Summer always had its way. It rather left me bewildered when I saw blades of grass pasted together stiff and stationary when no breeze disturbed the tranquility of the already sticky April. Rock Mount orphanage had grown sparse with the approaching dusk. All my mates either huddled on a park bench reading a book of Enid Blyton or maybe sprawled on the grass or even unwinding themselves on swings. But here I was hunched over my English assignment that I’d sworn to myself would complete this weekend. Procrastination is a new word I learnt from Miss Crystal, but the act, I was familiar since ages. Well that doesn’t make me any older. I’m just a girl of ten with stories as many as anybody could tell!
‘But Miss….I assure you the assignment would arrive on your desk this Monday!’I had cried when all my mates stared up from their desks with looks of fear. Miss Crystal was no lady to intimidate us. But we were the pranksters. At least, I was. I swear I had seen Pinky-Finger weep and wet his pants when Miss Crystal had struck my back me in front of them all.
‘You don’t have a single disciplined bone in your body. Do you?’ She had yelled and Pinky-finger was all boo-hoo as I mentally laughed not even remotely worried that my back ached with the whack I’d publicly accepted. Pinky-Finger was my little mate who was not more 4 feet and cried perpetually over everything that was harsh or even a slightest yell. I often consoled him but at the end of the day had a good laugh as I demonstrated his weeping tone to my best pals.
I could see him today. His four foot frame almost lost in the long blades of grass stretched over the front yard of the orphanage as I lay hunched over the desk that overlooked the porch.
I could tell from here that nobody, just nobody missed me today. Sunday evenings are pretty much bland and gloomy. Miss Crystal I imagined would have by now pruned the garden of her house and maybe sat on the hammock outside with her children on tow. What I never knew was where her children were or who or how exactly they looked or if she had any. I had seen her husband once on a Monday morning as he dropped her here in the morning in his old Ford. That was the only time I’d seen. The rest of the times she would take the crowded bus and would always appear to the class from with her hair comical and disheveled with the morning bustle. I had handed her a comb once in class and she had smacked my back screaming, ‘ Mary, will you go back to your place and mind your business?’ Yes, that’s me. Actually it’s Mary-Lou, but who cares though? What harm could I have done? It was just a comb that I had given her. If only she’d missed the giggles from across the room from my mates who for once couldn’t contain their laughter and called Miss Crystal a clown!
My assignment was just complete and I stuffed it into my purple satchel. It was a gift from the warden on my birthday. She always gives one for every child on birthdays, just the color varies. She often pitied us and I even eavesdropped once when she was crying to Miss Crystal and she said, ‘Those homeless children…I could give anything they asked’ and then she had wailed like a banshee and that still sends shivers down my spine.
Homeless and maybe that’s why today I lie in this place here, pondering over nothing but why life seems so blue and sober, while the ten year olds outside have a home ,often played video games or went on a holiday trip with their parents or were even tucked safely into their beds. I’ve never for once seen my parents or I don’t know if they exist. They are just a little bit of nothingness that’s still clung to me. I don’t yearn to meet them. I had Miss Crystal and the orphanage warden, my little family. The one whom I could rely on whether it was the bedbugs that bit me discreetly in the night or the mice that prowled into my room when everyone was in deep slumber. I just liked the way I lived. I had no desire to leave this place not even if there were any family out there willing to adopt me. I would just willfully deny because I had a life, a family and I loved being me!

