Swine Caught In Woods
Nineteen years ago the catholic orphanage, Dr.Barnardo’s Home, which Dougay had left me in was dying. It was story of any orphanage then, the kids disowned by the parents were sought as government’s problem which it tended to solve by aiding poor families with cheap food and education, easing adoption formalities and developing foster care. Few non profit organizations raised funds and provided services to already existing homes, thus kids either found a foster family or were adopted sooner than before.
There weren’t a lot of kids in the orphanage. Twenty three. Nineteen girls and four boys without origin, no ID, no parents and the kids above five years age had little to no chance of being adopted. I was like other kids but I was the only one who wasn’t abandoned by his parents nor was I rescued by some NGO.
Nine years fast forward, I was standing at the window in my room watching the colorful kites flown in the bright sky by kids on roofs of their own houses, with their families and friends. It was the festival of flying kites but we orphans weren’t allowed to go to the roof neither did we ever celebrate any cultural fests other than Christmas. Watching other families used to make me sad and wonder why would my parents abandoned me.
“Rahul, come downstairs Amy and Shraddha are beating Vijay!” Latha said rushing inside my room. Vijay was my roommate and my best friend in the orphanage.
Teenage kids were more bothersome breed of orphans who never got adopted and were waiting to attain maturity to get out of the rather hysterical environment.
Latha and I ran downstairs to the lobby. Other kids were leaning over rails along the stairs to watch Vijay get beaten up by two teen girls. Latha said I should help him but I froze stupidly gaping, confused and frightened. Then two fat lady attenders came down and interrupted the girls. They pulled them away, the girls were feisty but they were out weighted. One attender was scolding them and the other one picked up Vijay.
“Have you lost your mind?” she yelled at those girls.
“He was in the girls toilet” one of the teen girls said.
“Lie! I saw him in the church few minutes ago and girls room is quite far from there” Latha said. I had nothing to add in Vijay’s defense.
His one eye was bleeding but he was conscious. The attender took him outside, put him in head master’s car and drove away to a hospital.
“You are his best friend, you should have helped him” Latha said and went upstairs to her room. I followed her.
“I am sorry I was scared that those girls would beat me as well” I said.
“He would have helped you if it was you who was getting beaten up”
I regretted for not acting promptly. I was angry and irritated at the same time. Two boys came from behind and saif that we would teach those girls a lesson. I agreed immediately. Then they started laughing at me because they knew I wouldn’t hit a mosquito even if it sucking my blood. They mocked and left. I was upset.
In the afternoon the teenage girls were taken by the police. We weren’t allowed to go downstairs but we were able to see them through window of my and adjacent rooms. The head master, Barnardo Paul, accompanied the police. He too looked weary and mad by their horrid behaviour. We were not sure what happened to them. Those girls never came back.
Evening broke and all the kids were called to gather in the church. I was sitting on the first row pleading salve and strength from Jesus when soon the whole place was occupied. Barnardo stood at the podium and said “Today what happened was not only a disgrace to this home, my father’s, our Father’s church but also it was sin which cannot be forgiven easily. Amy and Shraddha today attacked a small innocent boy Vijay for not washing their clothes. And maiden Lucy here said that all of you were standing there watching the boy get beaten up as if it was a street performance. No one interrupted those girls, may I ask why? Why didn’t you stand up against bullies for a friend in need?”
I had an embarrassing answer to his question. It felt as if he was addressing me. No one answered him. Everyone dropped their heads and looked down at the floor to avoid looking him into his eyes.
“Stand up, Rahul” he said.
“Isn’t a child who belongs to this home taught to be independent?” He asked me.
“Yes sir” I replied reluctantly.
“Then why was Vijay forced to do Amy and Shraddha’s clothes?”
“I don’t know”
“I didn’t know he was being bullied”
“You didn’t know your friend was in trouble? Where were you when Vijay was beaten up?”
“I. . .I wanted to help but”
“But what?! All of you are grounded. No birthday celebrations this year and everyone will work in church after school and I don’t want to hear any excuses”
He left hitting the wooden platform with blunt steps. We all dispersed and went in our rooms feeling equally victim. I sat alone looking out the window worsened and guilty for Vijay’s condition. I wasn’t responsible for his condition but being aware of that I had no courage to protect my friend consumed me.
