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Did I find them or did they find me?

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Isabela was the first to come to me. She was still only a young girl, lost herself after she lost her family.

When I first noticed her, she was sneaking around my garden, picking up the ripe mangos, that had already fallen. I tried to meditate out in the morning sun, so I gave my best to ignore my unannounced guest and she wasn’t doing any harm anyway, so I just let her be.

Soon I heard her munching on the juicy fruits, the girl sounded particularly ravenous. Sorrow filled my heart at the sound.
Ever since building my school, my own little sanctuary out here in no man’s land Mexico I saw a lot of children like this in all the small towns surrounding it. Gang fights, Drugs, Violence, they left a lot of poor Orphans bound to repeat the cycle of evil.

I felt for these children, being an orphan grown up in the wrong circles myself, but I wasn’t a savior or anything as glamorous. I am just a poor man in pursue of peace.

My thoughts drifted, not a very good meditation indeed. A sigh escaped my lips, the sounds of the unknown child disappeared as soon as I opened my eyes to the world again.

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This process repeated itself nearly every day over the course of the following week. Sometimes I would hear the water pump squeaking or the rustling in my mango trees after the girl found enough courage to climb them and the fruit wouldn’t just fall for her anymore.

I continued my training as usual, I read and tended the garden and not once did I actually see my young visitor. For a short while I even thought I was imagining things and my guest was a wild animal or something of the sort.

After several weeks of this game my curiosity got the better of me.
I cooked a nice, mild, vegetarian curry with a lot of my good mangos and readied two bowls before I stepped out in the yard and called out to the child.

“You must be hungry, why don’t you come and eat?”

I knew it wouldn’t help at all if I assured her it was safe. A child with no home, nowhere to go will come to you if it feels safe and if it doesn’t, you won’t see it again. An adult telling them how to feel about a situation is probably only going to make them suspicious of you, easy as that.

So I waited. It took a while for her to show up, but if I had learned one thing by now it was patience. She came climbing over the stone walls surrounding my home and jumped down. She was brave and had a curios glance in her soft brown eyes. But her green dress was torn, her sun kissed skin dirty, the black hair ragged and altogether appearance haggard.

She was definitely an orphan, but she wasn’t afraid. She walked straight up to me and asked me: “What’s your name?”

“My name is Chiu, and how should I call you?” I asked in return.

“Isabela” came the short reply and I found a soft smile form on my lips.

“Come Isabela, I made curry, you can eat as much as you want.” My offer was accepted with an eager nod and the young girl followed me to the table.
She was most definitely very hungry and shoveled the rice down, so I let her eat in silence for a while. When she finally slowed down, I asked her some cautious questions.
She told me, that she was seven years old and that she was indeed recently orphaned. Her mother and baby brother had been murdered by a group of men. Probably part of a drug cartel or something.

In turn she asked me about myself, living out here and I told her about my school, martial arts, the garden, my search for inner peace. A seven-year-old child probably thought all that sounded a little weird, but she seemed to have deemed me trustworthy.
In the course of our meal she began to smile and even laugh sometimes at my antics and when the sun set and I asked her to stay she did.

I was still building, I always am, but there were also still empty rooms. I did not own a bed, so I brought her a soft straw mat and warm blankets.
When I checked on her an hour later, she was fast asleep. Her peaceful expression brought me a warm feeling. Maybe I made a mistake by closing myself of from people when a single little girl could bring me such joy.

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I let Isabela sleep. My guest needed to decide by herself if she wanted to stay here, so I went out into the garden to train as every morning.

After an hour or so the voice of the young girl interrupted my movement.

“Can.. can I learn that? You said this was supposed to be a school?”

“If that is what you want Isabela.” As she nodded, I said: “Then you may call me Sifu, it means Teacher where I come from.”

She was eager, she looked like she wanted to start with the forms right now and made some punching moves. It was the first time in a long while, that I laughed heartily, a very fond memory of mine.

But before we could start, I made us breakfast and led her to the closest river, where we bated together, the seven-year-old still without any feelings of shame. I helped her brush her thick hair und wrapped her in one of my shirts, as large as a dress on her. Her own green dress was without hope, so we picked all the ripe mangos and went to town with them.

I traded them for a new green dress, her favorite color as Isabela told me, some good shoes, a hairband to tame her dark mane and clothes for training.
I actually had fun at the market with her and decided that it was a good decision to let the orphan stay with me, even if it was an uneasy feeling at the beginning to be training a child again.

But Isabela was a very good student, studious and confident in her own abilities. In hindsight I was very lucky, that I met her first, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been ready for her siblings…

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Isabela and I lived in a comfortable rhythm, a solid routine. In the morning we trained, meditated and ate together. I build us a little bathroom since two people lived in this house, so one of us would take a quick shower and the other would tend to the fruit trees our only real source of income.

