Week 51: a story set at Christmas.
The Christmas tree stood by the window, decorated beautifully.
Simple but bright lights sparkled in the evening glow, the little ornaments and red and gold and green balls that littered the pine tree’s branches twinkled, reflecting the light from the small bulbs. Beneath it, on the wooden floor lay boxes upon boxes, presents to treat the wide, innocent eyes of the people nestled in their beds, dreaming of Christmas films and roasted food.
At the Orphanage, they were treated with love and care, each child from however young they were, to eighteen, were a part of a big family. They gathered in the hall to watch films together and fall asleep on plush sofas, some of them shared rooms, especially the young ones, the older teens preferred their own space and bathrooms, though that did not stop them from being close to one another. Many of the sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year olds worked, so the money they had helped to pay for things they needed, or anyone else wanted.
It wasn’t perfect, they weren’t rich kids living in a boarding school – they had enough money to have baths and clean clothes, food and a roof over their heads, some of them had phones and computers or laptops but these were always either donated from big companies or through their own savings. But having the luxuries that many of the people they knew at school or at university, never bothered them.
They had a home. A warm, welcoming family. They had each other when once upon a time, they had no one. Some of the children living at the Orphanage were traumatised by the things they’d seen or been through. Others were quiet and nervous, worried that they would be cast out, like they had been from their birth parents.
Arya was just six years old when she came here. It’s been over ten years and she’s eighteen now. Her last year here. Once eighteen, it was helpful if they moved out, for space for new children to arrive. But they were never forced and many of the carers they had, would set up apartments for them nearby so that they weren’t alone, or wandering the streets for places to rent at ridiculous prices.
“Can you believe you’re leaving this summer?” James asked her, as they sat on the hall’s sofa, long after midnight, just watching the tree lights twinkle. Everyone else had gone up to sleep but on this night, always on Christmas Eve, Arya could never sleep.
Not because she was excited for presents (which she was), but it was because this night reminded her of the first night she spent here. Crying and shaking, she turned up on the doorstep, lost and alone. Her parents had up and left one night, leaving her alone in the house she had once lived in. As a child, she had thought they’d left because they didn’t want her, but there were memories she had blocked out, awful nightmares of that time. The screams and blood. The people who had come to her house and her mother had told her to hide under the trap door in the kitchen.
When she came up after hours and the policewoman found her, she was hysterical, for many years she refused to think about that night. For a while, it seemed as though she had forgotten but she always remembered. A gang had turned up at their house, demanded all the money her parents had and then shot them both dead. And when the policewoman tried to take her to the hospital, she screamed and ran away to the Orphanage.
“No, I can’t,” Arya said, shaking her head out of the dark, cruel memories she’d be plagued with forever. “It’s so weird. How is it, now that you live on campus at university?”
James shrugged, “it’s all right. Different. But I like it.”
Arya’s eyes were teary in the dark and she hugged her best friend, “I’m gonna miss it so much. I don’t know who I am without this place.”
“It’ll be all right,” James said, he’d moved out the year before when he started university. It had been hard but he’d managed and the carers were always so supportive. “I’ve got you.”
Arya smiled and laughed wetly, “why am I crying? We’ll be going to the same university. I’ll see you all the time.”
“You know it’s more than that,” James kissed her temple, “this was your home for years. Of course, you’ll miss it.”
Arya pulled back and rested her head on his chest, listening to the comforting sound of his steady heartbeat, eyes now on the Christmas tree, “yeah, you’re right.”
“And this will always be home. You know that.”
Nodding, Arya smiled, lacing her fingers with James’ and let the stray tears in her eyes trickle down her cheeks. Everyone had to move on at some point. Grow up. Spread their wings. See the world. But for now, in that moment, she didn’t have to think about all of that. Right now, she felt safe and warm and loved. Christmas was right around the corner and the festivities were far from over. So, she closed her eyes and let the familiar faces of her parents float into focus.
It was time she wished them a Merry Christmas.