We sat side by side, the three of us, on the seat of the old, British style Land Rover.
Nart drove barefoot, focused and concentrated on the road, occasionally giving his two cents on whatever was being discussed at that moment.
Daniel and I sat shoulder to shoulder. A feeling of peaceful familiarity hovering over us. It was like the old days. Setting out on a mission, unsure of what we would find. Equipped with bits and pieces of facts about the people we were about to meet and the desperate situation they were in. That's how it usually was in Mae Sot, and the frustrating familiarity of it felt bitter sweet.
We pulled up to the old house on the outskirts of Mae Sot. It was the women protection project of an NGO that was about to be shut down. All of the women who were living there had found a new place to live, a new person to take care of them. All but one.
My eyes adjusted to the darkness of the big room. She sat on the floor, legs crossed, waiting. I had seen her once before. A small, dark woman. She spoke incoherently in Burmese but always had a smile on her face. When she saw me she purposefully started towards me, but instead of standing and walking, she scooted across the floor using her palms and heels. She was in front of me in less than 5 seconds.
"Hello. Are you ready?" I asked her in Burmese.
She nodded, exposing her few teeth in a broad smile.
Her care take arrived at that moment, and with me on her right and the other woman on her left, we lifted her to a standing position and walked her outside.
She took halting steps, unable to put her full weight on her tiny, childlike feet. She staggered backward and forward as we gently inched her closer to the waiting Land Rover. Nart and Daniel lifted her into the back and I watched as they piled all of her earthly possessions around her; a wheelchair, a small laundry basket full of clothes and knickknacks, a rice cooker, a sleeping mat. Suddenly, her eyes looked scared as she realized she was being taken away from her home. I quickly jumped into the back of the truck and sat close beside her. Instantly our hands reached for each other and I felt tears prick my eyes when I felt how small her hand was in mine. Her other hand clutched desperately for my knee and I put my arm around her, holding her close as we began to drive.
Daniel was sitting next to us, speaking to reassure her.
"You will love your new home. Your daughter will be able to come over often to see you."
At the mention of her daughter, Nokia, she smiled broadly and looked at me for confirmation.
"Yes." I said, "Nokia will come to see you whenever you like."
"What happened to her Daniel?" I asked.
"Her husband beat her. I don't know what she did, or if he was just drunk but he came home and beat her. Maybe if she had therapy she could walk again. But the damage done to her mind cannot be healed."
We sat in silence for the rest of the drive and as I held her, I silently prayed for her. As we pulled up to the Grace Family Home, I saw the broad figure of Birdy's mom standing in the doorway chewing the ever present chunk of beetle nut.
"Daughter!" Birdy's mom shouted. "Welcome home!"
Nokia's mother responded, smiling and speaking in excited tones. I felt the warmth coming from Birdy's mom and felt hope. This small woman would be safe here under the care of this strong woman.
Birdy's mom easily lifted Nokia's mother from the truck and helped her towards her new room. Together they unpacked the few belongings from the basket and sat together, talking.
"If you ever need me, just call okay? Call me your big sister. I'm here to help you." Birdy's mom told her. "You'll be so happy here. We have delicious curry, everyone here is loving and kind, and I'm here to take care of you okay?"
Nokia's mom responded with smiles. She met my eyes and I nodded.
It was my last day in Mae Sot, that day, yet I spent it in the only way I knew how, by being time with people who desperately need reminders that they are loved. A disabled woman who had no friends needed someone to just sit with her as she moved from one home to another. I know, it could have been anyone, but I'm thankful that it was me.