Afterwards we would build together. We worked on a second house on our land, but also smaller things, like a real bed for Isabela or chairs for our large dinner table. We would eat a small lunch and then study.

Isabela had to learn all the things kids had to learn, like mathematics and languages. Luckily my Spanish wasn’t bad and my English wasn’t either. I wanted her to learn both languages, and she was also interested in learning Chinese after she saw me read books in my own native tongue.

Of course I also told her about politics, about Philosophy, the stars, all the things that I knew and she had an interest in. And as she was a naturally curious child, we had a lot to talk about. It was nice to talk about these things with someone, that actually listened.

In the evening we ate together and would tend the other plants around the house before we trained again. The only break of the routine were our trips to the market in San Simon. Usually these trips were fun for the both of us but at this fateful day it left me with a bad taste on my tongue.

We recently celebrated Isabela’s eight birthday and I wanted her to pick a present, so I let her wander alone. On my own I soon heard a commotion not far and went to have a look. What I spotted in one of the alleys was a little boy being pushed around by a group of thugs.

The boy looked around the same age as my Isabela and was a little chubby, but his clothes were old and ripped in several places. The skin visible was bruised and dirty. My first guess was that one of the thugs had to be his older brother or something and the others were teasing him.

That guess quickly faded away as one of the men surrounding him struck him straight in the face, so hard, that the boy fell against the next wall with a loud yelp. None of them reacted at all, so it was a regular occurrence.

Not even the boy himself reacted, he just scraped himself back up and nodded submissively as one of the older guys screamed at him und tugged at his unruly brown hair.

Whatever his story was, the boy was obviously in a very bad place right now, but I’m not a knight in shining armor. Isabela was a different story, she came to me for help, but this boy just walked with the gang as if he belonged to them. Not as part of the team obviously, but as a thing, like a dog bound to its owner.
If he didn’t want help, or didn’t even realize he needed help I could do nothing…

Isabela wouldn’t understand that, she believed in justice and would want to help. I wanted too, but I just couldn’t, it was good, that she didn’t have to see that and feel my helplessness.

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When I saw the boy at the market again a week later, he looked worse for wear. There was a thick bandage on his right forearm and his face was swollen and full of dark blotches. It triggered a deep sigh, which brought me a weird stare from Isabela.
I Ignored her for the time being. She wasn’t supposed to know.

I was a little afraid that the next time I would see the boy he would be dead in a ditch somewhere.

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I was really glad, that my guess was wrong this time. When I saw the boy again, he wasn’t dead. That didn’t mean he looked good though.

I was just watering some rather nice orchids in my garden when I heard Isabela’s shocked inhale next to me. Before she could even say anything, I looked up and spotted what brought on such a reaction from the girl.

At the gate of my school stood the boy from the market. One eye swollen completely shut and blackened, his nose bleeding down to his chin. He leaned heavily on one of the pillars and held his left shoulder. He was also crying and looked generally really afraid, ready to bolt at any second, like a wild animal.

When I moved to step closer to him, he turned and ran. Not that he was really fast in this state, but it would only scare him further if somebody followed.

But that was exactly what Isabela did. I shouted after her to leave him be, but she didn’t listen, or didn’t hear, I don’t know, but in the end it doesn’t really matter either way.
For a second I panicked, but decided to wait it out. Isabela is an intelligent young girl, she knows what she’s doing.

Till this day I don’t know what she told him in the safety of the fruit trees surrounding our land, but when she came back the boy was clinging to her hand. He was still afraid of me, but I gave my best to be soft and calm, steady like the rain and he let me take care of his wounds. He ate the food, that I offered and he stayed with Isabela in my house.
Eventually I learned, that his name was Jesus and he is only five months younger than Isabela, but has already lived on the streets for a whole year.

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In the beginning living with Jesus was like living with a scared animal. He really was like a beaten dog. Loud noises and unknown things scared him. Even with him technically living in my house I still belonged in the category unknown. He didn’t trust me at all, didn’t even speak to me if he could get away with it.

The first time he saw Isabela and me train he cried. The girl later in the day explained to me, that Jesus thought I was hurting her. It felt like I ate a bag full of stones. I wouldn’t hurt the girl I saw as my own daughter by now. I wouldn’t hurt that poor boy either, but he needed to understand in his own time.

He shoveled his meals like he was afraid his bowl would get taken away any second, he only slept in Isabela’s room and he was really clumsy. We slowly showed him our chorus after he healed, like tending the different plants. I hoped it would be calming, but he was so nervous all the time, that he dropped dishes in the kitchen and fell from the trees in the garden.
And every time he would look at me afterwards and flinch, like he expected to be hit.

