I saw her yesterday, at the hospital. I know now that her her name probably starts with an M. Benjy told me that, and he also told me she's very, very nice. "Isn't Mustang a wonderful name?" he said. "Like a car that is a thing of beauty."
I was walking down the corridor of Unit One with Ben and she emerged from the bathroom, mop in hand. She seemed suspended in another universe, dreamy, thinking about some delicious food or happy interlude. It was a moment before she saw us.
I smiled broadly and said hello. She smiled back. Her smile was warm and her lips a sort of sunny red. She wears make-up, I thought with surprise, and that small fact made her seem strong in my eyes. A Camilla among janitresses. She wears make-up and she cleans up after a posse of broken children, some of whom scream and try to kick down doors and some of whom make various sorts of unpleasant messes. The make-up tells me that she finds this a job worth doing, worth dressing up a little for -- and that she is brave enough to undertake it. I don't know if I would be so brave. Or that I would be able to maintain my dignity, as she does, in spite of the dirty toilets.
I did not see shadows lurking in her face, shades of the death and struggle and sadness I know are part of her life.
When she noticed Benjy she did a little dance with her mop. Waltzed it in a wide circle.
"You're back!" she said, as if this was something to celebrate -- not the illness but the presence of this young boy.
He nodded, held out his hand. She clasped it, drew it to her lips, and kissed it.
"Thank you," said Ben, who is polite even when taken aback. Although I don't think he was taken aback; I think he just went with it. For a child in a locked unit, anything is possible and much is impossible. You have to roll with the punches.
She looked at me. "So tall he is now," she said admiringly. "So big boy."
I agreed. "I didn't think we'd be back so soon," I said sadly.
"But I am glad to see my friend," she told us, and before I could answer she waved and turned away. There were more bathrooms to clean. More broken children who needed her smile.
What I do not ever see inscribed on Mustang's face, or hear in the tone of her voice, is bitterness. I think she expects nothing more than the chance to work, to make ends meet. To help her family with money, and with love. She is not afraid of hard work. Even though she is neither my sister nor my friend, I am so proud of that.
You can read the story of her family here, in my original post about the woman Ben calls Mustang.