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An Orphan’s Perspective

By @CJtheReader

1

The only joy I got out of my early life was visiting the church next to the shabby orphanage that I lived in.

Sunday was the highlight of our week. My roommates and I would don our cleanest clothes and walk over. When we arrived, we’d pray and sing with the regular church-goers. About halfway through the service, we headed up to the front of the room, where the priests emphasized the importance of charity: “These orphans were taken in so that they can one day contribute to our thriving community and carry on God’s name!”

I stopped listening to them after I figured out that they always said the same thing. Instead, my roommates and I played a memory game. We would silently focus on the audience and try to identify the financial status of each person. After church, we shut ourselves in our room and voted. The winner who was most often correct slept with the only stuffed animal in the room, a teddy bear that we dubbed George. All of this was done in secret, since Mrs. Shears, the head of the orphanage, disapproved of games.

Another bonus of Sundays was Robert, the piano player. Mrs. Shears would leave us in a separate room for an hour to write down the meaning of the sermon. When we finished, Robert would come in and exchange greetings with us before checking our assignments. Then came our reward: singing and watching him play the piano. We often ceased to sing and simply watched in awe. He played like a cat, making leaps and strides with his hands. He coaxed beautiful tunes that crept into our souls and comforted us, or melancholy ones that elicited tears.

One time, Lizzie asked him, “How much did it cost to build the church?” It was very grand, with stained glass windows, a tall, majestic dome, and paintings that depicted the stories of the Bible. When the sun shone through the windows, the church came alive with light. Rows of wooden benches lined up neatly in front of the pulpit.

“Thousands of dollars,” Robert answered. “But you’ve also got the stuff to make life rich, and it’s worth more than any currency.”

“If I was rich, I’d buy new clothes,” one of the littler girls, said. We all looked at each other and agreed. Everyone’s garments were identical: ugly gray cloth and mismatched buttons made up our used dresses, and faded black tights held together with shabby patches. Our dull black shoes, probably once shiny and new, were all hand-me-downs from the girls before us and the girls before them. Our hair ribbons were fraying and the color was almost completely washed out of them.

Robert was the only person that we could be ourselves around. However, one Sunday, instead of Robert as our supervisor, Mrs. Shears marched into the after-prayers room. There was a noticeable lack of a piano and the unmistakable appearance of a red pen.

“Where’s Robert?” a little girl boldly asked.

“Don’t speak out of turn, Abigail. That piano was too expensive to maintain, so they sold it. He left to find other work. Stop complaining. We can sing without a piano!”

For once, Sunday held no joy.

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