I’ll never forget the man who stole the babies. I’ve seen him do it and I know he still does it to this day. The only thing I can’t decide is if I think it’s okay. You see, I never did hear him justify why he stole the babies, not really, there was just something about what he did that day; the little bit that he did say to me. Something about it.
I was about 12 years old when it happened, but I remember the story vividly, because I’ve never stopped going over it in my mind. I woke up late that morning to my mom hollering that my brother had just become a daddy because my sister in law had just given birth to a baby boy. It was summertime and I hated school more than anything, so the last thing I wanted to do was drive from the country where we lived into the big city. I’d had plans of going out exploring in our backwoods, but when I tried to pretend I was still sleeping my mom came in and turned on the light in my room and said, in more or less words, that if I didn’t get going she was going paint my ass a few different shades of red with her wooden spoon.
I dressed and went outside to the station wagon where she was waiting for me. I didn’t know what city we were headed to but I had to sit in the car for over an hour thinking about the fun I was missing out on.
When we did arrive at the hospital I just followed my mom through the doors and into the sterile environment. It smelled funny; I wanted to leave after I saw all the old people that looked like they were barely alive, waiting to die, but still scared or something.
We rode the elevator up about three or four floors to the maternity ward. When we went around several turns and to the receptionist desk, my mom gave the receptionist our names, which the lady wrote down. She then handed us sticky pieces of plastic that we put on our shirts. After this we were told the room number and another nurse came up from behind us. She looked young and very cheerful. She flashed a white smile at us and gestured for us to follow, leading the way to a large glass door with black Xs running through it. It looked impenetrable. The nurse then slid a security key card through a slot and a green light blinked on. The door made a noise of releasing pressure that reminded me of something out of a science fiction movie.
“Why do you have to let us through?” I asked. She smiled her phony smile again. “We have security doors so that people don’t steal the little babies.” She and mother chuckled. I furrowed my eyebrows.
I went through and down the hall with my mom.
“Why do they worry about people stealing babies?” I had asked.
She was looking for room 1056 (they had to write the room number on our name tags too, apparently so we wouldn’t be caught in the wrong room) and she hardly heard me. “She was just joking with you; it’s just a precaution,” she replied distractedly.
We found the room were looking for and went in. I couldn’t possibly see what everyone was so excited about. My sister in law sat in bed looking pale and tired while grandmas, aunts, moms and dads passed around a fat little hunk of pasty wrinkly boy. I looked at it once, decided that everyone was just lying about how cute it was to be nice, and slipped out to explore while my mom was preoccupied.
The door shut behind me and muffled out the enamored voices. I went around a few corners, looking for anything more interesting.
The maternity ward was a huge square floor with about fifty doors on the outer walls. In the middle of the floor I saw a large rectangular room with thick windows bearing the same plastic Xs on them that marked the security door. This room housed hundreds of little babies, all of them in plastic cribs with a clear plastic dome over the top of each of them. Little pink and blue hats dotted the room and only the babies, no other humans, lie inside. Some had tubes and other plastic devices hook up to their domes. It reminded me of the Matrix movie; all part of something bigger than them that they had no clue about. This odd depersonalization and mess of technology kept me staring and thinking long enough for the Baby Stealer to cross my path.
As far as stereotyping goes, it was easy to tell that the man was out of place in the maternity ward: he wasn’t with anyone and he didn’t have a baby, at least not when he came in.
Furthermore, he wore some sort of long pea coat and rocked some shaggy salt and pepper hair with a wrinkly face covered in stubble. His eyes were darting from left to right looking at all the babies. He slowly turned and faced me for a split second and then he moved on passed.
Of course I couldn’t help but follow him.
He walked quickly and with purpose, as if someone were following him, but he kept his eyes on the plastic cribs to his right and the room numbers on his left. He stopped several times and looked intently through the glass but he didn’t find the baby he was looking for until we came to the end of the hall.
He stopped and peered through again at another set of babies in their cribs. I had one eye on him from around a corner. He put his hands up to the glass and stared at this one baby in particular. He stared for so long that at one point I thought that perhaps my suspicions of why he was there were only in my head; perhaps he was a father looking for his own baby. He looked on for several more minutes at the baby and then made sort a small raspy chuckle. It made me flinch, and I held my breath, scared of the man, the Baby Stealer.
In an inhuman feat he smashed his hand through twice making a hole big enough to pull the child through. The black Xs hung suspended keeping together broken bits of glass. When he took up the baby it began to cry.
I stood stunned. He walked back and passed me as though I didn’t exist.
