Maria Teresa. Her birth name too long for her tiny body. At seven months, she was a wizened eight pounds, unable to hold up her head, roll over, or smile, and so she became simply Tez. I gazed at her soft brown skin, her dark eyes, and her springy curls. She grasped my finger and held on. I cradled her. I suckled her with bottles of rich milk, and watched her blossom into a sturdy grinning one-year-old, on the verge of her first step. Her legs had transformed from fragile twigs into strong saplings, planted solidly on her Angolan land. I prepared to give her, healthy, back to her family just a year before the colonial revolution against Portugal. We boarded the train, I to continue on to Rhodesia for high school, she to go home to a family she didn’t know. What became of her?
I’ll never completely come to terms with the audacity of handing Tez out the train window at the Bela Vista whistle stop. Wrenched from me, a 14-year-old who didn’t know about repercussions, didn’t understand how the body never forgets. I went on with life, moved to school 1500 miles away, learned to maneuver another culture, and left Africa abruptly when war started. But what happened to that little Angolan girl forty-eight years later, if she survived war, land mines, hunger, and flight to a neighboring country? Did she die or did she grow up a refugee—one of 300,000 who fled? After forty years, the war sputtered to a close in 2002. Has Tez returned to Angola, hoping to make her life in a devastated land, in an unfamiliar country? Whether and how she survived continues to haunt me.