In the orphanage we celebrated our birthday on the date we were admitted unless we knew when was our birthday. The birthday child would be allowed to not go to school, was given a hundred rupees to spend and the cook made a small cake of chocolate to cut. I on the other hand knew my real birthday which was written in my admission registry. I was curious to have look at that paper.
Next morning some men were removing Amy’s and Shraddha’s belongings from their room upstairs. They put them in a van and drove away. I brushed my teeth, had breakfast and got ready for school. St.Josephe’s Boys School.
I was waiting for the auto-rickshaw outside when I saw a strange teenage girl get out of the church with two women and Barnardo. I got in the rickshaw with two other boys but couldn’t help popping my head out the window and see what was going on. The girl carried a pink travel bag with her, those two women talked with Barnardo and smiled, he asked sonething to the girl patting her shoulder to which she replied with a timid nod. Maybe she was going to join the church staff, so I thought.
After school I went to the church and started mopping the floor because no one wanted to mop the floor. Other kids were dusting the paintings or statues, some were replacing candles while some didn’t come. One attender was patrolling around watching us to make sure we were working. The teenage girl I saw earlier that day started mopping the floor too. She came closer to me working her mop in serpentine and threw it on me.
“What is this rubbish? Am I supposed to do everything or what you useless” she said to me.
“What did I do?” I asked her.
“See there there and here you missed, the floor is still dirty. Finish mopping before I come back!” She oddly implied that I wasn’t mopping alright and then left.
After we finished our work, Bernardo introduced us to the new girl before dinner. Her name was Jenny Phillips and she lost her parents and had no other relatives who’d take care of her. Later I washed my plate and school uniform and tried to sleep. I was worried if Vijay’s injury was serious. Few hours later I woke up to have some water but I forgot to fill my bottle that night. I turned on lights of my room and went out leaving my door open. The wooden stairs creaked when someone came down. I hid behind my door and watched the girl wearing white night dress went inside boy’s toilet.
I went after her. It was Jenny and she was sitting on the floor smoking a cigarette. She looked at me with wide gaze and said she’d pull my eyes if I said anyone about her smoking. Why would I do that? She seemed to have lost her mind because of her parents death.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Pretend like I am not here and I will pretend you don’t exist” she replied.
“Why did you throw the mop on me? I will not let you bully me!”
“I don’t give a damn about you I just wanted to leave”
“What is that you are sipping?”
“If I tell you you promise to leave?”
“Here have it”
She gave me her cigarette and I sucked a lot of air in first try. I coughed till I almost puked my lungs and wet my eyes. That was the first time I took drug in some form and although it hurt me, it felt good and my head was light.
“Why are you taking this hiding in boys toilet?”
“I can’t let any attender catch me and all of them are women. Any kid ever got adopted or what?” she asked.
“Only kids under five years age get adopted, maybe because they are cute”
“So you all are stuck here for a long time. What about you? Did your parents abandoned you or Barnardo found in a basket at the door?”
“I don’t know what really happened. Head master said that a man came to leave me here, maybe he knew my parents. How did your parents die?”
“Let’s just say I wasn’t good enough for them” she said that and got up to leave.
She stopped at door and gestured me follow her. I was confused why was she getting so friendly with me. I asked her where were we going but she didn’t reply. We went downstairs to the office, Jenny used her hairpin to unlock the door and opened it. I was afraid we might get caught. In a room beside it was the register storage and adjacent to it was the day-shift watchman’s room. The watchman snored loudly like an old horse drowning in water. The register room was carelessly shut and left unlocked. Jenny rushed inside and started looking for something in the books.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“For a small boy you ask a lot of questions. Blame the writer” she said and I stood frozen not understanding any thing she said.
“If you want to know more about yourself then pick one of the books and start looking for your entry. There is one admission register shelf there” she said.
