E Harikumar

Soul in the Orphanage

E Harikumar


Shijo got up with a start from the slumber he had slipped into, when he heard a mild knock at the door. He quickly draped the loin cloth ‘mundu’ that was kept neatly folded at the headboard of the bed. The Tamilian who comes with a four wheeler push carriage and irons the clothes, charges Rs.4/- a piece. So when going to sleep Shijo removes his clothing and sleeps with his under garments on. He put on his shirt that was hung on the cloth stand. Switching on the only CFL lamp in the room he opened the door still fumbling with the last two buttons on his shirt.

It was Annie, in a tight chemise. She was wearing her school uniform with blue top and white midi before going to bed. She has to use a set of uniforms for two days. That was the rule in the orphanage.

‘Annie? You want something?’

He joined the orphanage as a warden two days back only and so was not familiar with the inmates’ needs. He marked that the children should be given some loose clothes to wear when sleeping. It is not comfortable to see them in this tight fitting dress. Almost all the girls in the orphanage are above 10 years of age. Annie must be at least 14.

‘You need something, Annie?’

She looked at him with a surprised look. Shijo couldn’t understand the look in Annie’s face.

‘You need any tablets?’

Girls must be shy of asking. Back home his younger sister Liji used to whisper in Mom’s ears when she gets pain in the abdomen. Most of the time it starts in the night and he will take out his bicycle and go to town to buy painkiller tablets from the only medical shop that opens in the night.

‘Do you have stomach pain?’ Shijo asked once again.

She nodded in the negative.


‘Sir, it is Jisy’s turn tonight. I came because she’s not well.’


She nodded.

‘Turn for what?’

‘Today is Tuesday, and it is her turn to come to you, Sir. The old Warden Sir had made it that way. Tuesday it is Jisy, Thursday me, Saturday Deepa and if in between he wants somebody he will tell it.

‘What for?’

The moment it was blurted out he understood the absurdity of his question. In a moment a lot of things rushed into his mind, like standing in front of a bursting dam and being swept away with the torrent. He was tired. He was thinking of the hapless animals that are forced to go to the animal king one a day as his prey. Today is the turn of this fawn, or she is substituting for a fellow being.

‘You sit down,’ pointing a stool that is kept near the wall Shijo said. The girl who was about to sit on the edge of the bed changed her course and sat instead on the stool.

‘Now tell me what made you to come here.’

The old warden didn’t say anything to you, Sir?’

‘No, he only said that all of you are good girls. Then your routine matters of study and things like that.’

‘Nothing else?’

‘No, now you didn’t say why you did come. The old warden has gone already.’

‘He had instructed even when the new warden comes we shouldn’t break this routine.’

She ended up in a burst of sobs. The tension she is undergoing must be really too much to bear. She was sobbing. He thought of going and consoling her, but just watched her cry. Tears that rolled into her thin chemise were creating an unpleasant wetness on her chest, and Shijo turned his face away. He said.

‘Stop crying. I didn’t ask you anything that warrants so much. All right, don’t you have any nightie to wear at night?’

‘No Sir.’

‘I will ask the tailor to come down tomorrow itself.’

‘Will he come back Sir?’ Annie asked hesitatingly.


‘The old warden, Sir’

‘No, but why?’

Suddenly her face was filled with terror. She was pondering if she could share their problems with the new warden? If so, how far she can go?

‘Why Annie, are you scared of him so much?’

‘Will you tell this to anybody, Sir? If you tell he will finish us off.’

‘No, I won’t tell anybody. Not only that, in future if you have any problem you should tell me. It is to look after your well being that I am kept here. All right, now tell me why you are scared of the old warden so much.’

‘He was hurting us so much, Sir. If we resist he would beat us and say that we would be expelled from here. We have nowhere else to go.’

She was on the verge of crying again. Shijo felt pity on the poor girl.

‘Don’t cry, Annie. If you find it difficult, don’t tell me. Now you may go, and sleep peacefully.’

She got up wiping her tears and went out. Next to his room is the dining hall. It will be closed expect for three times a day, 7 to 8 in the morning, 1 to 2 at noon and 7.30 to 8.30 in the night. Rest of the time if the children feel hungry and want to eat something or drink a tea, there is no way. It is like feeding dogs, feeding at regular intervals. There is a corridor to the kitchen. The door to the kitchen is closed at night. Food for sixteen children will be measured and served in plates and brought to the dining room in a trolley. The food for Shijo will be served in his room. The room after the dining room is fairly large and eight bedsteads are kept crammed in it.

You can hardly call it a bed. Just four wooden legs fitted onto a frame on which cheap wooden planks are nailed down. On these makeshift beds the sixteen girls sleep, two in one bed. There is hardly legroom to move about. They grow up in this room. They have no complaints, since most of them do not have a home, and those few who have, don’t want to go back. They would rather sleep in the street.

He felt a deep compassion for the children. Is this the way growing up children should be treated? Things are quite different in a family. Is it necessary for an orphanage to treat them differently? Born in a home with loving parents and a loving sister, he felt this despicable. And on top of it all, the humiliations and harassment meted out to them during night. He didn’t want to think about the extent of this damage.

Now, what have these children done to deserve this fate?

He opened the register of the inmates. Children are aged between 8 and 15. Annie is 13. Thirteen! Only two girls are elder to her, 15 year old Jisy and Deepa hardly 14. He closed the register.

While lying on the bed, Shijo thought about the man, who had been sleeping on that bed till three days back. Dirty man! He felt repugnant, to get up from that sinful bed and lying on the bare floor.

The manager’s room is outside the main door. Sitting at the ancient table in the narrow room is the manager, who is equally ancient. His working time is morning 8 to 1 and 3 to 5 in the afternoon. Everything fits in like a jigsaw puzzle. How can I talk to this man and convince him? Shijo understood the situation when he talked to the manager yesterday about subscribing for newspaper.

‘Why do you need newspaper? I am sure the committee won’t allow us to subscribe.’

‘Why do you need permission from the committee for such a trifle matter? The manager can take his own decision.’

‘Well-done, boy! Are you bent upon kicking me out of my job?’

‘You won’t lose your job just by ordering a newspaper.’

He looked at Shijo with a strange expression.

The manager continued. ‘You can say that, because you’re young. I am seventy years old. I come over and sit here just because I have nothing else to do at home. I get 3000 bucks for that. Let me just fool around like this.’

Shijo understood he couldn’t expect any co-operation from this man. Now he goes out and buys a newspaper if any explosive news happens to be on the headlines. The funny part of it is that when the morning’s work is over the manager creeps into Shijo’s room to borrow the paper. A shameless man he is. Man who asked why we need a newspaper is now impatiently grabbing it the moment he puts it down.


There is only one more person left to ascertain whether you’d get help change the situation. It is Lizy the cook. Shijo didn’t like her from the outset. He dropped the idea of ascertaining her age. It could be anything from thirty to fifty years. She is medium to heavy built and her curly slightly tinted hair had an abrupt end at her shoulder. Her color is difficult to assess, as it changes from day to day. She’s always found in a graying cloak. You could have guesses about its color as you had with her complexion.

Lizy came through the veranda pushing a two-tier trolley. She stopped the trolley at Shijo’s door and brought a glassful of tea and ‘uppuma’ made of fried semolina and kept them on his table. Yes predictably ‘uppuma’. This is the third day in a row he is going to eat ‘uppuma’. In an hour of taking that stuff made from semolina you get heartburn. He had bought antacid tablets yesterday. But why experiment another day. He drank a mouthful of tea and keeping the glass on the table went to the dining room. He wanted to watch children eating.

