By Ginger Dawn
Three blows from a whistle awaken me.
I stretch and hop out of the bed while pulling the worn wool covers up. Nice and tight, I fold triangles at the end of the bed. Next, I pull my nightgown off, fold it, and place it underneath my pillow. Dressed from the night before, I smooth out any wrinkles in my shirt and overalls from the tossing and turning during the night. I giggle inwardly because I am faster than Emily who sleeps next to me.
“Not fair, you slept in your clothes.” Emily sticks out her tounge.
“Early bird catches the worm,” I say.
Grabbing my personal hygiene kit, I race to the door.
“Arm in the hall.” I say as nicely as possible. One thing that I really hate is that I am never called by my name. Moreover, that I have to beg to be allowed to brush my teeth or use the restroom in the morning. Normal kids never have to ask to do these things.
“You may go door one.” She says.
I do not know her name. Maybe we are all nameless, it is our actions that define us and what we are called.
Night staff come and go like a revolving door at the orphanage. Sneaking a quick peek, I notice she has bags under her eyes and is struggling to stay awake. Young college kid I assume from the stacked books beside her chair. If I ever have a job, I want to work in a bookstore or a library. She has her flashlight on her hip as if she is about to have a showdown at the O.K. Corral.
I have been here long enough now that I no longer notice the flashlight every hour on my face at night to check if I am accounted for.
Where am I going to escape to? It is not like I have anywhere else to go!
Miss Pretty Hair Barbie will not last more than a few weeks, I am confident.
I enter the restroom and then spit as loud as I can into the sink while brushing my teeth. Afterwards, I begin to hum then burst into song.
Rinse, rinse, rinse your teeth
Swishing germs away.
Then you’ll have a pretty smile
with healthy teeth each day
“Shhhh, Not so loud freak. You’ll get us all in trouble with your humming and singing. You ain’t got no reason to sing anyways.” Destiny jabs me in the side, “We will all be late for breakfast if you hold up everyone.”
Counting each step to my room, I guess it is roughly 50 feet away. I bend over to pick up the clean clothes left beside my door with the yellow post-it note with A.F. written on it. Next, I put the clothes carefully into my trunk and await inspection. Nobody likes inspection. Last week, Emily did not roll her socks and they dumped out all her clothes and pulled the sheets off both of our beds. Mine were pulled just because I am in the same room. This made everyone late to breakfast.
The minute Miss Barbie enters, she swoops about in a flash, hardly even observing the grey metal treasure chest that holds all my worldly possessions. I measured the trunk last week. 32"Long x 18"Wide x 13.5" Tall. We were sent to our rooms early that day because the staff needed to do “charts.” I had sneaked a ruler into my room. It gets boring and we are not allowed to talk during, “Quiet Time.” It is a period during the day that staff write about what we kids did, ate, even what we talked about during the day. It is for records. They give this to our social workers that we never have met.
We passed inspection.
Four whistle blows.
Time for breakfast.
Breakfast is my favorite meal. Today is Friday, Fritters with Fruit. Cook always matches the dish to the first letter of the day of the week. Tonight is fish and fries. Lunch is provided by the school if you’re allowed to attend. I steal an extra piece of fruit to take with me. Usually an apple or a banana or a piece of toast if it is Tuesday. It is a rare occasion to get bacon, fried eggs, and an orange, or even pineapple.
Even though my old home was bad, I miss having different foods. Thursday is the worse day. Tuna noodle. It is awful. Globs of overcooked noodles with smooched up peas cemented in a mystery sauce. Even oatmeal doesn’t cling to the spoon like Cook’s tuna noodle. Cook should sell it to builders and become a millionaire. That way she too could leave this place. She is trapped like we are.
“Cook, do you like it here?” I asked as I was drying the dishes for morning detail.
“Does this place make you happy or do you not like us kids either?”
“Child, Cook is old and has to work here,” she says as she hunches over the metal sink resting her immense mountainous elbows on the Formica.
“But you didn’t answer my question, do you like us? I think you do because you don’t act afraid of us and give the biggest hugs that makes a body feel good. Were you an orphan too, forced to stay here to cook and clean like Cinderella?” I declare in one breath. “I think you are more beautiful than Cinderella!”
“Child, don’t you go talking about them hugs or me being beautiful. We are not supposed to be attached. Lordy, the things that come out of your mouth. Cinderella! And, don’t you go writing about that in your book.” She smiles.
“Oh Cook, I write about everything in my journal. Anyway, somebody around here needs to set the record straight. Besides, I say you are beautiful! So There!” I finish.
