“You’re in good hands,” our agency’s attorney told as we climbed into the back of a black sedan idling in the airport parking lot. It was midnight, Yerevan time, and the moon was new which meant it was so dark outside that I wouldn’t have been able to make out the taxi if the headlights hadn’t been turned on.
The hands being referred to belonged to our driver. He took our suitcases, and I sized him up: roughly six feet tall, probably 250 pounds, solidly built with a neck the size of a small tree trunk and hands as big as baseball gloves.
“Aram used to be a professional wrestler.”
No kidding, I thought to myself.
“And he’s a great driver, but he doesn’t speak any English.”
I plopped myself in the back seat and Big Papa slid in beside me. I was shivering because it was cold outside. Really cold, like 7-below.
We closed the door and our driver pulled onto the road. As the lights of Yerevan grew faint behind us, I wondered: do I feel more or less safe with a non-English speaking former Armenian wrestler driving on a remote highway in Armenia, with sub-zero temperatures outside our taxi?
I recalled the week of hair-raising road trips we took during our trip to meet Baby Bird six months ago: we got a flat tire on day one, a speeding ticket on day two, and nearly ran out of gas on day three. On that trip, I stopped counting how many times our heads hit the roof of our taxi as we flew over bumps—without shocks—and I winced remembering the countless times our last driver used the center line as a lane.
Our trip to register our daughter-to-be took place in October. On this trip, when we were scheduled to appear in court and finalize our adoption, it was March, visibility was poor because it was snowing and the roads were slick with ice.
My nervousness ratcheted up a notch when I realized we were driving west, not north. We meandered slowly, up and down slippery hills, through tiny villages. At one point, we passed a petrol station and a pack of wild dogs ran angrily toward the taxi. They followed us, for a few hundred yards, growling and yelping.
Where were we going? We’d been back and forth to Gyumri enough times to know this wasn’t the route we’d taken on previous trips.
I felt scared and gripped Big Papa’s hand tightly. He gripped mine right back. One taxi ride and 80 miles of wintry roads stood between us and the baby who was soon to become our daughter: one taxi ride, 80 miles, and our driver.
Eventually we found ourselves traveling on a familiar highway, heading due north. I breathed a sigh of relief, even as car headlights continued to emerge, seemingly from out of nowhere as we made our way through the pitch-black night, snow falling furiously at first and then becoming lighter and lighter the farther we drove. A few fishtails every now and then kept our adrenalin flowing, but our driver was indeed a good driver and we arrived, intact, at the doorstep of the Nane Hotel. I looked at my watch. 2:20 a.m.
We checked in quickly and collapsed into bed, exhausted and exhilarated. Tomorrow we go to the orphanage and see Baby Bird for the first time in six months. She had been a five-month-old baby then; she was eleven-months-old now. I tried to imagine what she might look like—we hadn’t seen a single photo of her since our last visit. And then I fell asleep.