The children are queuing with expectation, and one by one took away the plates and started eating crammed at the table. There was no enthusiasm on their faces.

‘Sir, are you not having breakfast?’ Lizy Chechi asked.

‘I will take it; right now let me see the children having it.’

She had a dull face devoid of any expression. The children while eating looked at Shijo with surprise. This could be the first time somebody is watching with interest their eating.

Lizy Chechi left the trolley in the middle of the hall and went outside. Shijo went to the table and sat by the side of the youngest girl. He remembered her name from the register. It was Nandita, the 8-year-old. A skinny tan colored girl. She looks like she has suffered in eight years what is stored for a lifetime.

Nandita, in which class are you in?’

She muttered something bending her head.

‘Nandita is in 2nd standard, Sir.’ It was Annie. She felt friendlier with him since last night’s encounter.

‘Do you have all the books with you?’ he asked Nandita.

‘My pencil is almost finished.’ She said in a low voice.

‘Is it? We will buy one today itself.’

‘Is the food sufficient for everybody?’ He asked everybody. They nodded.

‘All of you like the food?’

None answered. They are sitting without any expression on their faces. He realized the futility of waiting for an answer.

Lizy came. ‘Haven’t finished yet?’

Children started getting up one by one with their plate. There was ‘uppuma’ left over in many plates. Lizy didn’t say anything, since this may be a regular sight. She stalked the plates the children brought after washing and went out pushing her trolley. The children went to their room. Now they will get ready for the school and come back at 1 O’clock for lunch.

Shijo watched from the door children in white skirt and blue top uniform walking out of the building. The school run by the Church is in the next compound. Suddenly Nandita came running to him.

‘What happened, Nandita? Forgot something?’

She nodded her head sideways.


He sat in front of her and holding both her hands asked, ‘then what?’

She whispered in his ears. ‘I need a pencil with an eraser at the end. I don’t have a rubber with me.’

‘I’ll buy one for you. When you come down for lunch a pencil with a rubber will be waiting for you here.’

He watched her running back happily.

‘What’s that the girl whispering in your ears?’

It was the manager. He was coming through the gate. His duty time is from 8.

‘She wanted to buy something for her.’

‘Look here. Don’t spoil them by buying things. I am warning you.’

‘She wanted a pencil.’

‘Pencil. I do have them in dozens. I buy them in boxes.’

‘Is that so?’ Shijo did not really know who is buying the necessary things for the children. It could be manager. But then why didn’t she ask him?

‘Come, I’ll show you. Now onwards if children pester you for something ask them to contact me. There is an account for all these. A pencil and a refill a month, a soap bar for four children a month, etc.’

Shijo went after the manager to his room. Manager kept his pouch on the table, took a dirty cloth and wiped his chair and sat down. He slowly opened the pouch, took out a bunch of keys and got up.


Shijo was standing. The manager opened one of the two steel cupboards. He was right; there are boxes full of things, toilet soaps, washing bar soaps, toothpaste, notebooks, and pencils.

Shijo took out a pencil box that was stalked in a shelf. At once he knew that they are of inferior quality and perhaps the cheapest available in the market. Perhaps it would suffice for the orphans. All pencils are without eraser.

‘Don’t you give the children eraser?’

‘Then...? One when the school opens, and another one when the school re-opens after half yearly exams.’

Nandita must have lost her eraser, or it must have been worn out. Any way since she was given word of honor he should buy one for her.

Shijo went out. He wanted to meet Lizy and talk about the food. He should find out if the breakfast could be made any better. Not only breakfast the food in general. He has no idea how, but decided to give it a try.

He felt the smell of bidi smoke even before entering the kitchen. When entering he understood the source. Lizy had kept her right hand behind her, but could only watch helplessly the smoke coming through her nostrils.

‘Lizy Chechi, don’t spoil that bidi, you may smoke it.’

‘No, that’s almost over....’ She put out the bidi on the kitchen platform with an awkward expression and threw it into the waste bin.

“No one comes to the kitchen’, she continued, ‘I have nothing else to do.’

‘It’s alright sister, I came just to ask you something.’

‘What is it?’

‘Can’t we make different dishes in the morning every day? Won’t the children get fed up eating Uppuma day after day?’

She had an indifferent expression on her face.

‘I can fix breakfast only with the stuff given to me. If they buy rice and black lentils I can prepare iddaly and dosa. We’ve got a grinder to make dough. If they buy rice powder and chickpeas I can prepare pittu and chickpea curry. All that I get is semolina. Please don’t tell the manager what I’ve said now. He can do a lot of harm to me.’

‘Can we improve on the dinner as well?’

‘Sir, things will go on as it is here. If you want anything special, I will make it for you without the manager knowing about it. I don’t reckon anything else will work out here. The previous warden used to bring fish, meat and eggs only for him, without anyone’s knowledge.’

‘That’s not correct.’ Shijo felt it very much unsavory. ‘I will eat only whatever the children eat. I am wondering if that could be improved upon.’

Lizy shrugged her shoulders.

‘Okay, I am going out. If you need anything for the kitchen...’

‘The manager said I should ask him only for kitchen provision and not anyone else.’


Shijo came out. He wanted to talk to the manager. He was doubtful about the outcome. The manager was immersed in the hot news of the day and did not know see Shijo entering. Shijo cleared his throat, and the manager lifted his head from the paper, as if he saw Shijo entering.


‘Nothing. I’m going to town. If you need to buy anything, you may tell me.’

‘Aye, nothing. I buy from wholesale shops. Right now we don’t need anything.’

‘By the way, can we make the breakfast slightly better?’


‘Variety. If it is uppuma a day, then we can make iddaly the next day, just like that.’

‘Look, this is an orphanage. Whatever we do now, they are happy and contented. Don’t instill such unwanted ideas in their petty heads. If you want anything special, I will ask Lizy to make it for you.’

‘No, thanks.’

Shijo went out. He was not brought up in luxury. It was difficult in the time of father who was much sought after by the local people. He was a favorite of the church also, but not good at looking after his family. It was not intentional, but he was reluctant to cash in on his popularity and others’ weaknesses. The result was empty storeroom in the kitchen and tattered or repaired dresses to wear.

Thinking of dresses, Shijo remembered the nightie he has to buy for the children. He went back and knowing its futility asked the manager.

‘Another thing....’


‘We have to get two nighties each stitched for the girls. Right now they are going to bed in chemises. That’s not right.

‘No, no. The committee won’t allow it. Go ahead and do the work entrusted to you rather than meddling in other things. You’re young, and naturally will feel that way.’

He dived back into the newspaper.

Now what? Going back to his room and sitting in front of the table Shijo was very much agitated. He wanted to have a tea. Lizy Chechi might make it if asked for. But in all probability you might feel that you shouldn’t have asked for it. And then he has to buy a pencil for Nandita. Watching Nandita he remembered the childhood of Liji, his sister. She also keeps her hair parted and plaited. He went out.


A tea from Vincent Chettan’s teashop made some changes in him. He felt that things are not that bad and that he could change them for better. That’s what the maximum a strong tea can do for a desperate man. He walked to the committee office across the street.

Father Mathew was coming out of the office.

‘Praise the Lord, Father.’

‘Praise the Lord, Shijo, what can I do for you?’

‘I wanted to talk about some matters about the orphanage with you, Father.’

‘Good, come along.’

Sitting back on chair behind his table Father Mathew listened with interest what the young man was telling, and then got up and opened a steel cupboard kept near the wall. He took out two files and a few registers and having kept them on the table looked at Shijo.

