“Laila” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Bhoomika Arora, Mount Carmel School , Delhi, India.
Little had changed from the time Laila had entered the big wooden gates, the curtains on the window were the same dull violet, with holes made by mice which ran in all directions, jumping from the table onto the floor.
Six long years had passed by, six long years of monotony. She started reading the only book she had, Daddy Long Legs for maybe the 56th time. It had come in the donations truck two years back and while all other kids were running for rainbow coloured clothes, big English hats and scarfs, Laila's eyes fell on a brown package and in it she had found the book.
Laila had never had proper schooling; she was left at the orphanage when she was eleven, her parents died in a car accident. All she knew was only because of the mercy of Madam Hughes who took care of all the girls at the orphanage, she used to take two hours of reading lessons every alternate day so that the girls might be able to live in the outside world when they would have to leave this place and Laila was already seventeen; she was counting days now to go to the outside world. While she was immersed in her pool of thoughts she heard Joana crying furiously and Laila ran quickly to Joana’s bed. Joana was the newest addition to St. Phillus' family and that too she was only 3 years old. Laila had become very attached to Joana; she was so devoted to her as if a mother to her child.
Minutes passed by and Joana went back to sleep; Laila saw the clock, it was 10 past ten and Sunday, she rushed to the garden side church tripping over every little pebble and bruising her arm by a tree trunk. Her entrance was followed by a complete silence; Madam Hughes saw her with wide eyes under those thick glasses. Laila bent down her head in apology and the church bells rang, the morning prayers begun.
Unlike the asylum about which Laila had read so many times in her books, St. Phillus didn't lead her to mourn over her life. She was hardly ever sad no matter how tough the situation might be. There were days she had slept hungry and yet had waked up with a peaceful smile on her face.
Amen. All the girls rushed to the dining hall to suffice their growling stomachs. The dining hall was a place of complains and shouts, the kids complaining about the tasteless food and the cook shouting about the ingratitude of the kids. Laila was the one who tried calming the situation. For her St. Phillus was family away from family, she couldn’t imagine what the outside world might bring to her. No matter how challenging the conditions at the orphanage might be, she felt secure and thankful.
Spring gave way to winter and it was time for Laila to say her goodbyes. This Christmas was supposed to be her last within the orphanage. And as the tradition goes, she was supposed to give a little speech of gratitude on Christmas.
“I had never thought that the day I left this orphanage would come so soon, I remember how so small the grass in this lawn was. I have seen all things grow, the banyan tree behind the church, little Joana since she first entered these gates, Madam Hughes- how your black curls gave way to the simplistic white. I have seen love grow between all of us. Today all of us have reasons to complain of how this place isn’t perfect for us, tomorrow we will have reasons to stay, to stay just a little longer. I have understood family isn’t always blood, for me you all are and would always remain my home, my safe haven.”
And thereafter began a new chapter in Laila’s “Book of Life.