That night I slept with my blanket well above my head. The next day I would slap the assignment on my teacher’s table and gladly revert to my place behind my desk.
The next morning though I saw my roommate Frieda poring over her book, her eyes not even blinking.
I was not even up yet and she had her hair tied in neat braids like a convent school child and her face caked with a thin layer of talcum that I sure she must have snuck out of the warden’s room.
‘What’s the book for?’ I squeaked as my head mildly hit the headboard.
‘Nothing…My orals today. Gotta ace it up,’ she said with a slight smirk. Was she hinting that I would totally goof it up? I even didn’t know that I had my orals. Darn. And my assignment I’m sure must be scented with the scrapes of toffee from the toffee wrapper that I’d left in my satchel. I squirmed as I swung my legs onto the floor and advanced towards the bathroom. My toothbrush smelled slightly of yesterday’s paste. Why was I even smelling it? I brushed and bathed after which I sported my blue uniform. It was already 9 when I rushed towards the classroom, my satchel limply hanging over my shoulder. My curly stubborn hair was as usual tied back in a small pony. I would have nearly gone head-straight against the pillar if I hadn’t stopped at the right time. When I stood on the corridor overlooking the balcony I saw my teacher with her hand in a sling. She clearly had a fracture. I dodged towards her in my old pair of shoes which were half peeled from the sides. What had happened to her? I just hoped she was okay. As I flew past the class rooms towards Miss Crystal’s room I saw three other teachers also grouped together probably inquisitive about the fracture, as much as I was. Their spectacles bobbed on their noses as I heard them saying ‘ poor lady!’ and ‘he is an animal!’
I backed off from the staff room, my heart slightly throbbing with fright. What were they talking about? I gulped harder only to see Frieda walking on the corridor, her nose merely inches away from the book. She was barely bothered about the morning mayhem. She just hoped for a good grade.
I dragged myself to the classroom wondering what happened to Miss Crystal. Since it was a small crèche and an orphanage, with not more than four teachers all of whom had an authoritative control, everything that happened in everyone’s life was highly transparent. The homeless children trapped within the four walls with nowhere to go always perked up their ears whenever they heard the slightest news or a slightest rumor.
Pinky-Finger was sitting on the front seat, his hair falling over his forehead and straining his vision. His uniform was all the more crumpled and looked like it was unwashed since days. I wrinkled my nose and walked over to my seat at the back. When I heard somebody say Miss Crystal’s name, I immediately stopped in my tracks and looked over to check who said it. With a speculative air, my eyes fell on Pinky-Finger. It was him of course. I saw his little pink lips mouthing the teacher’s name as he said to everyone gathered past him, ‘ Did you see Miss Crystal? That poor lady! Her husband has beaten her that bad.’ His voice trailed off as he dramatically shook his head to emphasize his feeling of sympathy towards the lady.
I could say from his eyes that he didn’t feel one bit about what he was apparently pretending to do.
Nevertheless I sat on my seat and dug into my satchel with my ears so sensitive that I could probably hear even a pin falling on the ground.
She entered the class a little later that morning. Class 5 with its scanty students all stared up at her as she limped into the room, her hands in a brown sling. She gave a little smile which barely reached her eyes. I didn’t know how she could manage a smile even in that predicament.
I pulled out the assignment from my bag and advanced towards her. She looked at the class and spoke in a soft tone,’ no orals today. Maybe next Monday.’ She had barely said it and I heard Frieda slap her book to the desk, in exasperation.
I handed over my assignment to her and I could tell that today Miss Crystal was just in no mood to give me a dressing-down.
She two folded it and kept it in her small leather bag without a word. She then stared at me, with deep black pouches beneath her eyes and I could that she hadn’t slept the previous night for whatever reason it may be. ‘Mary-Lou. You may go,’ her tone was mild enough to persuade me in darting back towards the place behind my desk. Her eyes had turned colorless and limpid. It scared me more than I could imagine. What was it that changed her in a weekend? I looked down at my notebook pretending to study, but my mind wandered off and I could do nothing to curb my mortifying imagination.
The class had shuffled and dismissed for the lunch and my eyes were fixed on her as she limped out of the room. The soles of her feet clicked delicately on the floor.
Pinky-finger had said enough that day. So much that he could have written a book about Miss Crystal’s mysterious comeback.
I had hushed him once when he unknowingly had said something when a teacher was just inches behind, probably just wondering off the corridor for her classroom and her students. Rock Mount was only for students about the age of 12. Thereafter, all children would have been sent to a convent school that was just down the lane but with a much stricter disciplinary code. They had to then indulge themselves in part time jobs just to keep their education going. I feared that. How could I be abruptly thrown into the world and asked to work? I had also heard that nuns in a convent school would beat the children until they learnt to tidy themselves up, studied well and tucked themselves to bed well before 9. They were not even allowed to wander off to talk to their friends. They were subjected to a strict code of practice and if they were to breach that, there could be a severe punishment too.
The lunch break was over. The place was as usual sparse, with a few groups of children huddled up in corners talking things. It’s not like all parents would leave their children homeless or abandoned, much less throw them into an orphanage. Only few were destined to live that way. And I was one of them. All these years staying in this place, I’d come to enjoy every tad bit of it. I just didn’t know what it was like to have parents. For me, Miss Crystal was everything. She worked here ever since I learnt how to walk or that’s what I assumed because the memories of my past are pretty much vague. It was said to me that I was found one morning on the orphanage porch. Back then I was a toddler and I have been ever since staying here. The warden had got me named as Mary-Lou. She was a sweet little thing who helped us when things needed to be resolved or maybe in other petty issues that needed advice.