‘Okay, let’s start from the morning. Today is 18th, isn’t it? Within these two weeks we have purchased provisions twice already, enough rice and lentils to make dough for iddaly and dosa. 50 kilos iddaly rice and 15 kilo black lentils. This will be enough for sixteen children, the warden and cook for 10 to 15 days. How come then that she prepares only semolina uppuma every day?

‘All right, now let’s look for other things. See.’ Looking through the file Father Mathew said. ‘15 kilo rice powder bought, along with 10 kilo chick pea, then 25 kilo wheat flour, eggs five times, one and a half dozen each...’

Father closed the file and looked at Shijo.

‘Father, I don’t think all these reached our kitchen. Had it been bought Lizi Chechi would have said that.’

‘It is the manager who purchases all these. He has given all these bills and vouchers himself. This is a serious matter to be investigated. Poor children! This means they are not getting all that is bought in their name. Look Shijo, you go now. I’ll enquire about it. Don’t let anyone know that you have met with me and discussed this. The church is spending a lot of money for this orphanage, most of which donated by kind people, and some taken from our funds. If the poor children are not getting benefit of all these, it is too bad. In a way I am also responsible for this mix up. I should have been more vigilant. Any way.’

‘Praise the Lord.’

‘Always, praise the Lord.’

When buying a good pencil for Nandita he remembered the poor quality pencils he had seen in manager’s cupboard. Those pencils costing nearly half the price of this pencil somehow pained him. In his class most of the friends had elegant pencils with H.B. mark on them. When asked to buy such a pencil, Dad would always buy the cheapest pencil, that is not at all attractive, and the tips broke when sharpened. He could afford to buy those pencils only.

He was under the impression that Nandita would ask about the pencil at lunchtime. But she didn’t ask, instead walked in front of his door many times, each time slowing down on reaching the door and looking at him with a smile. She didn’t probably want to ask him and get a disappointing answer. The fourth time she was walking he asked.

‘Yes, Nandita?’

She just nodded, but Shijo discerned her face darkening with disappointment. She might have thought that Sir had forgotten the pencil. Perhaps she might have bragged her friends about getting a new pencil, a beautiful one with a rubber at one end. Now if she goes back to the classes without one?

He felt that this small child should not be teased like this. He called her.

‘Nandita, come here.’

‘Yes Sir.’

He took out a dark green pencil with an eraser at the end.

‘Were you looking for this?’

She was shy. She stretched her arm and came running. She inhaled the smell of the pencil.

‘Look, even the rubber has good smell.’

Shijo said.

She smelt the rubber and nodded.

‘Did you like this?’

‘Yes?’ She went out running. She is eager to show the pencil to her big sisters.



Lizy was nodding her head.

‘No Father, none of these reached here. I have forgotten the time seeing rice powder and chickpea. Same is with eggs. If it is given you will see them here.’

The two persons who came along with Father Mathew were Committee Members. They were taking stock of the provisions in the kitchen. They were astounded and there was amazement in their eyes. How can she run a mess for 16 children with the provisions available here? Not even quarter of the articles that are billed reached the kitchen here.

‘What time the Manager goes?’ Father Mathew asked.

‘He goes at 5 O’clock.’

‘The provisions; do the shop supply them directly here, or?’

‘No, the manager brings them himself. He hires a goods auto and brings.’

‘That means the shops have not done any manipulation in the bills.’

While having tea from Shijo’s room Father Mathew said.

‘We can believe whatever Lizy tells. I know her for the last fifteen years. She came here an orphan when she was twenty years old. Her father and mother died within a short span of time, I think a week or so. Because she was from a very poor family none of the relatives came forward to take her responsibility. The church volunteered to arrange a marriage for her, but she was not interested in marriage. At that time we had an old lady as cook here. When she died Lizy took over as cook. She has no other interest. So, where have these provisions gone?’

Shijo did not say anything. There were mixed feelings in his mind. He as well as the Committee Members realized that the manager was swindling money. It is a great sin to steal what should have gone to these poor hapless children. He had absolutely no idea that things are what they are when climbing up the stairs of the committee office in the morning. Now the only thing to be verified is how far the previous warden was involved in this swindle. But this is nothing in comparison with the heinous crime he had committed on these children.

‘Shijo please come to the Bishop’s Palace tomorrow. We have to talk to the Bishop to sort things out.’

‘What time should I come, Father?’

‘Morning 9.30. You have no other engagement, have you?’

‘No, after the children go to school, I will be free for some time. I will come then.’

They were gone, and when Lizy Chechi came to remove the empty cups Shijo said.

‘Lizi Chechi, sit down for a while, I have to talk to you.’

‘What?’ She was standing near the table nervously holding the cups in a tray.

‘Sit down, please.’

Lizy kept the tray on the table, drew a chair and sat reluctantly, uncomfortably. Shijo felt that she would never have enjoyed such informal treatments in her life.

He was fumbling for words. He didn’t know how to start. He tapped on the table with his fingers. Since he was playing piano in the church, it resulted in a musical melody. ‘Unarvin varam labhippan.’

‘What I wanted to say.’

He stopped. Lizy was very nervous and fidgeting in the chair. Her life was arranged in her kitchen and the small bedroom behind it. The only time she went out of the orphanage is to the roadside shop across the gate to buy bidi. She went to the church through an opening in the compound wall. No one missed her in the Church, as if she is invisible.

‘I want to talk about our institution. I could make out that the affairs are not proper within two-three days of joining here. I wanted to talk to you how we can improve upon it.’

He waited for a response from Lizy Chechi. There was no response.

‘How come, you are not talking?’

‘What should I say? I am the cheapest worker here. The manager has always warned me not to inquire about big matters, the same as the previous warden. They asked me to live in a quiet corner, and that’s better for me.’

Shijo realized the magnitude of the problem before him. It is not easy to tame Lizy Chechi the way he wanted. Her self-pride was crushed for 15 years, and he has to give this poor lady time to recover.

‘From here onwards I will see to it that no such things happen in future. Okay? This is the place I have finally reached. A place our Lord has found for me. Now if ever I go from here I will see to it that the place is better than what it was when I reached here. After all my attempts for improvement fail and if I feel that I won’t be able to change it, that moment I will leave this place.’

Lizy was sitting with her face bent down.

‘Chechi, now you may go.’

She got up quickly, collected the tray with cups and went out of the door. It looks like she was relieved. Shijo supported his head with the left hand and started playing piano with his fingers, on the table top. Five minutes must have elapsed he heard a call.


‘Yes, Chechi?’

Lizy came near the table.

‘Why have the committee members come a while ago?’

‘Oh, that?’ Shijo pointed to the chair in front. ‘Chechi please sit down.’

Lizy sat down hesitatingly.

‘A lot of kind people give donations to run this orphanage. With that money these girls could have had a much better life. I was all along thinking that the committee doesn’t spend enough on this house. When inquired I found that it was not true and that a lot of things are bought for this place on their account. Where has all that gone?’

‘No, no. I haven’t taken anything.’

‘Chechi, what’ll you do with that. The committee has full trust in you and a lot of respect too. They have found out the path these things have gone by. Now let’s see what they will do.’

‘I’ll do whatever I can.’

Lizy was flattered. She liked the word ‘respect’ more than ‘trust’, since she hasn’t done anything to lose trust in her. But respect; that is a great thing for her. It could be my feeling Shijo thought, but he is now sure that she is on his side and will try to help him. He felt confident.


There was a spacious room jetting out in front of the Bishop’s palace, and that was Bishop’s office. The room spoiled the symmetry of the palace, but can’t say it is aesthetically in bad taste. Shijo has seen the room only once before joining the orphanage as warden. The room had wall to wall carpet, and there was glass top on the spacious table made of mahogany kept near the window. The revolving chair is placed in front of the window curtain and on the wall stands the crucified Christ.

