Deb put her shell-like ear to the woman's mouth, inadvertently smearing her earring with blood, and listened to the old woman's wheezing Creole. The expression on Deb's face changed from puzzlement to incredulity to horror.
"Stop!" she yelled to the Guardsmen atop the rubble. "This woman's grandchild is buried up there!" she told them, pointing to a precipice of gnarled rebar and crumbling concrete.
The young Guardsman who was helping us was a towheaded Southerner, probably no more than eighteen. "We can't, ma'am," he told her.
Deb would have none of it. "She says he's alive; she can feel his cries in her heart!"
"Ma'am," the Guardsman told us, "it's not safe up there, not even for the dogs."
"Then I'LL do it!"
Quick as a wink and before any of us could stop her, Deb was scaling up the face of the rubble like a mountain goat, her Tevas barely finding purchase on one crumbling piece of cement before she shinnied to the next. (Later we would find that mountain climbing had been Deb's passion as a teenager.)
The Guardsmen stood mute and unbelieving, but the towhead found his voice: âRanger!â he cried. "Help her!"
The biggest of the German shepherds raced after Deb, catching up to her just as she reached the spot the old woman had described. Deb and Ranger fell to digging, the animal with his paws and Deb with her hands, while we could only watch from the ground and pray.
After a few minutes, Deb staggered to her feet, holding a tiny object in her bloodied hands. "Jean-Phillippe!" she yelled to us. "And he's alive! Il est vivant!"
The most hardened Guardsman could not hold back his tears as Deb descended from that pile of rubble containing so many corpses of the young, pressing the tiny miracle to her breast as Ranger led the way. When she finally reached the ground, I held out my hands for the baby, but Deb shook her head.
"He needs her touch," she said. "And she needs his."
With that tender smile I had seen in âThe Starter Wife,â she placed the infant in the arms of his grandmother, where he worked his tiny fists for a moment before letting loose a cry in the destroyed streets of Port-au-Prince.
"The kid's got some lungs on him," said Red. "That's the sound of a healthy baby."
Deb put her finger to his lips. "No," she said "That's the sound of LIFE.â"
As the other medics turned their attention to the blood and glass in Deb's feet (she had lost her Tevas on the downhill climb), I looked at the old Haitian woman on the stretcher. With one hand, she pressed her grandson to her heart; the fingers of the other hand worked an invisible rosary.
Her parched mouth moved in silent prayer, and I knelt next to her to dampen her cracked lips with a few drops of water from my canteen when she suddenly grabbed my sleeve with a strength belying her advanced years. At that moment, the blood left her face, and I knew we had lost her; she had held on in hopes of an angel saving the life of her grandson, and now that God had done His work, she was ready to meet Him.
I bent down to moisten her lips once again, and in a palsied wheeze, she uttered her last words:
â"Qui etait cette cunt?"