It was saddening, but as long as he was so afraid of me there was nothing I could do. Jesus was really testing my patience, but differently then he probably thought.

I put all my trust in Isabela and wasn’t disappointed. She started to meditate with him. She showed him our bees and all the different plants. She started to train with him. Obviously nothing akin to fighting, but calming forms of Tai Chi instead.

Soon his whole personality began to calm. He really liked animals and plants, food and naturally Isabela. He was generally a really soft person, easily lovable, especially after he actually began talking to me.
He began to be part of our routine, after a while he even got his own room and carefully started to train with me as well.

He was still prone to tears and afraid as soon as we left the grounds, especially when we went to the market, but the boy grew like a weed and needed a lot of new clothes. I saw it as an exercise for him, and was confident, that he would be better soon.

In the future Jesus will have no need to be afraid anymore, his training and his rapid growth spurts would see to that. And me and Isabela of course, if anyone was actually stupid enough to mess with Jesus.

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By the time we celebrated Jesus birthday together he was feeling so much better, that even a blind man would have seen the difference.

He was already taller than Isabela and the joint training was beginning to bring sturdy muscles to the child’s frame. He was still a little on the chubby side, but that was okay, that is just the way Jesus is. In general he looked like the healthy little boy he was always supposed to be. His brown hair was soft and shining, as well as his dark eyes. His skin was lighter than Isabela’s when clean and the only bruises came from childish skirmishes and friendly training.

But the differences weren’t just physical, most of them had happened inside of Jesus.
Yes, he was still easily scared and prone to anxiety and tears, he just had a big heart like that and wasn’t afraid to show it, but anxiety wasn’t defining his character anymore. No, Jesus is loving and calm on most days. He slowly learned to step up for himself and others, mainly Isabela of course.

He still clung to the slightly older girl, but he didn’t depend on her anymore, he was beginning to see her as a sister. He even learned to trust me.
Eventually he told me about his family. A loving mother and devoted father he had lost way to young, and how the gang, that had killed them took him with them, how he had to steal for them, how they beat him. The results of the abuse I had seen with my own eyes. The wounds and bruises when I first took him in.

It was the first time he had cried in my arms and strangely enough it also was the first time I felt useful in Jesus recovery, comforting the crying boy with a calm voice and steady hand on his hitching back.

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Other than Isabela Jesus wasn’t a natural student. He had trouble staying concentrated for a long time and was still rather clumsy.
But he made up for his troubles with hard work and devotion, he was always willing to better himself, even if grumbling and complaining sometimes.

It was fun helping him overcome his hurdles and watching him grow every day. I wasn’t afraid anymore that people would hurt the soft heart of the boy, he was beginning to understand that too.

And just after I felt Jesus was taking a good and hopeful path, we met Silencio.

On my grounds grew a lot of different plants I collected on my travels through all of the world, some of them edible, some decorative and of course also plants with healing powers hidden deep inside of them.

Just as with the fruit trees my little family of three didn’t need the whole harvest of the medicinal herbs, so I tried to preserve most of them, but I also sold some. Sometimes people from the market would ask me for something specific but mostly I traded my herbs with the local healer, a young curandera.

I could have gone alone without trouble, there wasn’t a lot to carry, just some bundles of dried chamomile and fresh seeds from a rare breed of cactus I owned, but Isabela and Jesus always liked to accompany me, so we went to visit the curandera together.

That was why my heart tried to beat itself out of my chest when Isabela opened the door to the small, cluttered shop and was attacked by a boy with a knife in hand.

For myself the boy wouldn’t have been any trouble, but for my children, I was absolutely shocked! As it turned out, without reason. Isabela easily dodged the younger boy and kicked the knife out of his hand in fluid movement.

Jesus clung to my leg and hid his face. He was trembling and I felt a wet patch form on the fabric of my pants, but he was silent while doing so. For me it was clear that he didn’t want to be noticed crying, so I didn’t and looked at the unknow attacker instead.
Isabela had a solid defense position, her weight low and arms up, the boy was getting unsure of himself and didn’t move anymore.

Before I could say anything tough the curandera stepped out of the door and grabbed the boy by his neck and gave him a quick shake.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t go attacking my customers, estupido!”

The young woman didn’t sound particularly angry when saying this, she just sounded tired, like they already had this conversation a hundred times.

“It’s alright mam, we probably just startled him, right? What’s your name?”
It came from Isabela, curious and friendly as ever, her eyes soon fixed on the young one and even Jesus was slowly crawling out of his shell again. Just a little scare for the both of us, I patted his head softly and let my eyes roam over the child next to the healer.