She smiles and her belly rolls as she begins to laugh. Her dark complexion gives light each morning to the shadows in the orphanage. I liked her twisted rows of hair that reminded me of the family farm that I was taken away from. Yet, her loose carefree spirited spirals dangling from her head like the noodles she cooks inspire me the most.
Five whistles. Time to catch the city bus.
We arrive at school and I stand by the other girls. They work for Bovan. I am not sure what they do but sometimes Jasmine and Destiny give me money to not go to the school. If I do attend school then the principal calls the staff and wants to know why the others didn’t come. When none of us show up, nobody cares. I like school but if I rebel, Becky and Destiny will beat me up afterwards. Emily was so scared last time they attacked me during night that she wet herself.
Sometimes, I am scared for Emily. She is not as strong as I am.
Most of my days are at the public library. I begin in the newspapers section. Mostly to read if my family has gone to jail. Now, I flip through the magazines. I pretend that I am adopted and I look at the pictures of House Beautiful. I imagine this is what my new home will look like. Afterwards, I look at the cookbooks. I plan family Christmas meals, birthday celebrations, and copy ideas for Cook with the yellow post it notes that I save. My favorite part of the day is after lunch, I take my apple and walk down Beale Street. I have made friends with some of the bums. They visit the library too. Yesterday, I cried when the book I was reading, Jane Eyre, was no longer at the library. I decided to be brave and go to the help desk.
“Excuse me Miss, I can’t find my book.” I sweat and begin to chew my nails.
“What is the Title?” she says with an impatient scowl.
“Jane Eye Re” I pronounce incorrectly.
“Air” she huffs, “The schools don’t teach a thing these days.” “It is checked out, give me your school pass and I will put the book on hold for you.”
“Checked out?” I cry. “Somebody took my book away.” “Why was it taken away like me?”
My bum friend approaches and before she can ask any questions, I run out the door crying.
Today, I just wanted to fit in.
“Bovan, Can I come with you today?”
He smirks and says, “Sure, I can teach a pretty little girl like you many ways to have fun.” Jasmine and Destiny are not happy and start to tell me to go away. However, Bovan is in charge. We get in a stolen car at the bus stop across the street.
“Let’s play a game.” He says, “Can you pretend to be my girl?”
“Yes, I can pretend.” I reply.
We drive to Overton Park then exit the car.
“You see that man over there, go talk to him for a while.” He said sweetly as if he were my best friend.
I approach the stranger obediently. We chat.
After a while Bovan walks over and says, “If you want to keep talking to him, you better get permission from me, your pimp.”
I was confused. I thought Bovan said I was his girl.
“Stop playing around Alanna, you’re not one of them.” The young man laughs.
Bovan becomes angry and pulls out a gun and holds it to the young man’s head.
Time freezes; I cannot move, feel, or breathe. Jasmine and Destiny are screaming, Bovan is laughing, and the young man just stares at me.
He shouts, “You are not like that.” “You matter.”
He didn’t beg for his life, nor did he cry. Just kept telling me, ““You are not like that.” “You matter.”
Bovan reaches for my arm. I try to dart away. The young man stood there unmoving like a statue and watches us leave.
It was the first time that I ever heard that I mattered. He told me that I was not like that. I mattered. I began thanking God for not letting Bovan kill him.
We are all hysterical in the car and the girls were yelling at Bovan. I feel sick. I told Bovan that I needed to go to the restroom in between gagging and crying. We drive to Taco Bell and I go inside the restroom and throw up.
Just as I am about to go back outside, the police arrive and arrest Bovan, I go to the manager and tell him everything. He calls my attorney ad litem. I always keep the card on me! That was rule number five of the orphan code.
“I went to jail once, you will be ok kid. You just happen to run into bad people and today is your lucky day.” He explains as I hide in his office.
My attorney arrives and thanks the manager of Taco Bell. I am taken back to the orphanage. That night at dinner I begin to help Cook bring the food to the kitchen area when an older boy approaches and pushes me.
“You got my girl arrested.”
I was muddled again, “I thought that she was Bovan’s girl.”
He grabs my hair and starts banging my head against the stove. Cook tries to pull him off me and that was when it was time to play the ultimate survival code.
I scream “I want to die, I am going to kill myself.” I run to the front room, banging my head on the wall, tasting my blood, I shout that I hear voices.
I do not want to die nor hear voices. I want to live because I mattered. I hold myself in a little ball and rock back and forth. Men come and put a coat on me, it feels like a hug. I sing, “I Matter” I was free at last.
The following was a short story assignment with Fish Publishing that I am currently taking. To explore the literary technique of ‘Epiphany’ to show how a character can alter from the inside out.I hope you enjoy.
Photo Credit: DOMESTIC ABUSE PROJECT INC.