True short story: The girl who died on the streets — Mark Roberts

A part of the painting ‘Christ Mocked,’  a long-lost masterpiece by Florentine Renaissance artist Cimabue in the late 13th century, which was sold for $27-million after it was found in an elderly woman’s kitchen in France last year.

It was bitterly cold as the young Rebekah wandered down the frost-laden streets of the old city. Most people were in bed, snuggled up next to loved ones or sitting in front of the evening fire. Rebekah had no family and the only thing on the young girl’s mind was the little babe that kicked furiously and determinedly in her womb.

She snuggled up in the corner of an alleyway and allowed her mind to drift through the years that had brought her here. No food and no money left the young girl with few choices. In the end, all she had left to give was her body. Cash offered for services rendered did not pay for the consequences of the night and the young sailor was long gone — sailing distant seas by the time her belly began to swell. A woman with a belly was certainly no man’s fantasy and business had slowed completely. Sometime during the night her water broke and no one knew who helped deliver that little baby boy, but by the time the infant arrived into this cold and weary world his young mother had bled to death: Leaving the infant with no mother, father or any known relatives. Being a conservative town, there was no further information recorded regarding the infant. The only thing anyone knew about the young girl was that her name was Rebekah and that she had died during childbirth. The little boy was born with clubbed feet, placed in an orphanage and deemed unfit for adoption due to his crippled feet.

On a warm Spring evening several years later, the cries of another infant awakened this world from slumber in a nursing home, frail and weak, a month before his time. The infant was placed gently on his excited mothers’ breast. In the hallway, stood a young boy who once sported clubbed feet, holding his daddy’s hand, ready to welcome his new baby brother into this world. That baby was me. My adopted big brother Charlie, after many operations on his feet, became my hero and my idol.

My father had walked through the orphanage dorm many years before and stopped at the crib of a little boy whose legs were in bandages. This little boy was born with clubbed feet and my father loved that little boy with all his heart.

Several court cases later, my father and mother drove their little boy home. He sat smiling on the back seat of their Chevy, unaware of the great tragedies that had preceded his adoption. Love, it seemed, had healed all wounds. In my eyes, Charlie was amazing and everywhere he went, he tagged his baby brother along. This changed when the ‘hippie years’ commenced. Charlie found his niche with a group of friends that my parents did not approve of. Rebellion crept in the door of our home and Charlie would disappear for days on end, getting high. Before long, the Police were involved and from that moment his life seemed to spiral out of control.

Charlie was passionate about music. He mastered about fourteen different instruments, registering the highest IQ at his high school. He never finished school, but whatever he set his mind to proved successful as a result of pure genius. It was almost as if the underlying cause for the rebellion was as a result of the adoption. How could his mother have left him? It was as though Charlie held onto a wave of invisible anger and grudge. Despite the lifestyle that followed, he and my father remained close. It never ceased to amaze me how my father looked past Charlie’s faults and flaws, seeing only a son that he loved with all his heart.

At Christmas time, all six children would sit around the table. Dad would look over at Charlie and wink, unspoken tender emotions passing between them. After Christmas, Charlie would hit the road again, and I would stand watching my father as the lines of worry appeared on his face. Charlie was searching, but he didn’t know what for. Was it redemption or forgiveness? Perhaps an explanation from his mother or just an answer to the purpose of it all? It struck me that Charlie was so busy searching for answers that he missed what was right under his nose: His father, his family and the God they served.

In the 13th Century, Florentine painter Cimabue completed a painting portraying Christ being mocked on His way to the Cross. This piece of work disappeared without a trace until it was found hanging above a cooking stove of an elderly woman in Northern Paris, France, in the 1990s. She was oblivious to its value, thinking it to be a cheap replica from Russia. Spotted by an outsider, it was authenticated and sold for $27-million at an auction. It is the only Cimabue work to ever come onto the market. Charlie was just like the old woman. Before him lay the most priceless gifts that God could have given him and almost in mockery, Charlie looked past them in search of futile answers and dreams in a world that cared as much for him as it had Rebekah.

As the years passed and his siblings grew, Charlie seemed to come around less, perhaps feeling inferior and guilty. He began to see himself as less favoured, an outcast. I can remember dad, sitting on his couch, weeping for the little boy from the orphanage. My father had been adopted twice and had spent time in an orphanage himself – which provided him with a deep understanding of what Charlie was going through. Instead of bitterness toward his past and his mother, dad had grasped the portrait above the stove and had embraced his faith and his God. All he wanted was for Charlie to see what he saw because he knew it was the only answer.

For several years, Charlie and I didn’t speak often. That is, until a family reunion was planned at my sister’s house. I was surprised to see him. Later that night, Charlie came to my room to wake me up, drunk and slurring he stammered to my bedside: “Marky, wake up. I have to play something for you.” With an old harp in his hand, he seated himself on the bed and played the most beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace I have ever heard. A musical genius; it had taken him just two days to learn to play the harp like a master. I sat and wept in that bed and as we sat, just two brothers chatting, I asked him: “Charlie, what happened?” There was no reply, just the soft melody from the harp filtering through the air. I was sure that even God was silent as the melody rang through the hallways of Heaven. There is something passionate and heartfelt in the melodies of broken people, and Charlie was playing with all the years of pent up frustration and remorse.

“I’ve really screwed it all up. I guess I could have done it differently”, he said, “I turned out to be the black sheep. I know how others look at me. I guess I deserve that because not even God will look at me.” Tears filled his eyes and for a moment he drifted away. I wasn’t sure if it was the booze or a distant desire for something he had missed. “Charlie, I think God loves the melody and I think he loves broken people. Just look at dad; he loves you and you caused him the most pain in the world. I think God is a lot bigger than dad”, I said. “I do believe in Him, you know” whispered Charlie, “I have always believed in Him. It’s myself that I never believed in.”

“Believing is all it’s ever about Charlie,” I said, “He believed in you when you were that little boy with clubbed feet. He cared enough to send a saint to that orphanage to fetch you. Cared enough to dust out all traces of the footprints you left in those terrible places over the years. He even came here personally to do it; personally so that by the time He calls you home, no one will know you as anything other than His son; the apple of His eye.”

We smiled at each other. Finally, family members made their way to our room where we laughed and joked until dawn beckoned.

I heard that Charlie went to Church a few times after that and also toward the end of his life. Regrets are amazing things. I would have spent more time talking to Charlie, and I would have looked at him like God did. I think there is a reason that there is no information about the circumstances of Charlie’s birth or Rebekah’s death. I think it’s quite possible that the hands that caught that little boy in that alleyway on that cold winters’ night were God’s own scarred hands. Those hands with gaping wounds had paid the price for Charlie’s sinful life long before he breathed his first breath in the alley and they were the bleeding hands that picked up Rebekah and joyfully carried her home.

Imagine if what you are looking for is lying right in front of your eyes…

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