His hair was very noticeable, shoulder length, jet-black and in soft waves, his eyes of an intense brown color. His clothes looked way too big on his wiry frame, the curandera probably lent them to him, but why was he with the healer to begin with? He didn’t look sick or injured.

He didn’t answer Isabela’s question, his angry eyes just dropped their stare to the ground.

The woman behind him just sighed and shook her head at us. With a wave of her hand she led us inside, and the silent boy let us pass without a reaction.

In the small shop we traded our herbs as usual, but the curandera also told us a story. The story of the boy.

“His parents were killed by that drug boss. The maker of orphans they call him. To make sure he doesn’t talk he cut the boy’s tongue. He knows how to write, but he does not remember his name, I guess the shock took parts of his memories away. He is very angry though, now nearly healed I’m not sure if it is alright if I just let him go.”

It explained his silence and also his attack. His anger was based on fear, he didn’t want to lose another thing, so he was just trying to defend himself and his territory, at the moment, the shop of his healer…

He couldn’t stay here, the curandera needed the space in the shop to treat the people of San Simon. The next real hospital was miles away, out of reach for most villagers, and he was already getting protective, has been here for too long.

So I went outside and sat down to be eye to eye with the nameless boy.
“May I call you Silencio for lack of a real name my young friend?”

Again, he didn’t answer, not a shake of the head, no nod, not even a blink of his eyes, he was just silently staring at me, as if challenging me to a duel. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself a little and nod.

“Silencio it is then. I have another question for you though. You saw what Isabela did when you attacked her? I have a school, I teach them both about martial arts. You could come stay with us and learn too.”

For minutes there was no reaction but the boy’s eyes moving. He was thinking it through, an intelligent child. After a while Isabela and Jesus came outside too and joined us in silence.

Finally Silencio nodded once an got up. I went home with tree children that fateful day.

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Silencio was very different if compared to Isabela and Jesus. He was actively going out of his way to not be part of our lives.

Isabela had always been very collected. Her friendly nature and curious ways made her a courageous person who came to me directly. She gave her best to always be at my side since she lived here.

Jesus had been scared out of his mind when he first got to live in my care, so it took a long time for him to get used to us, but he always tried to be around. He was like the moon gravitating around earth, close enough to be seen, but with a safe distance as well.
As soon as he was sure I was a safe person he began to be part of our daily routine out of his own free will, with Silencio I felt like I was pushing him every step he took.

He slept in his own room from the very first night, he ate at the far end of the table, he did not want to be part of our training or choruses of any kind and he didn’t communicate.
It was obvious, that he could not speak anymore, but the curandera said he was able to write, he choose not to do so. Most of the time he didn’t acknowledge us at all, no eye contact, no movements of the head to indicate his opinion on the matter, nothing at all.

So I tried to push him a little bit, even when I had a bad feeling about it.
At the time I should have definitely listened to my feelings…

The egoistic side in me tried to order him to be part of at least our choruses. Who ate should work as well.
But where I pushed the boy, he pushed back just as strong. He got angry, I’m sure he would have screamed at me if he could and he ran. Probably not far, my guess now is that he kept to the thick trees around my grounds, but still, we didn’t see him for several days, not even for meals and I worried.

He was a troubled young soul and I pushed him in a wrong direction.

Luckily I had Jesus at my side. The gentle and empathetic soul went out to search for Silencio on the fifth day of his absence. And they came back together. Like Isabela had done with Jesus only months prior to this. I was so proud of my children.

I had asked Jesus afterwards what he had said to Silencio but the boy just shook his head with a big smile on his childish face. “He was just a little shy!” He told me and left it at that.

After that day the tree children had a very special bond. Silencio opened up for them and when they played out in the vast yard, they looked like real siblings to me.

The mute boy still took his time to warm up to me, but that was alright for me. He didn’t hide out of sight anymore, he watched our routine and slowly became part of our lives.
As for the fighting parts of martial arts Silencio was always amazing. He took to it like a fish to water, the other parts though were a steep climb for him. His anger, the constant thoughts in his head were a big hindrance in meditation and calm actions like tending plants or bees.

Calming him was a thing I worked on with Silencio my whole life. Same as Jesus would always live with his anxiety and Isabela with her strong moral code for justice, Silencio would always have that anger inside of him.
I loved this boy dearly, as I loved all of them.
It is my biggest regret, that I had to leave them so soon and that I couldn’t protect them further, there was still so much to teach these amazing children.

But I was hopeful, that they would find their own path to peace within themselves, as I had found it at their side.