I pulled a stool to the wooden structure she pointed out, a plethora of aged registers were thrown inside each box in it. I looked for year 1989 and found it under my nose. I pulled the register and went to my birthday but didn’t find my name. After madly looking around I found my name on tenth of March. The person who brought me was Ganesh Dougay and below his name were names of my parents, Siddharth Dhalia as my father and Priya Rai as my mother. The record had a side note “The subject infant is seven days old hence was born on 3/3/89. Even after diligent effort the person in possession of the infant couldn’t find its parents and hence is giving it away to this orphan home. The status of the kid is considered as abandoned”. Right then I was angry with my parents.
“What is it?” Jenny asked
“Not much” I replied.
She tore a page from the register she had and clenched it in her hand.
“I like it when people think I am their bad dream come true” she said.
“I am going to sleep now” I said.
” Hey! If you tell anyone about this then I will not be your friend. You can keep secrets, can you?”
“Yes. No one will know we were here”
Next day when I woke up, I found two sticks of cigarette near my door. I hid it in my school bag and like the day before I went to school. While playing on the play ground I saw Latha in canteen, she was laughing and talking to a man and a woman who visited the orphanage six months ago to adopt a girl. Them meeting again personally got me curious. The couple bought Latha an ice cream and looked very happy seeing her. After they left I asked Latha why they were there. She didn’t want to tell me. She said she wouldn’t share anything with me because I was a bad friend. It made me mad at her and I pushed her and dropped her ice cream then ran away.
I was jealous of her because I feared that the couple was going to adopt her. Adoption legalities and formalities usually took months or a year atleast. After school I went to Barnardo and asked if Latha was getting adopted. There wasn’t any denying that she was. I asked why no one ever adopted me when I was small. He said I used stay sick and was so weak that no couple was interested in me. Well, he could have said it in a more comprehensive way than directly but it was certain that I was never going to get a family. I ran to my room and slammed my door behind.
I skipped dinner, didn’t wash my school uniform and just stared at the clouds that glided in dark sky. Someone knocked on my door. “Go away” I screamed.
“Open the door Rahul” one of the attender said and I opened the door. Latha stood behind the attender and the attender was looking at me frowned.
“Did you hit her in school?” the attender asked.
“Yes” I said.
“Say sorry to her”
“Good. If I see you bullying her again I will let head master know”
I shut the door without saying anything else. Midnight, someone knocked on my door again. It was Jenny.
“Give those sticks I passed to you” she said crashing on my bed.
“No, you cannot do it here” I said.
“Why not? Because you’re scared? You want your mommy?”
“I am not a kid!”
“Good then give them to me, now!”
I handed the cigarettes back to her. She lit both with a match and gave one to me. I knew taking them was sin but I like how I felt last time I did..
“Do you know Latha is getting adopted anytime soon” I said sitting beside her.
“Yeah? How does it make you feel?” she asked.
“It makes me feel like I am the odd one, head master said I didn’t get adopted because I was always sick. How sick is that?”
“I know that. Being the odd one. I spent four years in juvenile prison because my parents wouldn’t stand a sight of me. And karma, it loops back like blood. Boom they are dead”
“I killed them”
“You must be kidding”
“Kind of. You know what? I never had so fun talking to someone. You are good listener, you let other person talk and that makes you a good friend. You are a good friend but I am a bad person. I am going to correct it. I will. . .you will see what is my friendship” she said and left the room wobbling and barely able to stand straight. I shut the door and fell asleep on the ground.
Four in the morning I heard a shrill cry of a girl from girls toilet. I went out of my room. Everyone were out of their rooms and were scared of the scream. An attender went inside the girls toilet in other end of the hallway and few minutes later she came out with Latha. Latha was crying because someone trimmed her hair while she was asleep. She was too embarrassed to show her face and covered it with her palms. The attender was angry and was staring at me. She took Latha downstairs and didn’t come up for twenty minutes or so. I was about go back to sleep when the attender stopped me.
“What happened miss?” I asked her.
“You are asking me what happened?! Why did you cut her hair?!” She yelled.
“I didn’t do it! Why would I do such thing to her?”
“I know it was you. You hit her in school and when she complained about it you got angry and cut her hair!”
“That is ridiculous, I could never get hold of a scissors here. Someone else did it”
She pulled my ear and took me to Barnardo. She woke him up and told him the story she came up with. He quickly got up and talked to Latha.
“I told you stay away from her” she said.