It was the interview for the post of warden.

His Lordship had said.

‘Your name is Shijo - Shijo Joseph Kurien. Your father had left a good name. You know that? A great name.’

Shijo nodded.

‘Tarnish not that name, and do great things only. I only have this much to say.’

He nodded.

‘You are being given charge of small children, most of who lost their parents. You should see to it that they do not feel that way. You should give word in the name of our Lord that you will abide by that.’

‘I give word in the name of our Lord.’ Shijo said bowing down.

Getting up from the chair and walking towards the side of the table the Bishop said. ‘Now we can pray.’

Now after taking benediction on the day of interview he had to come back again after ten days, that too within four days of joining the orphanage.

Shijo got up when he heard the door opening. Turning back he saw the Bishop in front and behind him keeping the door open for him to pass was Father Mathew. Shijo bowed down in front of the Bishop.

‘Praise the Lord.’

He held Shijo’s hand in his and started to pray. After the prayer lasting a minute, the Bishop passed by the left side of table and took his seat.

‘Sit down.’ Bishop told Father Mathew and Shijo.

The Bishop looked at Shijo intently for a couple of minutes, as if to study his mind through the expression on his face. He appeared satisfied and leaned back on his chair as if he has nothing more to ask or do. Then he leaned forward and glanced through the file opened in front.

‘You made him understand everything?’

The question was addressed to Father Mathew.

‘No Sir, not everything. I explained the setup and the working of the institution, but haven’t told him about the other thing.’

Shijo guessed what the ‘other thing’ was. So they knew about the activities of the old warden!

The Bishop appeared dissatisfied. He didn’t want such a thing to be discussed in his presence.

‘The situation is like this.’ Father Mathew said hesitatingly, ‘The behavior and activities of the old warden was not conducive to an institution where girls are the inmates. That’s why he was removed and Shijo appointed in his place.’

Bishop nodded his head as if to say that the dialogue was in the right direction and spirits. Shijo said he understood.

‘Whatever it may be,’ the Bishop said, ‘no such thing should happen in future. This is why the son of Joseph Kurien is given charge of this institution, complete.’ He paused for an effect and continued, ‘complete charge.’

Shijo looked at the Bishop and then Father Mathew with questioning eyes. Father Mathew nodded his head and said.

‘Yes, today onwards the manager won’t be coming. You are in-charge; you have to do his duties as well.’

‘There is more responsibility and work, and your salary will be increased accordingly,’ the Bishop said, ‘the committee will decide on it. Are you agreeable?’

‘I will try.’

‘Now,’ the Bishop continued, “make an estimate of the expenses there for a month. We will present it in this week’s meeting. The children should be looked after in a fairly good manner. I don’t mean luxury, but in a good manner. How much will be required for that. Ask Lizy and you’ll get a general idea.’

Shijo nodded, and the Bishop got up.

‘Now we can pray for a good future and our Lord’s blessings for those unfortunate children.’

All the three stood in a circle. Bishop with a closed eye was chanting prayers in a soft voice. Shijo watching the wrinkles on his face repeated the prayer.

Walking together to the church Father Mathew said.

‘Shijo, you can do it. It needs a lot of imagination to be a manager. That man has imagination only to make money through crooked ways. You think of ways to make improvements and make this institution a worthy one. Money is no problem. Another matter, a kind person has donated his computer. He said it could be kept either in the school or the committee office. It is only 2 years old, as good as a new one. He donated this when he bought a new P.C. The school already has ten computers, and one in the office. That will suffice. This PC, if you want we can keep there. We’ll take a broadband connection. You will have to contact a lot of people for donations. Right now Sister Theresa is doing it. You can help her in that.’

‘It’s a good idea. I can keep the orphanage office files also in that. Then on Sundays and holidays the children can practice or play in that.’

‘So, Shijo,’ looking at his watch Father said, ‘it’s time for mass, and I have to go. God be with you.’

Walking to his room Shijo thought. Just a day before, he was hoping to get some more powers to make improvements to the children’s lot. Now, suddenly all the powers are vested in him. He thought of the manager. It was good that he was chucked out. A dirty despicable man he is.

Instead of going to his room he went to the kitchen. Even though the door was open he knocked at the door before entering, and called.

‘Lizy Chechi....’

Lizy, who was sitting near the kitchen platform looking through the window, got up with a start.

‘Sir, you want tea?’

Shijo had no intention of having tea at that time. He wanted to meet with Lizy and talk about his rendezvous with the Bishop, to tell her that the path for improvement is clear now. But Lizy’s question generated his crave for a cup of good tea. Yes, he needed it, especially after the tensions in the morning. He said.

‘Yes please, Chechi. A good cup of tea.’

‘I’ll bring it over Sir, you may go.’

‘It is okay, I’ll stand here. And you know I am coming from the Bishop’s Palace.

Lizy looked at him with questioning eyes, as to why he had met with the Bishop, and then turned to the stove and kept the water to boil.

‘He said he would do everything to look after the children’s matters. And another important matter, the manager won’t be coming from today.’


‘He is sacked.’

‘That’s why,’ she paused and then continued ‘he hasn’t come yet. Now they will bring in another manager, isn’t it?’

‘No, he asked me to look after his work also.’

‘Is that so?’ There was delight in her voice. This is the first time that Shijo is discerning an expression on her face other than the usual monotony.

‘I’ll tell you what happened.’ Shijo said, ‘Chechi, the tea is good.’

He talked to Lizy while sipping the tea.


Shijo had decided that he would eat only with the children. It appeared that the children also liked it.

‘Now Sir, will you eat with us every day?’ Jisy asked during breakfast. She is the eldest.

‘All of you like me eating with you?’

‘Yesss.’ There was a chorus for reply.

‘If you like it so much, I will have tea and food with you every day. Okay?’

Lizy Chechi was smiling. Shijo was surprised at the sudden change of countenance in her. It was uppuma today also, but there is more fried onion in it, and moreover it is properly cooked as well. All these are positive signs that he can improve upon this house. The knowledge about manager’s exit has made some chemical changes in Lizy. Any way Shijo observed that there were no leftovers in children’s plates today.

A lot of work lies ahead. He should prepare the estimate for a month’s expenses and hand it over to Father Mathew. The committee meeting is scheduled for day after tomorrow. They should pass it before Shijo can start his reforms. When the children started for school, he went to kitchen with a book and pen. After talking for a while he got an idea of how much will be required for the kitchen a month. Now he should go to the wholesaler in the market to get the estimate. There is a tailor lady on the lane by the side of the church. He should arrange so that she comes down to the orphanage to take measurements for the children’s dresses. Rest can be done afterwards.

He was about to go out of the door when he saw the manager coming. Shijo smiled.

‘Are you going out?’

‘Yes, nearby shop.’

‘Can you spare half an hour with me?’

‘Oh sure; why not?’

The manager took out a bunch of keys from his pouch and opened his room.


Manager went straight to the window and from somewhere like a magician took out a piece of cloth and wiped his chair. He sat down and looked at Shijo for a while and said.

‘You might have known everything?’

‘What Sir?’

‘I am going to retire. I am seventy now. Enough is enough; now let the young generation take over matters. I’m not waiting until the new man comes. So Father Mathew said I could hand over charge to you. I’ll show you the accounts till yesterday and whatever stock I have here in this room. I don’t think we can verify the kitchen provision, because that is being used every day. And then Lizy has no idea about keeping accounts.’

‘But why are you leaving all of a sudden?’

‘I have to go one day. I thought it could better be today. That’s all.’

