St. Annie’s orphanage was crowded with young faces. Every Sunday they played movies for the children, and that was their only bliss. St. Annie’s orphanage was located in Dharmapuri village, India. The huge gate in front of it had the welcome note that says “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. – Psalms 23”. People from different parts of the world visited this place to observe their lives. They showed sympathy, and care and then pursued their journey to the land where their dreams lay.
Young faces never craved for sympathy. Perhaps it is the most absurd thing on earth. Nobody wants sympathy, but empathy.
Dharmapuri was situated 150 miles from the city. Traders travelled to sell or buy goods every other day. The only mode of transport was an old, blue bus which quite often gave the residents a hard time. The slender path from the bus stop led to the bridge that was made of wood, and the dry river beneath beckoned the glory of yesteryear.
People craved for rain. But they didn’t get what they always wished for. That was
the universal myth. But they did get what they need in life. That was the truth.
The grand highway afar the bridge was full of drifters in search of sanity. The temple beside the start point of the road was what lured them to stop and seek. Some of the travellers basked under the dry branch of an old banyan tree. The country was full of preachers and politicians. They spent – or rather took – time developing inane pathways. But to fill an empty stomach, no one bothered.
St. Annie’s orphanage was full of empty stomachs. Some of them were left by their parents to flee away from responsibility. And many others left them because of a mistake that they committed. Every year a guest lecture from a foreign land arrived at this place to add knowledge to these young faces. Most of the children ranged in ages from two months to nine years. They craved for love. All they needed was love.
Among the fifty children in the orphanage, there was just one teacher who was
skilled enough to provide an education. Her father left home when she was eight. And her mother raised her by saving a small amount that she received working in the mill. When every student had enough money to spend on their clothes and make-ups, Anjali dressed up in a simple saree and studied in a reputed college, 150 miles away from her
village, at the heart of city. She was, perhaps the most beautiful girl in her village. She never showed her soft side to anyone as she had the responsibility to support her mother who grew her up, who was now sick. It was important for her to be a strong character amongst the rest, as she was well aware of the ill-effects of being a soft-hearted person who could be taken for granted.
When the school principal asked her the reason for which she chose the school over the other jobs in the city, she said, “My mother raised me. I believe that I should
take care of her.”
People often cursed the politics that took place in Dharmapuri. They thought how well the system could be implemented to develop the village. But no one had the courage to stand against the mighty leaders who spoke a lot about prosperity and unity. The same leaders traveled in luxury vehicles and gathered people around them for their
selfish needs. Even the young girls in the village had no freedom to walk alone.
Days flew by… A train from the city sped away… Like a light it travelled from one station to another… And the crowded platform had young children selling newspapers and magazines. Roger woke up from a deep sleep. He rubbed his eyes, and looked around. He was in awe when he noticed that his briefcase had been stolen, and the laptop that he carried was not in its place. Roger searched for the missing pieces in vain. There were no sign of them. No hope. And with a deep sigh, he walked out from
the station as he read the board at the platform “Dharmapuri”.
The train slowly moved towards the next destination. Roger took his cell
phone and called Rahul who promised to pick him up from the station.
Rahul was waiting for him. He was a lean tall man who looked like an ancient pop star. He wore an outfit straight out of the late eighties, and his sunshades were reminiscent of the mid sixties. After an eighteen minute search, they met at the entrance of the railway station.
“Tim spoke a lot about you. It’s my great pleasure to meet you. I hope you are not
nervous to teach fifty students. You see, we have a lot of students in there,” Rahul said. “No, I guess I’ll be fine,” Roger replied.
After a three hour drive, they reached the orphanage. Roger was fast asleep. “Sir, we are here.”
Roger responded to Rahul’s call by nodding and adjusting his spectacles. He was told by Tim not to reveal his identity. As a matter of fact, Roger dressed so simple and gave short replies to avoid any mistakes that might happen just after a deep sleep. Roger walked around the school and found himself lost in thoughts, like a student who dreamt of love and freedom. He was free now. There were no meetings, no reporters, no photographers, no woes. He was free. And he loved the atmosphere of the place. Every branch beside the lamps gave him a fresh feel.
