I had always been alone in this world. I have never felt loved before because I didn’t have anyone who loved me. My parents had died in a fire, I would have as well but I had been saved by a kind young woman. She took me with her since I had no one to go to. I later found out that she runs an orphanage. That’s what I was... an orphan. Christmas was around the corner when I could almost smell the warm, hot chocolate warming my hands with sticky marshmallows melting in the heat. Every year during the holidays us orphans would be given gifts as we would go caroling in the neighborhood but not this year…
The pandemic hit, millions of lives lost and more orphans joined us. I could almost feel their pain as some of the new kids talked about their parents or grandparents dying, leaving them in an uncertain world to face alone. I never had any trouble with the emotional side of my life...my parent’s dying. I don’t even remember what they looked like. I had only been a toddler when they died so it wasn’t that hard for me to overcome their deaths but for kids who had lived with their parents for so many years...well, it’s like a part of you is missing. My best friend Elsie who had lost her mother when she was eight years old and her father during the beginning stage of the pandemic was always talking about how she had missed their kind, caring faces of her parents. How her father made her laugh when her mom died or how her mother had thrown a birthday party for her. I would listen eagerly as she would list all those blissful memories...the only memories she ever had of them. I had to admit, I was kinda jealous of Elsie. She at least got to be with her parents, even if it didn’t last long. I on the other hand have not had those memorable moments in my life that helped me through challenges that life throws at me.
But in my heart, the world...I consider my family. No matter, color, race or gender. Aren’t we all human?
Don’t we all have a heart and breath oxygen to live? Sure we might have people who are closer to us than others but still...we all need to get together to solve things. All the kids at the orphanage in my opinion are... my family. Sure, I don’t quite know everyone here but doesn't mean I won’t.
Ever since the virus had disrupted the whole world, us orphans haven’t been able to go outside frequently. The nuns have ordered us to be in pairs and live separately so we won’t hopefully spread the virus.
“ *cough*, I’m ok Clare, don’t worry…” Elsie claimed as I set some warm water for her to drink. The virus had gotten my best friend...I had to keep my distance from her for my own safety but the one I considered my sister was everything for me. Elsie and I had met recently but we were inseparable. Our bond was stronger than blood. It was more than that…
“I know El, I’m just... concerned.” I told her. I wished I could give her a tight hug but the pandemic had made hand shakes seem as dangerous as walking into fire...don’t mention hugging.
“I’m fine.” She whined. “Don’t get all worked up over me.”
Typical Elsie as always. Never really cared about her health as much as I had.
The poor girl was in agony. I knew she was...I didn’t know how she felt because I’d never had the illness but I heard it drains all the power from you. She seems so weak… so vulnerable… so hopeless. Elsie had always been everyone’s sunshine girl. She loved making people laugh at her crappy jokes but it was the thought that counts.
Now, she was here, in bed, sick. I felt like I got kicked in the gut. ‘Will she…’ I couldn’t say it. The ‘s’ work. I knew she would...but am I right?
My family isn't complete without her. She was the sun in the solar system. The one that brightens everyone's day. She helped me so much and yet when she needed me the most...I’m useless.
I prayed to god everyday, every hour, every minute, every second.
‘Please, don’t let her die or anyone else for that matter.’ I kept reciting the phrase like the holy bible hoping god would listen to my pleas and grant me my wish.
“Clare, please follow me.” Mrs. Heather ordered me as I said my goodbyes to Elsie. Mrs. Heather was the closest thing to my mother for me. She was one of the nuns here and I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for her. She had saved me from that fire and she always had protected me like her own child. I looked up to her, just like every other orphan. She was my savior, my god…
“Yes Mam.” I said as Mrs. Heather led me far away from Elsie’s room.
We entered her office, it was a bright sunny morning, I hadn’t really paid attention to the weather anymore, it was always dark in the building, doesn't matter...day or night...not with innocent people dying every second I took a breath.
“You’re making this hard on yourself.” She advised me. “Don’t keep your hopes too up and let them get shattered.” Her voice made my spine freeze as my adrenaline picked up. I began to sweat even if it was cold outside.
“She...might not make it.” I could hear the tension in her voice. It wasn’t as easy for her as it was for me to accept the fact… the truth.
“No.” I disapproved of her conclusions but what’s the point. I don’t make the rules in this world, I can’t determine who will live or die. I wish but god had already taken that role. Too bad.