The next week Miss Crystal slowly recovered from her ailments. Her eyes were back in color. Her hair stood lively and pristine. She even started to conduct oral exams and I bet Frieda could tell everything in one go and even put a talking-parrot to shame with her forte of memorizing things.
Miss Crystal’s face had developed a pink tinge that complemented her small brown eyes. She laughed more now. It was a sudden transition from a grumpy woman to a lively lovely woman. She no longer lost her temper on things that we did. But instead laughed with us and spoke softly as a mother does. At least that’s what I thought a mother is like. Kind, solicitous and sympathetic towards her children.
I also had overheard from a teacher that she had finally divorced her husband and now lived with her friend down the lane. I didn’t know that a divorce could change someone so much. But I thanked god for that.
That evening I packed my satchel and slipped towards the staff room without anybody’s notice.
‘Miss Crystal?” I said out loud. She sat with her back towards me and as soon as she heard me, she wiped her face with a handkerchief and turned towards me. I could tell from her face that she was apparently crying.
I summoned some courage and walked towards her, my satchel slightly moving back and forth with my increasing pace.
‘I heard you stay down the lane.’ I don’t know why I said that.
‘Matters spread like wild fire…don’t they?’ Her lips twitched into a forced smile.
‘I just thought that….you could probably shift permanently to Rock mount and stay with us’. A second damned mistake. What was I even thinking?
That sentence caught her off guard as she brushed off a few strands of her face and looked at me as though I’d just spoke something too startling for my age. I didn’t know how I could react so I shrugged.
She still looked at me and then said, ‘Mary Lou…It’s five already…you need to go back to your room or else the warden would get worried.’
I knew that she didn’t want to answer me. She was just evading a response. I walked away.

That night I sat beside the window looking out into the night. I sat on a chair cross legged with my chin propped on the palm of my hand. Somehow it didn’t feel alright today. The dinner felt insipid and the warden had incessantly told me to eat everything off the plate. I had obeyed and walked off to my room without a word. There were things racing in my mind. I felt a momentary rush of feelings as I realized that I was apparently alone. Not even Frieda was by my side. Though we shared rooms, there was so much of space between us. An empty void which couldn’t have been filled. For once I hoped I could run away to some place where I could call home. My eyes felt teary as I realized that Rock Mount was no longer something that I enjoyed. I hoped it would be a small sojourn and I would eventually end up in a place where I would be loved. The orphanage warden loved me too but there was always this missing piece of puzzle that she couldn’t fix and I hated that. I hated the empty feeling that nagged inside me waiting for a perfect opportunity to strangely obliterate myself.
I heard Frieda tucking herself into bed. Her day was over. The same mundane routine that she followed on a quotidian basis. Wake up. Study. School. Study. Sleep.
I was more of a happy-go-lucky person and I liked to enjoy than anything else. I dragged my feet towards my bed. I plopped onto the bed overwhelmed with many emotions that I myself couldn’t bear to judge. My mind was a murky haze now. My vision grew obscure. The table calendar drew a red line on the following Sunday and I knew for once that it was Easter. Amidst all the turmoil I had forgotten that it would soon be Easter. Yet nothing great happened at Rock Mount.
Last year we had some well wishers come over who donated goodies and gave us gifts. They also promised to adopt a few kids and I stood by the door ready to sprint away just in case I was told to go with any of them. I don’t like staying anywhere but here. Even though the mundane melancholy of this place somehow builds an air of solitude .I’ve never known who my parents are and I’ve grown to a phase where I don’t wish to know who they are. How could I suddenly go to an alien home and start living there with a couple who claimed to be my parents. I’d rather stay concealed at Rock Mount and then grow into a convent educated self-employed person. I’d love to grow independent.
I so wished that I could make a wish to my Easter bunny. Wishful thinking is what that makes you happy at the end of the day. A little dream that could transform your life into something beautiful. Something that you would want to live for.
After making a secret wish, I laid my head on the pillow and slept like a log.

The next morning couldn’t be more stifling. Summer had successfully stuck my clothes to my skin and my hair was damp with sweat. Whatever had happened to the ceiling fan? I could only wince.
I stretched myself and got off the bed. The door to my room was slightly ajar. Frieda was still sleeping with a slight snore. That was the first time that I heard her snore. I giggled, I’d come to know her little secret. When my eyes caught something glistening on the table I knew for once that this day had a lot to surprise me with. A green package with a red ribbon running around it that formed a decent bow on the top. I liked it for once. I undressed the package cover and looked what was inside it.
I would have danced if nobody was watching but I saw Frieda sneak a look from the corner of her eyes.
I’d got an Easter egg a day before Easter and that was lovely enough. Someone had actually thought of gifting me one. The warden wouldn’t have done this and why would she? When there were so many students already. I double checked Frieda’s table and no! She hadn’t got any.
I looked around for a note and I found one kept nearby. It was a neatly scrawled handwriting with the perfect curves and curls.
‘Thank you Mary-Lou! You made me realize where I belong. And happy Easter in advance.’
And for once I knew who’d written that. I jumped a little in the air not to scare poor Frieda. I four folded the letter and pushed it safely into my pocket.
I opened the door and dashed towards the hallway and I saw her sitting there looking at nothing in particular. She had sported a red scarf, her arm still in a sling, but she looked beautiful. I wondered if my mother looked that way too. I inched towards her and she picked me up and kept me on her lap. She beamed and I could see a few wrinkles sprawled over her face. As I looked into her eyes, I could say nothing but, ‘ Miss Crystal, I knew you’d come.’

She then hugged me tight, her lips pursed together and eyes strangely moist. And I knew for once that I would never be deprived of a mother’s love again.

© Varina Rasquinha , 2015


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© Varina Berryl Rasquinha,, 2015.
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