“Sir, let’s meet the principal,” Rahul said.
“Sure,” Roger replied and walked along with him towards the dark long corridor. Their voices echoed while reaching the other end of the principal’s office. Every student in the school loved the principal. She was a friendly person and had been
serving this orphanage for about a decade. No one ever asked her about her reason for being there. She was fifty-five years old, and everyone called her mother.
Roger introduced himself to her as a lecturer who arrived from England to teach the young students English. He said that his name was Reggie and explained that he lost his luggage in the train and might need some help to find it by filing a case at the
nearest police station.
The principal smiled and said, “Reggie, there is no hope to find your stolen luggage. You might end up paying more to the police more than the valuables which you have lost are worth.”
Roger heard it, kept his head low, and asked, “Are there any shops nearby? I just want to buy some clothes before I start off with my session tomorrow.”
The principal asked Rahul to help and later he was taken to his accommodations. Rahul was proud of his bike. Perhaps he was the only person who owned one in that village. He adjusted his sunshades, asked Roger if he was okay to enjoy the ride on his late 90’s bike. The ride was an adventure for Roger. He felt as if he would be meeting his great grandparents at the gates of Heaven. The bike sped through the barren land, through the long highway, through the bridge that led to a lonely place that had just a shop and a couple of huts. In one of them Anjali lived with her mother. If destiny was written for Roger, then the best things in his life were just about to start…
Roger explored his new place. It had a lot of lanterns, and as in each
hut they glowed and spread their light. He always wanted to write something about the life a normal human being lives. And he knew that this was the best chance to do so. He was also sure that Rahul could never be the main character in his book.
Since it was a Friday, the next two days were spent setting his new place and getting to know people who lived nearby. In the end he knocked at Anjali’s door. No one opened the door for a while.
After some time, her mother opened the door and asked the same old question, “Who are you?”
To which Roger replied, “Reggie.”
After an awestruck moment, Anjali stepped up to the scene and asked the same old question, “What do you want?”
To which Roger replied, “Hello! I just wanted to introduce myself. I will be
here for a month, and I am the guest lecturer of St. Annie’s School.”
Anjali raised her eyebrows and asked, “You must be from England.”
Roger said, “Yes Ma’m.”
And the conversation took off from England to his visit to this small village. The answers that he gave didn’t convince Anjali much, however she was happy to know that he had come to her place for a good reason. Days flew by and Roger started his new
novel named Her Face. He knew what he was about to write. It was about his life, and Her Face brought his lost smile back as he was sure that he and the girl next door felt something mutual between them.
He was slowly falling in love with the character.
It was then the school had its annual event where every student had to perform something. Every student was special. They all had hidden talents. All they needed was someone to show them and motivate them. It had been two weeks since Roger reached this place. He loved this simple life, and the kind of freedom that he experienced. Young children gave them love; in return he gave them enough love and education. He never knew what would it be like when he started his journey from England. But now he was having the best time of his life. Every morning when Anjali walked in through that huge gate, all the students rushed towards her and greeted her. Roger used to admire her beauty. Now he admired her simplicity and kindness. He believed that a girl’s asset was found in her character and not just her beauty. She treated all the fifty children with so much love and care. Roger was slowly falling in love with her.
They spoke for hours at the free time. One day she asked Roger, “I
would like to see England. But I know it’s a distant dream. So what
you do in England?”
Roger smiled at her and replied, “I work at an author’s charity organization. They sent people to different countries to educate poor children. I am just one of them.”
Anjali was amazed. She was curious to know more about him. She replied, “Quite interesting. I did my graduation through scholarship, and I know a couple of
authors from England as we had our major subject as English. Who’s the
author you talking about?”
Roger wasn’t too sure if he should answer her question. He knew that this might take another minute or so to solve. But he replied to her, “Roger Watson”
Anjali was even more thrilled. Her eyes sparkled like a stream spreading merriment. She said “He is my favourite Indian writer. I loved his novel Dry Land. But I don’t know why that book failed to sell.”
