But it was night now, and my mother, father, sisters, and brother had scrambled into the little silver car and driven back to Manuel and Tere’s house. Back to dinner. Back to bath. Back to bed.
I had chosen to stay for a bit.
I hurried up the dark hall, stepping carefully and quickly across the tiled floor; months spent at the Casa Hogar have taught me that worn-out TOMS and slick tile do not a great match make. I slipped into the now-dark kitchen and felt a tinge of fear at being alone in the pitch-black room. I felt along the wall, the faint light of the moon shining through the window, and flicked the light on. The room instantly illuminated in flat yellow light, I grabbed a new roll of toilet paper, flipped the light back off, and scurried back down the hall to the two-stall bathroom.
Minutes later, and the toilet paper back where it belongs, I pushed my hands deeper into my jacket pockets and ran yet further down the hallway. Past Room 1, where 12 of the older girls sleep. Past Room 2, where I once spent a Sunday afternoon, and stopped in front of the Sala.
I tapped on the door, both a warning to those who I knew were standing on the other side of the brown door, as well as a request; I’m coming in. May I come in? I clicked the door open and gently pushed. In the dimly lit room, I could barely make out the forms of children and teens moving out of the way.
I slipped through the barely open door, whispering thanks to the young ones who had moved, patting a head, a cheek, as I squeezed into the room.
The sala, filled as it was with more than 40 people, was toasty warm, and I shivered as I stepped inside, as if shaking off the cold that lurked on the other side of the door. Couches line the sala, with an open space in the middle, and the TV in front of the room. As light from the TV flashed across the room, I stepped carefully across tan tiled floor. Around a pile of young boys wrapped comfortably in their blankets, over the sleeping form of another young child.
Pressed against the back of the room, tucked in between a blue love seat and a little wooden bench, sat a fat brown couch. Three of the women who work at the Casa Hogar, women who care for and love the children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, women who I both respect and love, sat cozily on the brown couch. Stepping around one last child, I arrived at the brown couch and settled into my spot between the women. A green fleece blanket lay across the three other couch occupants, and I pulled the thick fabric back up around me and nestled deeper into the cozy warmth of the couch.
The Christmas tree flashed colored lights in the corner, children and adolescents across the room breathed, slept, and watched the movie. Whispered comments could occasionally be heard across the room, as we laughed and sighed, smiled and cried along with the movie. It was warm and comfortable there in the sala, surrounded by loved ones both young and old, and it was a wonderful Christmas night.