Barnardo came back and started scolding me, I wasn’t listening. I kept insisting that I didn’t do it but no one believed me. As a punishment I was made to say sorry to Latha again, also washed her clothes, tidy her room and was going to clean boys toilet for a week. I tried to make her understand that I didn’t trim her hair but she shut me up with a slap.
Three days later the couple adopted Latha even though she was half bald. That day I didn’t go to school, I hid on roof all day feeling low. I was sitting on roof edge facing the back side of the building, I was crying because Latha always misunderstood me and then she got adopted while I would never have a family. Behind the building were trees and not very far was an abandoned wooden house. There weren’t any fences that barred that area and sometimes stray dogs would sneak in the orphanage premises looking for food.
Barnardo and Jenny came in the back side and we’re talking about something. Jenny was scared and Barnardo had a rare cunning smile on. He rubbed Jenny’s arm which made her uncomfortable, she pushed his hand and loudly said in agony “I won’t do it!” Then Barnardo slapped her and pulled her closer and tried to kiss her. Jenny was in trouble and I had to help her. I ran downstairs and went around the building and saw Jenny was on ground trying to escape and he was on top of her pulling her blouse off. I picked a rock and hit him as hard as I could. His head started bleeding and he screamed in pain. Jenny got up and pressed his neck.
“No Jenny!” I yelled but it was too late. She killed him. She buttoned her shirt and said “Thanks, you helped me. We need to hide the body now or everyone will know we killed him”
“We? You killed him. I was just helping you” I said.
“Yeah? Think what cops will find out huh? You hit him with a rock because he made you clean toilets that’s what I will tell them”
“Then take responsibility of what you did. I am not the who is trying pin everything on another one. It’s either we both or nil. Pick his legs I’ll pull his arms.
Jenny and I hid Barnardo’s body in the house in the woods. There were scratch marks on the walls as if a mad monkey was imprisoned there, there weren’t any rooms but steel bars that barred one side of the house. The other side was furnished with a table and a stool, the table had a bowl with dried blood splatter, a pack of nails, a nail gun and a bloody saw, on the stool was an old radio. Behind the bars was a rugged mattress, a pair of bloody shackles and a few girl dresses. The house was stinking like shit and it’s ambience was hot.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“I don’t know, let’s just get out of here” Jenny said.
The radio turned on by itself and tuned to news channel which was airing two men arguing over a boy’s suicide: “Now a very sad and rather thought provoking news of a fifteen years boy who was a student in St.Josephe’s Boy’s School, Karan Kumar, who jumped off from third floor of the school and killed himself because he failed in examinations. He was declared DOA in Red Cross hospital this afternoon. Folks this only makes me worry that the growing complications in study structure of our country is not only setting us behind in the changing world of computers and spacecrafts but is also putting a lot of pressure on a kid’s mind to meet the expectations and standards.”
“That’s right if you look at it from ground zero, and this makes the whole world a suspect in the Karan’s suicide if that’s what you implied?”
“I am not clear what you said. There’s a kid lying dead over thick books and exam questionnaire and here you are trying to belittle his memory”
“If you look at it minus the drama, the education system of our country is incompetent compared to other developing countries. The USA has stepped on the moon, China has well emerged out of its population crisis while India is still cluttered with irrelavant issues like caste differences”
“So if the kid couldn’t handle the studies faculty of a backward developing country then one can draw that the boy was not- he was weak. You don’t blame the education system because one boy suicides after failing in exams. A lot of people failed miserably in their lives but they didn’t give up living”
“There’s more to a good education system than books and examinations, buddy we are talking about forging personalities who could be future president or a Tata or a Ambani. The institute should adapt itself to the student’s level and not other way around. I strongly believe that if we improve our education system, in early decades of twenty first century we will be the fastest developing country with high purchasing power and standards of living”
“And also a lot black money”
“Shut up. Don’t listen to him people. Listen to this song and have a goodnight sleep”
Jenny left me alone in the house and ran away. I searched for her but she was gone. I went back to my room and sat on the bed worried and scared. Few hours later someone knocked on my door. It was Lucy. She asked if I saw Jenny or Barnardo earlier. I lied to her. She then asked me why I still had my uniform in middle of the night. I said I have been feeling cold. She took me downstairs to her office and gave a tablet which would help me sleep and feel healthy by next morning. Then she called the police and reported Jenny and Barnardo were missing since evening.