Roger was amused. He replied, “Perhaps it didn’t connect well with the readers.” Anjali smiled and replied, “Perhaps, yes! But it did connect with me. It spoke about the truth. People preach about good. But they do evil things. Who is responsible for all this? Society? Or the ones who support them? All of us are. Every individual should know what he or she is capable of. Sadly many don’t. We all are a bunch of slaves.”
Roger felt the anguish behind her words. He said, “Good never dies.” And he walked towards the empty playground.
This place held a lot of memories. Everyone recalled this place. The days flew away. A Lantern at each hut gave shelter to many. There were young students learning under its glimmer. Roger wrote the story of his life. He just had to edit it and wait for the readers to respond.
The village was serene in the night time. People wandered here and there to explore its beauty. Anjali felt the warmth, but she never expressed it as she knew that her life and the kind of dream that she always possessed were far away from reality.
In two days Roger had to leave this place. He knew that he was in love with Anjali, but he never wanted her to know that he was the author she admired because he knew how she loathed lies. And he had lied to her about his identity, and that was the worst thing as he was also the role model to many in this small school. Roger was in a fix.
He wrote the last paragraph in the book Her Face with his trembling
hands. It said, “Love happens. It happened. Tomorrow I will be far from her. Tonight is the only bridge to make up my mind. And the battle of mind and heart still goes on. I wish I could open my heart and scream or say a few words. But I cannot. If I do, then the love that she posses in her heart will wither away. I shouldn’t. No. I shouldn’t”.
On January 25th, the dawn struck through the barren land. Every empty
lane had one street lamp. Some of them shone. Some of them flickered. The entire [layground in the school was full of memories. Anjali was in most of them. He craved to live with her. To see her face at every dawn.
Rahul waited for Roger outside the school. He had his sunshades on. But his eyes were wet. For all the time he lived in this village, he never felt this way ever. He respected Roger and his commitment. He also had high regards for all the good things he did to the school. Education is perhaps the best thing any child could attain. A good teacher not just educates a child but also add morals to his soul.
The principal escorted Roger to the playground where all of the fifty students gathered together to send off Roger. The principal said, “Dear Students, I’ve got good news for you all. We have suffered a lot in life. But we always believed in God and dreamt for a beautiful dawn. Today, an angel has come to guard each one of us. I
would like to thank Roger Watson Charity Trust for sponsoring each student for their education and funding us with a huge amount for the development of this school. Reggie, I’d like to thank you on behalf of all the students for your guidance and support. We wish you the very best.”
The children applauded continually. Roger was silent. He found such joy in them. He walked towards the microphone and said, “Thank you. Thank you for everything. God bless each one of you.”
Anjali noticed the sadness in his eyes. She was upset, but she knew what she
had to do. So she walked with him to the place where Rahul was waiting inside the taxi. Rahul got out and opened the door for him.
Roger looked at Anjali and said, “You are a very nice girl. I wish you the
very best in life.”
Anjali replied, “I wish the same for you, too.”
The driver started the car and sped away. In a couple of hours, Dharmapuri would be history. Sometimes one has to stay without food to feel how a hungry soul feels. There was no point in showing sympathy. But to empathize, one had to go through the same kind of pain the other one experienced. Roger was in tears.
One month later, Roger was at an interview. “Sir, could you please tell me the inspiration behind Her Face?” the lady in scarlet asked.
“No more questions please,” Roger replied and walked away from the press conference, and the same luxury car sped away to his house.
On the way to his house, Tim asked, “Don’t you want to meet her again?”
Roger paused for a while and said, “I don’t think so. Some things are meant to happen this way. What do you think?”
Tim said, “Maybe you should see yourself back when you were in that village.
Your book about her is an example. You should meet her. You should.”
And the car sped its way to his house while Roger was lost in her memory…
Edited by L.A. Kuehlke (www.lakuehlke.com)