“I know it’s hard for you dear but… understand the situation.” Her voice gave me zero hope for Elsie’s recovery.
“I… I’ll try.”
“Thank you.” She added as she left me alone...I needed it...the loneliness...I have to get used to being without my sun...cause she is not going to be there for me anymore.
I walked back to Elsie’s room dejected, she must have noticed something was off.
“What’s wrong?” Her concern was killing me, I’m not the one who needed to be concerned about, it's her she needs to be thinking about.
“Nothing new.” I sourly replied as I pasted a fake smile on my face, hopefully she buys it. Didn’t want to make her uncomfortable with the current situation I had faced and still facing.
“Ok.” She warily responded.
I took the opportunity to leave her alone and think about what Mrs. Heather had begged of me.
If Elsie isn't going to live long then shouldn't I be there with her every second, I was losing time with her. Every breath I took brought death closer to her. I wanted to do something special for her. Something she’ll cherish forever.
Elsie had always told me that family always brought her joy. I wished I could bring her father back so he could see how proud his daughter had made him. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I kept anticipating what I could do for her when I got a brain wave. Elsie probably had some family, everyone does… aunts, uncles, cousins? I knew I had relatives but they weren’t ready to adopt me but my aunt Ria always calls me on weekends and asks me how I was doing.
I’m sure Elsie would be pleased to talk to her relatives, even if they aren’t people she recognizes.
“That’s a brilliant idea, Clare.” Mrs. Heather agreed with my plan. “I’ll try to contact them, since they can’t come in person we can do it through Zoom.” She proposed.
We were set, even family members who haven’t even seen Elsie wanted to surprise her and make her day memorable.
“Elsie, come on.” Elsie had to stay a few feet behind me as she wore a mask, she looked carefully where she placed her hands not wanting to contaminate the place.
“ *cough* What’s going on?”
“Just follow me.” I took her to the main building where we could hold the Zoom meeting.
“Wh- huh?” She must have seen the screen where we displayed the Zoom. “What’s that for?”
“SURPRISE.” We all cheered, the nuns, the orphan and even her family.
“Is that...uncle Tim?” Slowly her eyes showed the excitement that she had been trapping inside of her and her whole face lit up. “Aunt Essa, cousin Miles…how?”
“Ask Clare.” Mrs. Heather pointed at me. Tearfully, Elsie tried to come forward and hug me but she stopped realizing she could make me sick too, instead she weakly smiled at me as she mouthed the words, ‘thank you for everything you’ve done for me.’
All evening Elsie spoke to all her family members as they wished her a successful recovery. I wished they were right but I hadn’t mentioned to them that there was only a slight chance of survival for Elsie.
Elsie seemed better as she said her goodbyes to them. I knew she wished she could talk to them every day but it just wasn’t possible.
That night I walked to Elsie’s room to give her dinner. Elsie’s eyes were closed, hearing my footsteps she weakly opened them.
“Elsie, are you okay?”
“I’m... fine.” I knew she was lying to me but why?
“Elsie.” My eyes began to tear up, was this the end?
“Shh, it’s going to be okay, I’ll always be here… in your heart.” She slowly closed her eyes again. Her breathing slowly decreased… slowly… to nothing.
I cried louder than ever before, the other kids all ran in to investigate and seeing my condition they understood.
The nuns took her body outside where they would do her final prayers for a good afterlife.
I sat like a stone, my tears were dried up on my face, my fist clenched together so hard it felt numb.
One last time I looked at her loving, cheerful face. She looked cold and… lifeless. I shivered as I stayed back not wanting to witness them bury her.
10 years later,
I walked towards the same spot where they had buried Elsie… I searched for her name in all the tombstones. Finally I spotted the right one, hesitant I walked slowly towards it, my body wanting me to retreat but my heart told me to move forward.
‘In dear memory of Elsie Chambers, 2011- 2020’
I muffled the sound of my tears hoping my parents won’t listen in. The year Elsie died an older couple who wanted a child but didn’t have one adopted me. They helped me get over my mental breakdown of my best friends passing but I knew… I’d never get over it.
The autumn breeze flowing through my hair making it a crumpled mess. The fallen leaves flowed through the streets as the trees shook back and forth dancing in the wind. I smiled as I carefully touched her tombstone.
“You’ll always be in my heart too.” I promised her as I ran back to my parents who hugged me in return.