I quickly composed myself and ran after him.
The Baby Stealer bolted around several corners and back to the security doors. He was so fast, especially for his age, and I could barely keep up. Some sort of alarms had one off when he’d smashed the glass, so by then two nurses had been following him shouting at him to stop and people began to come out of their rooms to see what the commotion was all about. The Baby Stealer kept his eyes locked on the security doors.
I watched the receptionist reach under her desk and push a button. The Baby Stealer reached the security doors and tried to smash through these as well. The glass must have been much thicker here and bulletproof because even the strength of the man couldn’t budge them. The receptionist picked up the phone and dialed shakily.
The Baby Stealer, still holding the crying child, wheeled on a nurse cowering in the corner.
“The security card,” was all he said.
A man, another visitor, much bigger than the Baby Stealer walked out of one of the rooms.
“Now take it easy there mister,” he had said. “I don’t know what your story is, or if you’re the father, but the police are on their way and I’m not letting you take that baby out of here.”
The Baby Stealer smiled.
“Heroes…” he said.
It was difficult to understand for certain what he did next. In under a jiff, the baby stealer had hit the man, or done something, that made him unconscious, rushed to the nurse, knocked her unconscious as well, and grabbed the security card off her neck before either of them had hit the ground. Still to this day I’ve never seen a human move anywhere near that fast.
Everyone in the room backed away except for me. You could call it bravery, being a naïve child, or what have you, but I walked up to him in defiance because I thought what he was doing was wrong.
I didn’t say anything to him right away but when he swiped the card, the green light blinked on again and those security doors made the depressurization noise and opened up for him. I followed after him, both of us leaving everyone in the maternity ward in fear and shock.
As I had done when he was looking for the right baby, I followed him again. I was a slender and light-footed kid so I don’t think he knew I had slipped through the security doors and followed him down the stairs that he had decided to take rather than the elevator.
When we got into the parking lot he began to walk at a much faster pace, like I said he was so fast he was losing me quickly, so before he ran away I shouted at him.
“Hey! Why did you do that?” I asked not knowing what else to say.
He jumped and spun around holding the baby with only one arm and holding the other out in defense.
We stopped in a stand off in the parking lot just the two of us. He held the baby and said nothing for a moment and I stood with my fists clenched.
“Why did you hurt those people?” I asked more meekly.
The Baby Stealer glanced back up at the hospital.
“They’ll be fine kid, I promise,” he said.
He turned to leave again.
“Why are you stealing that baby?” I asked. “Is it yours?”
The Baby Stealer turned again but I could tell he was becoming impatient with me.
“No, it’s not mine,” he said. He looked around quickly and back up to the hospital. “Kid, I don’t expect you to ever understand what happened today, hell, I don’t expect most adults to. I won’t get a chance to explain myself to them, but it doesn’t matter.” He sighed. “Have you ever known something in your life? Known the absolute truth about something when nobody else did?”
I thought for a brief moment. “I don’t know,” I had said, because at the time, truly I didn’t.
“You ever known you had to save everyone from someone even though you they’re going to hate you for it? Even though you know no one will even believe what you know?”
“No,” I had said because truly I hadn’t.
“You have to know, not think, know, that you never truly can know for certain. And if you haven’t considered every aspect of every situation, which is impossible, you can’t judge it correctly,” he continued quickly. I didn’t quite comprehend at the time.
We both jerked our heads toward the sounds of police sirens in the distance.
“I’ll let you in on something,” he said. He looked down at the little baby in his arms. “This here baby that I’m holding could’ve been the end of everyone and everything you know, and of course, you. I just saved millions of lives by stealing this baby, yours included. I’ve done it countless times before this and I’ll do it countless times again. I’ll be condemned for the rest of my life as a baby stealer, a coward, and a murderer. I’ll be the only person that knows what I’ve done is right and I’ll die a hated man for it.”
“You’re going to kill that baby?” I asked.
“It’s either him…. or you and everyone else, kid. You wanna make that call?”
I looked back toward the police sirens and when I looked back to where he had been standing, he was gone.
I had to hear for weeks from my mom about how she’ll never understand why I went down to talk to that kidnapper and how lucky I am that he didn’t kidnap me as well as that poor baby and how if I ever did anything that stupid again and lived through it she’d make me regret it.
My mom says he was a terrible man, but to this day I still can’t decide if he was telling the truth. Was the baby stealer doing the right thing? He said he would die a hated man by everyone and maybe he was right. But I’ll never know if the Baby Stealer saved my life. I can’t know.