In the U.S., a 26-year-old man clicked the news headline at the top of his email inbox, and began to read about an earthquake in Haiti.
His mother was in Haiti. It had been years since she had visited her home country, and he had given her the money to go, a small gift to try to make up for the distance from him he knew she felt, after watching him grow up into a culture that never quite became hers, grow up wanting things exorbitant and strange, grow up to sit in front of a desk, entering names and numbers into an online phonebook for more money than she could ever imagine earning but much, much less than he could.
His wife was in Haiti. She had lived there until she was nine, and had wanted to see it again. He had paid for her to go with his mother.
He had stayed behind, with his work and his daughter—another gift he had offered his wife, a week of her own, without their three-year-old.
As he read the articles and scanned the pictures of dust and devastation and people in too much pain to ward off intruding cameras, he remembered a goddess his mother prayed to. He remembered an image, a dark-skinned woman with two marks across her face and a child in her arms, the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Erzulie Dantor of Haiti, the goddess of single mothers.
He prays, Dantor, let me not have become a single father; and he stands up and tells his supervisor that he has a family emergency and drives to the daycare and takes his daughter home and watches her play.
He wonders whether she will grow up to remember the two women he sees in her.
In the UK, a 45-year-old English woman sat down at the family desktop, in a Tuesday break from laundry and vacuuming and groceries and all the things that wouldn't fit in around the workdays (Mondays and Tuesdays off, alternating weeks), and opened an email from a member of her book group. Have you heard? said the email; and she hadn't, so she turned to the rest of the web and went looking.
She read about a country she had never visited but thought about visiting, an ocean away, a country that had collapsed in on itself. She read projections of deaths and casualties, of estimated damages in dollars and in pounds. She read about schools and the children who had survived because they were not in attendance, and those who had died because they were.
When she looked up, she looked at her own daughter, her youngest, home from school with the edge of a temperature, telling herself a story from a wordless picture book, wrapped in an old afghan and hugging a bowl of long-melted ice cream. She thought of her eldest two daughters, at school. Safe at school.
She looked past her daughter, to the little shrine in the corner of the sitting room, a table draped in a dark blue cloth and a deep red cloth, set with cut marigolds from the florist down the street and strings of deep red beads and Threes of Hearts—tarot cards of heartbreak and of pulling through—and gifts her children had brought home for her from school, gifts she shared with her chosen goddess.
After the divorce, finding Dantor, goddess of single mothers, had helped her believe she could make it, raise her girls, live and not fail herself or them.
Now, she thinks, my life has been so easy. She prays, let those children be safe, as many as can be.
She gets up and hugs her daughter and takes her bowl and continues the housework, and thinks of children.
In Korea, a 16-year-old girl received a private message from a guildmate, and minimized the game window to enter the URL she'd been sent into her browser.
As the girl's avatar sat by an oasis spring, health and mana bars refilling, the girl herself clicked through articles in Korean and English, sifting through the names and the few idioms her life online had failed to expose her to, the magnitudes and Richter scales, the mire of politics and the welter of aid organizations. She had written about Haiti. She had told stories about Haiti—on her bookshelves, beside manhwa and schoolwork and fantasy novels, sat travel guides and histories of the Caribbean. She knew Port-au-Prince and the Cite Soleil and the Haitian Revolution and the Duvalier dictatorship. She knew Haitian voodoo and the loa. She knew that the country struggled.
But what she was reading and seeing now was new knowledge. This was a new Haiti.
This was not the Haiti level-39 warrior-goddess Dantor represented and told stories of to her fellow gods in the Rebel Pantheon, the girl's guild in the MMORPG she spent most of her free time playing. This was a real Haiti; an immediate, bleeding Haiti; a Haiti that she could not write about to dream and escape.
She sent an apology to her guildmates, in the game, and logged out, the 30-second counter above Dantor's head ticking down until the screen went blank, and then the girl sat at her desk, staring at the server menu.
She clicked it closed, and called up the website of an international charity that protected children from exploitation and abuse. In times of disaster, she had just read, criminals abducted abandoned and orphaned children and sold them into slavery.
Her level-39 warrior-goddess Dantor protected the innocent, single mothers and lone children, the angry and the abused and the wronged, the left behind and the unheard, the voices that others condemned and stifled and ignored, that spoke in silence and would not die.
Dantor, she prays, I can't keep you for myself. Go help them now. I'll be fine.
She clicks on a button that reads "Donate" and gives away the money in the account that keeps her game subscription live, and then she finds her mother and hugs her without explaining why.