The immense metal doors closed behind me, the sound of the clicking lock echoed throughout the confined room. Looking around the enclosed space, I could feel the children’s stories invade the room, all their suppressed emotions: depression, despair, hopelessness, rush over me like sand at the bottom of the ocean floor. I feel obliged to listen, but I’m conflicted. I can’t deal with all this pain. I am, in fact, only 14 years old. Is that selfish of me?
The room begins to feel more like a prison as the seconds pass, the unpainted washed out yellow walls are chipping at the sides, the insufficient windows are barred and the natural light is intercepted by the adjacent buildings. It’s almost like the children are captives of the orphanage. Their lives, completely confined to this one floor with all the other misfortunate children.
My classmates seem to dissipate around me and the room is silent and still. The harsh, unforgiving fluorescent light pounds down on my face and the feeling of darkness trembles through me. Don’t judge them, they have no control of this situation. Don’t be nervous, they’re just kids. I feel an unfamiliar hand grasp mine. His warmth reverberates through me and consciousness starts to return to the world.
As I wander throughout the floor, I peer into the minuscule bedroom of some of the orphans. The beds are haphazardly strewn across the room and the already minimal natural light is almost absent from the windows. I tentatively enter the room and the air is noticeably more condensed. Breathing becomes a task I have to endure instead of an easy action.
I catch the glimpse of a small child lying in one of the beds. His face is yellowing and a sickly residue encompasses him. His forehead is broad and he has a slightly visible scar above his right eyebrow. His eyes are barren, and his short black hair is crisp. As I step closer, his smell conquers me and I am immobilised by the stench. I see a trickle of sweat cascading down his face yet he shows no emotion.
I scan the untended room to see if I can find anything to excite him, but all that occupies the space are the rusty bed frames and the moist blankets accompanying them. An idea briskly starts to form in my mind, seemingly my only hope.
I grab an A4 piece of paper from one of the old wooden tables in the corner of the large room, I’m moving so quickly that the paper creates a swishing sound as it presses against the stale air. I begin to fold the sides of the fragile paper apprehensively, feeling the cool thin material at the tip of my fingers, making every crease meaningfully.
I finish my last few folds perfectly and my paper airplane is formed. I clench the bottom of the airplane and send it across the boy’s bed to an awaiting face. A long breath hangs in my chest and I desperately watch to see some expression on his small, unemotional face… but nothing. Disappointment digs deep through me. I really needed it to work. We throw the airplane continuously between each other, hoping for a different outcome. I am beginning to give up all confidence in this working until I finally see it, I can see the young boy beginning to open his eyes. Hope.
Every throw becomes more important than the last. I keep the same purposeful pace and direction fearing that if I change anything the progress will be lost. Children begin to shuffle in and out of the room and join in on our game. The energy around us transforms and the room lightens and glows with a new sense of joy. I keep watching the boy as we play our game and I can see him cautiously start to sit up and participate.
The room empties and the excitement ceases. I sit next to the young boy and start to move closer to his warm body until I am just touching his arm. His skin is flaky and damp. He turns and looks up at me, I can see him examining every inch of my face, questioning every mark and placement of my features. His simplicity is enchanting. I hold his delicate hand in mine, feeling his sweat soak into the tip of my thin grey cotton shirt. His untrimmed nails begin to dig into my pink flesh. Unknowing he holds tighter, until I lose almost all feeling in my fingers. I can’t leave him. As I look up I see my friends awkwardly say goodbye to their designated children, and I know that I have to leave too. I look into his eyes and as he realises I am about to depart, he releases his grip. I slowly unwind our fingers and turn to walk away. I can still feel his petite fingers intertwined with mine. I walk forward knowing that I could never forget the feeling of his hands in mine and knowing that I can never truly forget the heartache of leaving him.