The manager took the bunch of keys, opened the cupboard and started taking out items one by one and counting them as he put them on the table.

‘All these will be in the register, then why...’ Shijo interrupted him.

‘Yes, all these will be entered in the register properly, but it is better to convince you that all items according to the register are there in the cupboard. It is better; otherwise if you say some items are missing after I left it will be difficult for us.’


There were very little things in the cupboard. This man is a learned crook. Perhaps he must have smelt that his time is nearing when they sent the warden away packing and being shaky prepared for this moment. Shijo helped the manager to put the things back into the cupboard, and wrote under the last entry in the register, ‘everything accounted for’ and put his signature. The manager took out an old biscuit tin from the table drawer and started counting the notes, and he showed that the amount is tallying with the day book entry.

‘Now, here are Rupees seven thousand one hundred and sixty and fifty paise. Now write down that you have received the amount and sign it.’

He handed over the box to Shijo and got up.

‘Now I have nothing more to do here. Let me go, and if you have any doubts phone me up. Here is the bunch of keys, take care of that.’

A long legged umbrella on the right hand and his pouch on the left the man walked slowly to the gate. Shijo watched him walk in a slow pace. Perhaps he wanted Shijo to feel sorry for him, because usually he was very brisk in his walking.

‘He is gone, isn’t it?’ Lizy Chechi who has just come out of the kitchen asked.

‘Yes, Chechi, he’s gone.’

‘Good. What sort of a man he was!’

‘Why, Chechi?’

‘No, nothing.’

She is trying to hide something from him. May be it is his feeling. He will come to know that in the coming days.

‘I will go to the market to collect an estimate of how much we will need for a month. Anything urgent to buy?’

‘Nothing in particular. To be frank, we have to buy everything.’

‘Wait until the committee meeting day after tomorrow when they will sanction our estimate. Now I’ll buy some chicken. It’ll be a feast for children.’

‘Chicken?’ Lizy’s eyes brightened. It could be years before she has eaten chicken.

‘Yes, or do you want me to buy beef?’

‘No, chicken. I am not sure everybody likes beef. I have wheat flour, and I will make chapathi.’

The picture that arose in Shijo’s mind, that of sixteen children, sitting around the table and having chapathi with chicken curry and making merry, was a colorful one.

It was long time back, in his childhood. Once a man whom Dad helped to get something done, brought a big chicken home. Shijo and younger sister Liji were very happy, since for long they have not had chicken in their menu. They were lingering around it. Dad came out and asked what the hubbub is all about, and when he knew that it was a gift from the man, he was very angry and agitated.

‘I did to you what I should have any way done to a fellow being. It is not a favor. You have brought this as a bribe?’

‘Bribe, Sir? No I was so happy and thankful that I thought I should bring something. Please don’t think differently.’

Against all pleadings of that poor man, Dad did not relent and he had to take it back with him. When Dad turned he saw two gloomy faces watching the chicken going away. He was sad. He looked at them for some time, and bending held the children close to him and said.

‘Look son, when Dad gets some money I will bring chicken. We don’t want these sorts of money or things.’

Dad fulfilled his promise within five to eight days, but the frustration they had a week ago was too much to compensate. A favorite thing that was almost theirs was kicked out from them. But the moral strength of Dad had great impact on him and caused it to be his way of life.


Lizy watched children eating chicken and flat bread so eagerly. Shijo was looking at them and in between forgot to have his food.

‘Is it your happy birthday, Sir?’ Revathi who always has a smiling face asked.

Shijo nodded. ‘Not only today, from now onwards everyday is my birthday.’

There was surprise on the face of the nine-year-old girl.

‘How come you have birthday every day Sir?’

‘When you are all with me how can a day not be happy birthday?’

‘See, Jisy is not eating anything?’ Lizy who was standing behind Jisy at the other end of table said. Shijo saw whatever is served lying untouched on her plate.

‘What happened, Jisy baby?’

She just shrugged her shoulders, and then got up, walked to the wash basin to wash her hands and went out. Annie was about to follow her friend.

‘What happened to Jisy, Annie?’ Shijo asked.

‘She was complaining of stomach ache, Sir.’

She also went out. Other children continued their lunch.

Shijo was upset. Something was telling him that his real troubles are just around the corner only waiting to pounce on him. He was scared. He looked at Lizy. She too was immersed in thoughts. He said.

‘Lizy Chechi, please go and see if Jisy needs something. We will help ourselves till you come back.’

Lizy was gone. Shijo wondered how far she knew about old warden. After dinner at 8.30 night the main door as well the door at the corridor to the kitchen are locked and then Lizy Chechi is totally cut off from this area. The door will be opened morning six only. Till then whatever is happening inside is not in her knowing.

The lunch was great. Lizy is a good cook. Only she didn’t get a chance to use her talents till now. Same way she must be having many other talents lying dormant in her. He should try to bring them out to the advantage of children and in general the orphanage.

After washing his hands he went to children’s room where Jisy was lying down. Lizy Chechi was sitting near her slowly caressing Jisy’s back, like a mother, thought Shijo. Lizy Chechi suddenly got up seeing Shijo.

‘No Chechi sit down. I think she is comfortable when you caress her.’ Lizy sat and started caressing Jisy.

‘If you are not well, don’t go to classes in the afternoon.’ Shijo said.

Jisy looked at him and her eyes overflowed. ‘And if Annie can cut her classes, let her stay with Jisy.’

Somehow he was scared of leaving Jisy alone.

‘Do you want any medicine, Jisy baby?’ He asked. She nodded in the negative.

Children were back in the room after lunch and they picked up their school bags and are ready to go.

‘What happened to Jisy Chechi, Sir?’ Nandita asked.

‘She’s having stomach ache, dear. She’ll be alright soon. You all go to school.’

After they left Shijo went to his office room and sat on his chair. What’s the meaning of all this? A lot of questions needed answers. Why have they left these poor helpless children in the care of a wolf like old warden? Jisy or Annie or any other girls involved must have confessed to the priest, so that Father Mathew must have known by this time what was happening. There is no other way he knew about this. Jisy is really an orphan with no father, mother or relatives. No one is going to question about her. She was abandoned somewhere on a roadside as a newborn child.

He saw Lizy coming through the veranda. He called, ‘Lizy Chechi.’

She came and holding the door frame asked, ‘Yes, Sir?’

‘Please come in or better come after you clean the dining tables.’

‘That’s okay I’ll do it later on. Jisy might eat after some time. I will try.’

‘Then come and sit down.’

‘What’s ailing Jisy, have you any idea?’

Lizy bent her head and kept silent.

‘Why don’t you say something?’

‘We’ll take her to a doctor. What else can I say? She was having morning sickness for some days. It is bad luck for her, what else can I say.’

‘What’s your opinion about the old warden?’

Lizy didn’t say anything.

‘Now onwards Lizy Chechi will sleep in children’s room. Then you will know off hand what their problems are. They can tell you a lot of things that normally cannot be told to me. That will do them good.

‘And this Sunday the tailor lady will come to take measurements. Children must have two nighties each and you Chechi, two for you also. Why don’t you say something?’


‘Now let me think about how to solve this problem. If at all we take her to a doctor you should come with me.’

Lizy nodded while getting up.

First of all he has to make an estimate meant for the committee. The tailor lady has given a rough estimate of expenses involved in children’s dresses. He sat down with a paper to prepare. After finishing this, I have to see Father Mathew. I should tell him the earliest about Jisy’s problem. It is too much for him to handle alone.

He came out of the room with the estimate prepared and simply closed the door. He didn’t feel the need to lock the room unlike the manager. Whom should he distrust? Lizy Chechi or children who are younger than his own sister?

