The little boy was nervous. He was afraid. Clutching a tiny, faded blue teddy bear in his fist, he gawked at the tall looming, compound. Dark grey brick slabs comprised the buildings, with black stalagmite-like spires stabbing the air. The boy thought they were sharp enough to puncture the sky. The boy shivered from a sharp breeze as well as vexation. He puffed a breath and watched the wisps swirl and dissipate. He wished he could do the same, be as free as the snow and the breeze. But freedom was a violent blizzard for colored children like him. He knew it from the day his mama and papa got a bullet through the temple for being colored Jews. He heard what the man with the gun said. He was “an abomination to humanity”. No freedom for him.
Very gently, he brushed the puckered scars at his ribs and the jagged tissue around his neck. These marks would remind him of what he was. They would put him in his place. They helped him bow his head and eat up every inch of pride, confidence, and liberty so he can eat his bread. The calluses on his fingers, his blackened knees and elbows, the wear-and-tear of his legs and feet were all the same.
He gazed once more at the menacing buildings. They were to be home. The word brought warmth to his chest. It was a good word. Unlike ‘abomination’ or ‘insolent sub-human’ or ‘rotten mocky’, it brought a slight glimmer of hope to his core. The little boy clung to that single beam of brightness in the stifling dark inside him, and it gave him strength.
So the boy watched as the Indian nurse walked out of the iron gates and sauntered toward him. She would show him the way through his new life. His new home.
Baruch O’ Leery was stood at the edge of the yew valley. The knot of emotions were tense against his ribs. It was a cloudy, sunless, cold, gray-filled day, complemented with a gusty wind. Much like the day he first walked along this very path to what was to be his new home.
His face softened with nostalgia as he remembered the race of emotions he had felt that day. Fear, anxiety, nervousness, discomfort, home-sickness, sprinkled with hope for the best. Flickers of those emotions still remained, even after all these years.
He looked at the his hands. The back was smooth and pristine, the cacao-colored skin soft and the nails pruned round and clean. His palms however, told the truth. They were rough, callused, and scratchy, the lines thick and knotted like braided rope, and a thousand tiny scars which told the story of an over-worked and overwhelming past. No amount of balms or lotion could erase it.
Baruch clenched his fist as snippets of memories revisited him. The loneliness, the fear, the grief were all a beast ravaging inside, eating at any sliver of hope he’d felt that day. The abusive matrons, the innutritious gruel, the bullies.
Baruch’s wife, Maria, walked up to him, bringing him back to reality. She was a Latina, with cinnamon brown eyes, short brown curls, and a soft complexion. She put her head on his shoulder and took her fists into het palms, stretching them out. He met her kind eyes, and she gave him an empathetic smile.
“You don’t have to do this if you want,” She said quietly, caressing his cheek.
“Yes, I do. You go and check in the kids at the resort,” He replied.
She nodded, pecked his cheeked, then walked away. “Carlos! Brianna!” He heard her calling in the distance. Soon he heard the slamming of a car door, the engine revving, and his family driving away.
Baruch took a deep breath, letting his delicate, marred chest unclench before trekking towards St. Elergy’s Orphanage for Colored and Indian Children. Looking back, the name brought shame and embarrassment over how he once thought it could be home.
As he walked, he thought over his life evolution since the day his was taken into the orphanage. The Indian nurse, AnaSofia, led him through the gates and doors, where the metallic smelling halls of the compound glared down at him in distaste. The walls were tall and blank, with no story to tell or history to take pride in. Just slab after slab of blank gray brick, mottled with grime and speckled with old age.
Then he was led to a large auditorium where two matrons, Wilson and Howards. They were large women, with imposing faces and deep-set scowls, probably at yet another waste of space, food, cloth, and sheets. Without greeting, they explained the regulations of the institute. Then his duties. Then the punishments.
The last thought causer shivers down his mangled spine. Yet the pain wasn’t from the beatings. It was the fear that the institution mirrored the outside world. The subtle message of what the world had for those like him. ‘You are colored. You are Jewish. There is no room for success for you. You must work by what you are. Yes, it’s difficult. But it is what it is.’
Ten years later, there he was. A grown man, with a beautiful wife and precious children. A job as a racial equality NGO chairman he adored. Understanding friends who were there for him through trial and tragedy, living together in a safe and connected community. A real benefit to society, and someone who was fighting to make a change and be a difference in his line of work, and the first Jew to do so. He had found his freedom, confidence, all angle success, and happiness. His life was a miracle. He went from and through abuse, depression, suicide attempts, self harm, poverty, loneliness, grief, loss, and continual sorrowness and pain from all perspectives. And the root causes were his race. A part of his identity. That was why, even after all he gained, he decided to come back to this very orphanage, after a successful year, after all this time, to remind himself of where he came from, and to amplify his gratitude for what he was and has now.
Baruch finally reached the rusty spiked gates. He swallowed as he walked into the main building. The walls of the abandoned building were wallowing with age, dirtier than he remembered them. And the ever present smell of smoke, mud, and toilet reeking the halls. He passed the tiny privys, which were shared by at least a dozen children each, then the bedrooms with the dirty, worn, narrow mattresses, which were still arranged row by row ont the floor, the classroom, where they took they reading and counting, and the other gates which led to the fields. Baruch winced as he remembered the sweltering sun and the long hours they labored upon the barley and flax. Then he passed the tiny kitchens, which held their scant supply for bread and butter. Baruch winced again, remembering the droughts when food supply was so short, and the crops so unfruitful, they ate cakes made of water and vinegar.
Then Baruch passed the punishment room, the most miserable, most agonizing room of the whole institute. The room was bare and windowless, except for the rusted, corroded chains attached to the ground. Baruch gasped when he saw the riding crop still curled like a python by the wall.
His eyes wandered to the dried blood, splattered maroon, on the floor and a wall. Baruch would wager that most of it was his. All the memories of his held within this room came like a torrent upon him, and he toppled sideways to the doorpost, heaving with sobs. He mourned for the pain inflicted upon him in this room, the pain inflicted on his mates. He crumpled to the floor, into the corner of the room, and cried. There were jagged pockmarks covering his back from nape to hips because of this room.
Slowly, Baruch composed himself and stood. After several breaths, the ache in his cheat subsided. He cleaned his face and made his way out. Room after room, hall after hall he wandered, remembrance of them all fluttering in and out of his mind.
Finally, he exited the gates. Turning around, he faced the building and sighed. Even through all the anguish he faced at here at St. Elergy’s, this place would always be a part of him. A part of his identity, past, and story.
But it would never be home. His home was with his family and friends . The people he loved and loved him. Love in itself was what helped him overcome his fears and become a man. Love helped him conquer the chains of his past and live in the freedom of the here and now, and hope of the future to come. A future where people of different race, religion, status, and ability could coexist in peace and community. The sort of future he worked for and dreamed about and taught his kids on.
He pressed his hand on the gate. “Thank you,” He whispered with a soft smile.
Burrowing into his overcoat, he walked back through the Yew Valley. As looked to the sky, he watched the clouds minutely shift away, and luminescent rays of sunlight glimmer through, radiating the place with warmth. The gust from before had turned into a cool breeze. And far away, a mockingbird chirped a song.
Even the most deadly blizzards end with the clouds clearing, the sun shining and a cleaner, brighter, stronger land lying below, ready and waiting for the future.