The Orphanage

For a moment, nothing happened. They stood by the conveyor belt, waiting for the luggage bags to arrive. Linda had sufficed without, taking but a small rucksack and leaving the rest of her things at the bungalow in Bali. She still had a week and a half of her paid holiday before she would return to the hustle of a huge city. But James had insisted he accompany her on whatever it was that she had decided was her mission. He hadn’t asked any leading questions, he hadn’t probed into the depths which Linda was frightened both to emerge from and sink further into. They had exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and then, as if by some gradually unfolding chain of events, as if it was supposed to just so happen, she had ended up by the conveyor bag, waiting for his bag beside him.

 

This part of Thailand was really no place for a woman to be traveling alone. He would accompany her, and that was the end of the debate.

 

He was a business analyst, James had told her. A business analyst who had just quit his lifelong dream job to pursue something he was yet to place his finger on. His description had been quite vague, but enough for Linda to not need to ask any questions. She understood. Just like her, he had fallen victim to the tangling, drowning twists and turns life sometimes threw at the creatures of its fancy with little mercy, watching them spin and jerk this way and that, frantically searching for a way out and bashing their heads again and again against brick walls that seemed to rise up anywhere and everywhere.

 

Luggage received, they stood already drenched in sweat in the humid air outside the airport until a shabby-looking taxi pulled up. Without the slightest hesitation, James booked the man out for the whole day, chucked his old leather duffel bag into the trunk and proceeded to let Linda slide into the rusty Fiat before he himself folded over in what seemed an excruciating position to fit into the tiny backseat.

 

***

 

The blackened building of the orphanage loomed before them as they walked the short drive through the property. The taxi would wait just outside on the street. Linda had never seen the orphanage before but it fell into all the right corners of her imagination – over and over again she had seen herself, in her dreams, approaching a building as desolate, abandoned, and isolated from the rest of society, as this. The park had become overgrown, the grass and trees having sprung back into lush wilderness after the fire. The looting before and after the fire had left the fence surrounding the property broken or tilting at various points around the perimeter. The building itself had dark patches where the fire had left its mark; most of the windows had cracked or completely shattered; and it seemed the roof had caved in not so long ago – no moss had grown its way yet onto the cheap tiles now lying scattered amongst the broken, rotten wood inside the building as James and Linda found their way into what had probably been the main reception.

 

Everything seemed still and serene in this place of total and utter extermination. Yet one rustle somewhere on the periphery immediately caught Linda’s attention. She was not alone in having come back to this place.

 

“What do you want?” An elderly woman, almost twice Linda’s age if not more, had emerged from the broken sheets of glass in one of the corners of the room, a little wooden horse in her crooked fingers. In broken English she repeated: “What do you want, foreigner?”

 

Astonished at the woman’s appearance – she was clothed in rags and her hair was a frenzy of mangled strands – Linda backed away into James. Unable to form a coherent phrase, all she could mouth, half-audibly, was “Jeremiah”.

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Comments

This has excellent flow. The reader is caught up by the description of the building, mystified as to why James had left hids 'dream' job, and fascinated by the old woman who is beauifully described. You spend just enough time at the baggage conveyor belt then move on. Timing is really important and you have used it well here.

Thank you, Suraya! This feels so good to hear!