Back in the children’s room Jisy was sitting on the bed and the plate held by Lizy was almost empty.

‘Did Jisy eat anything?’

‘Yeah,’ holding the empty plate Lizy Chechi said, ‘now she is all right. She can go to school, if she wants.’

‘No, let her take rest. Annie is with her. I am going out and will be back soon. Chechi should come and enquire about her.’

Lizy nodded.


Father Mathew was about to come out of the church. Father is always busy, Shijo thought.

‘Praise the Lord.’

‘Praise the Lord, always. What brings you here Shijo?’

‘I have brought the estimate Father, that’s to be placed in the committee meeting.’

‘I will come in ten minutes’ time. Please wait for me in the office.’

‘Yes, Father.’

There was Sister Theresa sitting in front of a computer, and another office assistant.

‘Shijo, what can I do for you?’

‘Nothing Sister thanks. Father has asked me to wait in the office.’

‘If you don’t mind, please wait in Father’s room. I have some urgent work to do. Let me finish it. Tomorrow is the committee meeting.’

Shijo entered Father’s room and after switching on the fan, started waiting impatiently. How can he start Jisy’s topic? It is not a matter to be discussed with a priest. Then he consoled self, let things take their own course. Why bother. There will be a natural end to everything. In any way he cannot handle it alone.

Father came in five minutes. He took the estimate from Shijo and sat on his chair.

‘Manager has given Rs. seven thousand one hundred and sixty and fifty paise. I’ll include it in my monthly statement.’

Father kept the estimate on the table after glancing through it.

‘I see you have marked an amount for nighties for children. Is it necessary? There are lots of old clothes in our donation box, which people drop in. If you look through it, there might be something that will be suitable for these children. Isn’t that enough?’

Shijo suddenly went back to his childhood, the times he and his sister went to school wearing old clothes donated by others. They were tattered, discolored and Mom used to repair them during daytime. And he remembered going to other houses for charity when he had grown up. He said.

‘No, Father, that won’t do. First of all, people donate only tattered clothes, and secondly, that’s more important, even if they are living in an orphanage, they should not feel themselves orphans. There is a lot of change in them within four days of my joining there.’

‘All right. I just said something that the committee members would’ve said. I will plead for the children.’

‘And another thing, it is private. I don’t know if it is proper to say that from here.’

‘No, let’s go to the rectory, come.’

Walking along the gravel path to the rectory Shijo started talking. ‘Jisy was unwell this morning. She said it is stomachache. Then Lizy Chechi told me later that the girl was having morning sickness for some days. This is serious.’

Father appeared to get a shock and was uneasy. He probably never expected things to go to this extent. Shijo continued.

‘I will tell you about an incident the second day of my joining here.’

He explained the Father the incident he was talking about, that of Annie coming to his room at bedtime. Father got real angry and agitated.

‘Only when I grilled her she said that they had instruction from previous warden that this should continue even when the new warden takes over and that they should come to him in turns.’

‘My Lord! But Shijo, what was his intention in giving such a curious instruction to these girls?’

‘I feel that he expected the new warden somehow to know about his adventures, or misadventures I may say, that if the new warden is also made a party to it, he will hush it all up.’

‘You may be right. So there were so many problems out there? The old warden was old enough to be their grandfather.’

‘What prompted you to change him? Or otherwise how did Father come to know of this?’

‘That is..... I mean...... We priests should not divulge whatever is heard in the confessional. Those who have sinned are confessing in front of God, or rather his representative. But it looks like they haven’t told me the whole truth.’

‘That dirty man was threatening the children.’ Shijo said. ‘Only when she was sure that he wouldn’t come back, did Annie say at least this much.’

‘Shijo, now this is a big problem. Are you sure that the girl is in trouble?’

‘That’s what Lizy Chechi has said. Even if not married and not mothered, she would grasp the meaning of it all. There is only one way of making sure of it. Take her to a doctor, then, we can make sure of it.’

‘You don’t have to consult a doctor for confirmation. You need to test her urine only.’ Father said.

‘If it is confirmed; then?’

‘Shijo, that’s the biggest question. The answer is not easy. Right now don’t tell anybody and especially the Bishop. He only knew that the old warden had misbehaved with the children. He is a simpleton, and if he knew that things are beyond control, he might get agitated.

‘I will send somebody to you. Send along with him the urine sample. I will send him today itself. Better still, don’t do that. You bring it along and hand it over to Sister Theresa. Why should he know where it is collected from? Don’t give the girl’s name either. You know the Press. They are waiting for a small tip to spoil the girl’s name, and that of the Catholic Church.

Looking at the estimate still held in his hand he said.

‘Take this for sanctioned Shijo. It is a reasonable estimate. Let the children live like human beings.’

‘Okay, thanks father.’

Shijo realized only then that they haven’t reached the rectory but were talking under the shade of a mango tree. A cool breeze came as a solace.

‘Father, can I ask you one more thing.’

‘Yes, Shijo, tell me.’

‘Where is the old warden now?’

‘The old warden? He is transferred to an orphanage near Idukki, where only boys are inmates.’

Shijo was upset. That man won’t have any difference between boys and girls.

‘You are right Shijo.’

Only then did Shijo realize that whatever he was thinking was done through his mouth, aloud.

Father continued. ‘We will find a way out of that too.’

Father Mathew walked to the office. ‘Shijo, you go peacefully. I have some work in the office.’

Going out of the church compound Shijo thought, he should buy some vegetables.


‘Lizy Chechi, how is Jisy?’ Shijo asked her when handing over the bag with vegetables.

‘She looks alright now, moving about there.’

‘Still, it’s better to keep an eye on her Chechi. And good news, Father has agreed to get our estimate passed in the committee meeting. We should prepare a list of what are things we have to purchase. I will buy them tomorrow; err, not tomorrow, day after tomorrow, Monday. Then another thing, he asked us to get Jisy’s urine for testing. We don’t have to do anything. Get a sample in a small bottle and hand it over to Sister Theresa. She will do what is needed. Can you get a small bottle here, Chechi?’

‘Can they make out simply by testing the urine?’

‘Yes, do you have bottle?’

‘Yes I might have, only I have to wash it before giving you.’

‘You please collect it, Chechi. Can’t you do it right now?’

‘Yes, I will.’

He went to children’s room. Jisy and Annie are talking in front of their open textbooks. Since he felt it might be a serious talk, he withdrew. Suddenly Annie got up and called.


‘How is Jisy now? Jisy, you sit down there, don’t get up.’

She didn’t sit.

‘Now I am okay Sir.’

‘Good.’ Shijo went to the veranda and saw Lizy coming with a bottle. He remembered that he didn’t talk to Jisy about it. It is okay, it is better to leave certain things to Lizy Chechi.

Walking towards the committee office with the sample bottle wrapped in a paper, he saw the children coming out of school. They roared in chorus.

‘Shijo, Sir....’

There were smiling faces in front of him that for a moment erased all predicaments from his mind. This may be the first time they are calling out their warden like this. There may be tea and some snacks waiting for them in the dining room. Tea is a routine, but now he has asked Lizy Chechi to prepare some snacks as well.

Mobile phone rang in the pocket. It is Mom. She is complaining that he is not even calling her.

‘Mom, I am very busy nowadays; running about here and there. They have dismissed the manager here, and now I have to do his work as well. I will come tomorrow evening. Okay.’

‘I will explain that when we meet. How is Liji?...... Okay, Okay.’

Luckily Sister Theresa was alone in the office. When the bottle was handed over, she said. ‘Babuchettan will come just now to collect this. Let him not see you. He is a bit nosy. He might keep things in his mind only, but why should he know the source?’

