"Da . . . Da . . . Dalis," Sister Edna called out his name.
The tender mellifluous voice reverberated. It disrupted the stocked tension and pervaded some warmth to enter into the room. Dalis heaved a sigh of relief inwardly. He did not want her to get involved but knew that was probably impossible.
"Daughter, is there something wrong?" Mother Michelle asked as her eyes widened, and her brows raised.
"A-Ah well . . . no Mother . . . I was . . . just looking for Dalis," Sister Edna stammered, waving her hands in denial. It wasn't clear if she was panicking, but for two others present, it was obvious.
"Sister Edna, I'm just having a friendly conversation with Mother Michelle. Why are you panicking?"
"E-Eh? No . . . I'm just a little heated from all the running from having to find you all over the place! You are supposed to assemble at the Dining Hall for dinner!"
Mother Michelle and Dalis gazed at Sister Edna. Mother Michelle retained her enigmatic smile, seemingly curious of the scene while Dalis's eyes appeared to flash for a moment before speaking up.
"Jeez Sister Edna. You didn't need to go out of your way to find me. I may be late sometimes, but I won't ever miss a day without Sister Edna's cooking. You know what they say: "Edna's cooking a day keeps the doctor away"." He then pointed towards Mother Michelle. "Look, even Mother Michelle is surprised by your sudden intrusion! You're not usually klutzy like this," he added.
"Certainly it is rare to see Edna like this," she said, tittering before putting on a serious expression, "Are you perhaps not feeling well? We could arrange another Sister to cover for you."
Startled and red-faced, Sister Edna quickly reassured her that she was completely fine. She insisted that she was just worried about her child's tardiness and wellbeing.
"My daughter Edna is very solicitous and caring. Please be careful not to push yourself. If you were to fall ill, it would distress not only us but the children you are undertaking. It wouldn't be good if the children miss their daily meal of Edna cooking."
Sister Edna's face flushed even redder; red as a tomato. She immediately turned towards Dalis and stared at him with a scowl on her face. The teasing face that Dalis wore did not help at all.
"Mother, may I please borrow Dalis for one moment in private? Looks like this boy still hasn't learnt his past lessons . . . "
"Hmm . . . you may borrow him. In fact, you can take him back. Our discussion was close to its end anyway."
" . . . "
"I understand Mother. Dalis you come with me young man!"
"Yes Sister Edna."
The two left the room after a few exchanges of words with Mother Michelle. Not a single word was mentioned about the conversation between Dalis and Mother Michelle. However, during the time when Dalis had his back turned to leave the room, he never felt the presence of a pair of lingering eyes fall off him for a second.
It was a tacit admonition—do not try anything funny and obey.
Contrary to the noise from a moment ago, there was only silence amidst their walk together to the dining hall. Only until they were a fair distance away from Mother Michelle's quarters were they no longer silent.
"What happened Dalis?" Sister Edna asked in a low solemn voice.
Dalis explained everything without concealing anything. He reassured her that he would be fine and there was nothing to worry about. After he had finished talking, Sister Edna was quiet. The position he is in was precarious and very unfavourable. She was his caretaker, but at his most dire times of need . . . she couldn't rescue him.
(What do I do . . . there's no way Dalis could escape. How can I help him? Do I plead with Mother Michelle? That's probably my only option . . . )
Unknowingly, she had stopped walking.
"Sister Edna," a tender voice called out to her.
Awakened by the sudden calling, she looked at the boy in question. From a quick glimpse at his face, she felt guilty and ashamed of herself.
How can this innocent young boy be so strong?
Why was she the one panicking?
It was her role to make sure he was going to be okay.
Not the other way around.
She snapped herself out of her train of thought and focused herself. She noticed he was fidgeting and swaying a little. His arms were slightly cuddled and his face exhibited a trace of nervousness, hidden behind his front of reassurance. He appeared composed and strong. Nonetheless, it was impossible for him to not leak his inner weaknesses.
She walked towards Dalis and embraced him from the back. Dalis struggled for a bit but did not resist. Like magic, the signs of weaknesses were quelled to a stop.
"Don't shoulder it alone. Your problem is also my problem. Relax and let your Sister help you," Sister Edna whispered.
" . . . I under—"
"No you don't understand," Sister Edna interrupted and squeezed him.
" . . . "
" . . . "
Feeling awkward, Dalis surveyed the corridor. He noticed a few children with strange expressions gazing in their direction. Promptly, he became aware of his position and hastily alerted Sister Edna. Sister Edna staggered back a little and stood up away from Dalis. She looked towards the rest with a subtle sharp look in her eyes and gave a soft harrumph. The bystanders all scattered off, leaving the two alone in the corridor.
(I hope these orphans don't do anything to harm Sister Edna's reputation. It would be a bother if there was a rumour going around about her and myself. Wait . . . wouldn't that be a good thing?)
"Sister Edna, let's quickly go to the dining hall. My body is starting to become unwell. I need my treatment asap!"
"No matter what happens, you don't ever stop to throw in a few words here and there. I find that very admirable of you."
"Yay! I got praised by Sister Edna!" Dalis cried and jumped in joy like a child.
"But that doesn't mean you can continue to act like this in front of me. Be more mature! Or I will make sure to always have at least one person beside me at all times when near you."
"Sister Edna don't be cruel!"
In actuality, Dalis never shows this side of him with Sister Edna in public. Although there are times that it has happened, they were all borderline signs and could be dismissed. Otherwise, he would be in his usual behaviour. It fact, it may be a behaviour that he only shows to Sister Edna and only acts to Sister Edna. Some of Dalis's roommates are still to this day, debating on their relationship in secret. No one could deny that there was indeed something going on.
"Hmph, one day in the future you're going to be severely punished for your mischievous attitude around me. It won't be a matter of just Stilla."
"What exactly does that mean? Are you implying that there will be another self-proclaimed big sister?"
"It's possible. I could see it coming."
"Eh . . . all I need is Sister Edna. Please give me a break."
" . . . There you go again. You're going to make that girl upset."
"I was actually thinking of that girl you mentioned in the past of yours."
" . . . "
Seeing Dalis go silent, Sister Edna hurriedly spoke, "perhaps she may be your big sister."
" . . . Big sister, a family member?" Dalis's voice quivered as though he was clinging to some kind of hope.
"M-maybe," Sister Edna replied with a wavering voice. She was planning to tease him, but the mention of the past was a backfire. She had to express her next words carefully.
"Sister Edna, don't mind it."
"If she is a family member then it would be joyous. If she isn't it’s fine right? I still have you and the Orphanage right? You said it before: "The Orphanage is your family and I'm your big sister in the family". Well personally, I only consider a few of them as my family . . . "
"Dalis . . . Yeah that's right Dalis. I'm your big sister and part of the family." Sister Edna wept and hugged Dalis tightly. She had to reinforce and imprint this with genuine feelings into his mind. Presently, Dalis appeared like any other orphan who had lost their home and family.
(Even if we aren't blood-related . . . No, quit mulling! Sister Edna and the rest is all I need . . . Yes . . . that is all . . . )