An hour later the police arrived and checked Jenny’s room. They found hundreds of used cigarette butts, a bottle of scotch and some playboy magazines. The discovery of her rad, the real, personality was embarrassing to Lucy. She explained the police officer that she never suspected Jenny had been committing sins. After talking to few attenders the officer turned toward me. He came in my room, Lucy was watching us standing at the door, he sat beside me on the bed. The badge on his shirt had ‘Rana Pratap’ engraved on it, he had a thick mustache and short hair, his eyes were big and red tinted.
“Boy, how are you? . . . I am officer Rana” he said.
“My name is Rahul, did you find Jenny?” I replied.
“Not yet, do you know where she is now”
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“This morning when Latha was picked by her new parents, we all saw her off”
“Okay. Veena said me that you and Jenny became good friends recently, in fact she only talked with you here. Did she ever say anything that would imply she wants run away or anything odd?”
“What did you both talked about?”
“I. . .we would talk about how different our lives would have been if we had a family and – and”
“Calm down, did you see head master with Jenny?”
“No. Why are you asking me all this?”
“Did she say how she lost her parents?”
“She once joked that she killed them. Why?!”
“She wasn’t joking. Rahul, Jenny is gay and her parents didn’t accept her and tried to kill her so she killed them. I fear she lost control on herself and killed Barnardo”
“No! Jenny is a nice girl. She is the only one who was a friend to me! Barnardo is a bad man”
The officer got up and went out, Lucy followed him. The police searched the building and outside area but never went a foot into the woods. No one knew that there was a wooden house cascaded behind the trees. Jenny and I did, I knew Barnardo’s body was out there rotting. It was driving me mad and every night I used to wake up cold sweted after a nightmare. The nightmare in which Barnardo came in my room and suffocated me to death with his stiff hands.
Two months went by without Jenny’s news, she was still missing. Police strongly suspected that she killed him but they never could figure out the motive or an evidence to pin the alleged murder on her. Everyone in the orphanage believed the same and looked upon me with suspicion because hysterically Jenny was only my friend. I too was eagerly waiting to get out of there like every orphan who knew Barnardo’s truth and a day before Vijay’s discharge from hospital a couple visited the church to adopt a young boy.
In two years Latha was the first child to get adopted. She was lucky because the court assesment didn’t take as long as three years. I worried if the couple wanted to adopt me, the wait might turn me insane. However, the couple was a certified adopter and after they fostered a group of four teenage sisters they wanted a boy.
There were three boys in the orphanage, they spoke to each individually and I was the last one they approached. I was uncomfortable and shyed from most of their questions, they asked my name, favorite subject, how is it to live in the orphanage and other questions I was never asked. Then they left.
Next day Vijay came back and everyone welcomed him with a party. Unlike Bernardo Lucy was more fun loving and joyful person who was considerate and sometimes harsh. Vijay still had bandaid wrapped around his eye covered by a green cap like thing. He wasn’t fully recovered but it was safe for him to go outside and play. One attender gifted him a toy bow-arrow, a sly hint that he won’t need his another eyeball. I backed down and stayed behind the crowd to avoid confronting him. After dinner, we walked back to our room.
“How are you?” He asked me.
“I am okay” I said.
“Where were you in the party? I thought you’d be excited that I am back. Did you make a new friend or I am so bad”
“I was cleaning the toilet”
“Why? There are maids here to do that work”
I didn’t answer his question.
“If you are thinking that I am angry with you then relax I am not, its okay you didn’t fight those teenagers”
“I completed your school notebooks with mine. So don’t worry about lagging behind in class. I am going to sleep”
“Thanks! Why are you so dull? Sometimes you behave like a stranger”
Three weeks later. The couple who earlier visited to adopt a boy returned after finishing the legal formalities. Lucy called me to see her in her office. When I entered her office the couple looked at me with beamish joy on their faces.
Lucy smiled and said “Rahul, this is Avinash Kapoor and Neha Kapoor. They are here to adopt you”
Episode concluded in next part.