‘When will the results be ready?’

‘I guess soon. I will phone you up when we get it.’

‘Okay, thanks.’

Walking back to the orphanage, he thought, this exercise is only to confirm it. And then what is the solution? There was only the future of the 15-year-old girl in his mind. He was not sure whether Father would allow it to be removed. He might argue that it is against our religion. But then this girl is only 15 years old? It is a risk to be a mother at this age. After all these, the mental tension, shame and ignominy that poor child will have to undergo throughout her life.

And they have shown the man who is responsible for all this mischief new pastures. There is something seriously wrong with this world. Either he can go leaving all these behind. Or fight against it. Running away is cowardice.

The moment he entered his room Annie came running.

‘Sir, I have to tell you something.’

‘Tell me baby.’

‘I am scared of Jisy.’


‘She was telling today....’ Looking back with a frightened expression she continued. ‘Can you die with me? She cannot die alone, so let us die together.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I said I couldn’t. Even she also should not die. I said Shijo sir would find a way out.’

‘Yes, I am trying to find way out of this. Suicide is not a solution. What is required is to solve problems. You didn’t say anything about this to other children?’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Now only Lizy Chechi, Father Mathew and I know about it. Tell her we will do something. And then, keep an eye on her, don’t leave her alone anywhere.’

‘Okay Sir, let me go. I came the moment Jisy has gone to the bathroom.’

By 7 O’clock night Sister Theresa called. The result is positive.’

‘Is Father Mathew free now?’ Shijo asked.

‘He is in the rectory. Phone him up before going.’

He phoned Father.

‘I was about to phone you Shijo. You know the results? Come here, we will talk.’

Shijo went to the kitchen.

‘Lizy Chechi, I am going to meet with Father Mathew now. Give children food at the usual time and don’t wait for me. How is Jisy? We got the results. It is what we were afraid of. Keep a close watch on her. Annie has just told me something scary. Jisy asked her to die with her. See that nothing untoward is happening.’

Father Mathew was in front of his PC browsing the net. After giving a sign for Shijo to sit down, he turned to the monitor. After about five minutes, he started talking.

‘Shijo, there are two ways in front of us. First one is to inform Police. The second one I cannot recommend being a priest that is to terminate a new life and save the girl and to find a way out to keep the man who has done so much injustice to this girl against the will of the Lord, at bay. The first option is safe for us. The police will take care of all.’

‘Let us not do that, Father. That will create problems for that poor girl.’

‘I was about to say that, Shijo. They will question the girl and take her to the police station and Idukki and to the court. The media is waiting for such hot news. For days together the TV screens and newspaper pages will be full of this girl. That will spoil the girl’s life. And the culprit will escape with some political influence.’

‘You’re right, what we should do is to save that girl somehow. It is not her fault that she is in this condition.’

‘I will ask Sister Theresa to go there and take the girl to the nursing home. In between you should ask Lizy to make that girl understand our good intentions. Sometimes her permission will be required. Since she is still a minor, the guardian’s permission may be enough.’

‘Okay, Father. Thanks.’

‘Shijo, don’t get upset. Theresa will do everything. And then, don’t give that girl anything to eat in the morning. You can’t call it an operation. It is just a D and C only. I have been sitting in front of the net since I came to know of the test results.

‘And I am taking care of the old warden. I have already sent another man to take charge there. He will take charge of the orphanage tomorrow morning. Now no child will be molested or harassed because of him.’

‘Thanks, Father.’

‘Don’t thank me, Shijo. Thank the Lord, who has shown the righteous way.’ Pointing his finger at the picture hanging from the wall Father Mathew said.

He appeared to Shijo like the disciple of Christ in Leonardo daVinci’s ‘Last Supper’ pointing his finger to top.

‘And one more thing; be discreet. Don’t let anybody know about it, especially the children staying there. It will be bad for Jisy’s future.’

‘Okay, Father.’

He had given whatever solace a priest can give. Walking back Shijo’s mind was peaceful. Things are not as problematic as he thought and that in a few days’ time everything will be clear and normal. Tomorrow anyhow he has to see his Mother. Thinking of mother he thought about his sister Liji and the candies he used to buy for her. Today I must buy some chocolate to the children. He entered a shop.

Reaching the gate he knew that something was amiss and that there is a lot of commotion inside. Annie came running.

‘Sir we can’t find Jisy.’

‘Can’t find? What are you talking about?’


Shijo felt that the serenity he was enjoying a moment ago was a prelude to this mental agony. Annie was gasping for words. He repeated his question.

‘Yes Sir. She wanted to take bath and said will go to Lizy Chechi to get some oil for her hair. I thought she must be there talking to Lizy Chechi. When she was late I went to inquire. When I reached the kitchen Lizy Chechi said Jisy has not gone there at all. We searched all places here.’ She was weeping.

Shijo was tired. When he was complacent that everything is under control he is getting a terrible jolt. Where will he go to enquire? Whom will he ask?

‘Did you look around everywhere here?’

‘Yes Sir,’ Lizy said, ‘she is nowhere to be seen.’

Shijo ran to the gate, and hesitated at the gate. Where will he go? After everything is done, the only way out is to report to the police?

Suddenly an auto stopped abruptly in front of him. There was Jisy in it, crying.

‘What happened, Baby?’

‘What happened?’ It was the auto driver who jumped from his auto. ‘Even I would have been under the train because of this silly girl.’

‘Jisy baby, you go inside and change your dresses.’ Her dresses were spoiled as if rolled in mud. ‘Lizy Chechi, please look after this girl.’

‘Please come inside.’ Shijo asked the driver. ‘Let us not talk from here.’

‘Can I park the auto inside the compound?’


‘Your pants and shirt are all soiled.’ Walking to the office with him Shijo said.

‘Soiled? Wait until you see this?’ He lifted his hand and there were serious scratches and bruises in many places.

He made the driver sit in the office and went to ask Lizy Chechi to make tea for them.

‘Now, tell me what happened?’

‘You know our railway gate. I had to stop because it was closed and a train was about to pass. It was then that I saw this girl walking on the rail. The moment I saw her I knew something was wrong with her. She wasn’t in this world at all. I heard the sound of the engine, and went running. She had no intention of moving from the tracks. The train almost reached there and I could grab her and jump to the other side in time. All these scratches and wounds are the result of that jump.’ He again showed his hands and feet.

‘My God!’

‘Immediately there was a crowd. They always gather around with a vulgar curiosity. I took her and put her in my auto saying it’s my granddaughter and that she has come out of home angry. Otherwise those people will spoil her.’

‘Good, what you did.’ Shijo said. ‘Many thanks. I cannot imagine the situation if you were not there on time.’

‘What is her problem?’

‘Do you want to talk about girls of her age?’

He nodded with a look of understanding.

He gulped the tea Lizy brought. Poor man, he needed it very badly.

‘You please wash your hand and feet. I will apply some antiseptic.’

‘No, it is all right. I have to take bath at home any way. There is mud all over my body.

‘I will give you some money, please accept it.’ Taking two 100 Rupee notes from his pocket Shijo offered it to the driver.

‘No, no. I have two granddaughters in this age.’

He got up and put on his slippers and walked, then on an afterthought came back.

‘Or better give it to me. Tomorrow I won’t be able to work. My entire body is in pains. I have to look after my family. I can also buy some sweets for my grand children. I have to do some penance for doing such a good work.’

He went away laughing merrily. Shijo watched the dark stout baldheaded man walking to his autorikshaw. He thought, what a man. He waved at Shijo and started his engine. It was then only that Shijo realized that he hasn’t asked for his name and address. He forgot all about it in the excitement.

He went to the children’s room. Jisy was lying down. She has changed her clothes. The children are all gathered around her. Lizy Chechi was standing there holding the soiled clothes that Jisy just changed. Shijo sat on the bed and holding Jisy’s hand softly caressed it.

‘If that good man were not there on time, we would all have been in pains now. I am here to solve all your problems. I am trying to solve it one by one. Now baby, don’t do anything of this kind. Stay cool, peaceful.’

Jisy didn’t say anything. She was just crying, and the tears wet the pillow.

‘It’s okay Jisy.’

He suddenly remembered the packet of toffees that he had bought for the children. In that commotion, he forgot where he had kept it.

‘Lizy Chechi, I had bought some toffees for these children. I forgot where I had kept it in that commotion.’

‘You had given it in my hands. I’ll bring it now.’

She went and brought the packet of sweets.

‘Give it to Nandita. Let her distribute it.’

Nandita was happy. After giving one toffee each to everybody she said.

‘Sir, there are four toffees left.’

‘Did you give one to Lizy Chechi?’

‘Yes, she did.’ Lizy opened her palm and exhibited the toffee.

‘Did you take one?’

N-o....’ She took one for her.’ Now there are three left.’

‘Share it with you, Revathi and Alice. Three of you are the youngest.’

Before getting up Shijo gave his toffee to Jisy.

‘You have fallen. This is just to do penance.’

He laughed aloud. The word ‘penance’ had something that makes people laugh. Even Jisy’s lips were slightly open for a laugh.

Shijo sat in his chair in the office room. What a day! Is it for these trying days that you have dragged me here my Lord? Lizy Chechi stood at the door.

‘Please come in, Lizy Chechi, sit down.’

She sat on the chair and looked at him with questioning eyes.

‘Tomorrow morning Sister Teresa will come here before 8 O’clock to take Jisy to the nursing home. Don’t give her any breakfast. They will come back in an hour’s time. Now when she’s alone you try to explain these to her. Try to make her understand that we are doing what is good for her. Don’t let any other children know about it. If she throws any tantrum, please call me.’

‘Oh my Lord Jesus!’

‘And one more thing. The tailor lady will come in the morning. Tell her to stitch Jisy’s nightie with Deepa’s measurements. Are they not of same height?’


‘The tailor will bring the sample clothes also. Let children select from the samples, either same cloth with color change, or different clothes. The price is almost same for all materials. You also select two for you.

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘Have the children eaten.’

‘No, meantime all these happened.’

‘Now we can all eat. The children must be hungry. After food we will take your bed to the children’s room. From today onwards you will sleep in that room.’

Lizy didn’t say anything. He was not sure whether she liked it or not. It is okay. It is not fair to segregate her and keep her isolated in another nook.


A week passed and life is back to normal, at least it appeared to be normal. As the food changed there was blood on the face of children. They played around in their new dresses even on daytime. Wait until next month he thought he should get sanction from Father Mathew for new dresses for them. It doesn’t look nice on holidays to wear nighties during daytime. Also they need a TV set, that’s their new demand. As she mingled closely with the children Lizy Chechi also changed a lot. She stopped smoking bidi altogether. She started scolding children like a mother and prepared good food for them. What a change for the house in just ten days’ time!

Sunday the commotion of children playing ended when after food they had a little nap. After that they took chopped onion dipped in chickpea paste and fried and tea prepared by Chechi. When the tea is over, Shijo said.

‘Today I’ll teach you a new game?’

‘What game?’ They asked in chorus. They don’t want to play moving around right now.

‘It is called jigsaw puzzle. That means a picture is cut into pieces and shuffled and you’ve to join them together to make the same picture.’

The children appeared interested. Shijo went to the office and took out a notice board that hitherto was kept unused, together with the picture he had already cut to pieces and a picture rolled.

‘These paper cuttings are parts of a house. I have cut a full picture into these pieces. There are eighteen pieces in all. I will place the first piece in its place. Then all of you should come and pick up a piece and place it in its place, so that it forms the picture. If you have any doubt you can have a peek at this picture spread on the table. It is the same picture, but slightly smaller. First chance will be for Lizy Chechi, then the youngest among you and one by one everybody.

‘Yes Siiiir.....’ This long reply is indicative of their liking the game.

He pulled a chair to the wall and kept the notice board on it. He selected a piece from among the pieces and kept it at the bottom and fixed it with a pin. It was the front steps of a house.

Now it was Lizy’s turn. After a bit of hesitation and persuasion by Shijo since the game is meant for children she took out a piece. That was the lower part of the main door. It was easy. She kept it just above the steps and Shijo fixed it with a drawing pin. Next was Nandita’s turn. The piece she got was a bit confusing and after looking at it for some time she could not decide where to fix it.

‘It is okay, let your sisters do it and after a while you will know where to fix yours.’

Revathi also got a similarly confusing piece. It was part of the roof. The building construction has not reached that level. Shijo asked her also to wait. Then it was Alice’s turn. She got the upper part of the front door, and she could fix it quickly. Then one by one everybody attempted and the building was progressing. By that time children who couldn’t do it initially found their place, and they jostled each other by saying ‘I.......I’ll.... The last was Jisy, and when she picked up the last piece, Shijo said.

No Jisy, wait.’

Jisy looked at him with a question. He said.

‘The picture is already complete now?’

‘No?’ looking at the picture she said; ‘the middle of the roof is blank.’

‘What does it mean?’ Shijo asked.

No one answered. Shijo continued. ‘See the building will be complete only if all our pieces are put together and kept in place. Similarly our home will only be complete if all of us are together. If any of us is missing, that gap will remain forever in our hearts. Do you understand?’

The children nodded solemnly.

‘Now Jisy, please complete the picture.’

Jisy kept the piece she was holding in its place. Turning back her eyes were filled. Everyone clapped in applause.

‘We all will remember this game for ever, won’t you?’

‘Yes, Sir....’ Everyone said in a chorus.


Father Mathew had phoned and asked Shijo to meet him.

Father was as usual in front of the computer. When Shijo knocked at the door, he turned his face.

‘Yes, Shijo? Ha yes. I called you to show something.’

He took out the Malayala Manorama newspaper from his table and gave it to Shijo. ‘Have you read this news?’

‘What news, Father?’

‘Look, the man who was knocked down by a car yesterday in Idukki died in the hospital.’

Small news item, in a single column, and it was marked in red with a sketch pencil.

‘The sixty year old man who was admitted in the Blue Valley Hospital yesterday in a serious condition after being knocked down by a car died late yesterday. He was the warden of the local boys’ orphanage. He has retired from services only a week back. The car that knocked him down did not stop, and the number of the car could not be ascertained.’

‘This man?’

‘Yes, he only. But I never could guess that God Almighty could try and deliver a judgment and to execute it so fast.’

Shijo sat with an unbelievable expression.

‘Okay Shijo, I called you just to show this to you.’ Getting up from the revolving chair Father Mathew said. ‘Anything else?’

‘Nothing, Father.’ Shijo got up from the chair. Father Mathew accompanied Shijo unto the portico, and when bidding good bye he said:

‘Come to think of it, the mysterious ways of the Lord!’

Walking back Shijo was thinking about what Father Mathew said smiling. And what could be the meaning of his winking the eyes after that?

About this translation

Story of an orphanage for girls, their abuse, harassment and hardships under an unscrupulous warden until someone with a soul comes as their saviour. The original story by E arikumar,"Eppozhum Sthuthiyayirikkatte". എപ്പോഴും സ്തുതിയായിരിക്കട്ടെ) was published in Kerala Koumudi Magazine 2011 Onam special Edition.