Advay woke up to his alarm but he shut it and went back to sleep. It was a month since winter had started and the chill was extreme early in the morning. No one came to the grounds for their morning routines anymore.
During the rains, people still came unless the rain was heavy. It was no big deal to workout in a small drizzle. But the cold kept them all in bed. Advay stopped stepping out at dawn two days ago but he forgot to alter the alarm on his phone.
He wanted to go back to sleep but he suddenly saw a book on his table. It was a big book and had a comprehensive history of the Eastern country. When he exchanged his last book for this, he had almost begged Mr. Logan to give two months. The professor wanted him to complete the book within a month but finally agreed to let him finish it in a month and a half.
He had another fortnight left but he only finished half the book. He suddenly sat up and started reading from where he had left off last night. These days, somehow he felt that his course work was not as difficult as finishing the books he was forcefully being ‘lent’ by Mr. Logan, on time. This was the fifth book he was reading. He had thought for another thin book, but the professor had pointed to one single book on his table. He had no choice.
He read without stopping for two hours. His vocabulary of the languages other than his mother tongue was not at a professional level. There were words and usages he did not know but he did not stop to find them out. He was confident in his inferences.
Then the cold nights chill came down and he proceeded to the common bathrooms and was ready by 9:30 A.M. It was still a little cold, so he decided to wear a sweater on top of his shirt.
At the gates, he borrowed the blue cycle. The umbrellas were still present near the cycles. Two months ago it was still the rainy season. All the buildings in the university also had umbrellas for whoever that needed to walk through the rain. However, this year the rains were not very good. It rained heavily only for some three days. Other than those, there were only prolonged drizzles.
When he rode the cycle to the orphanage on those few Saturdays, there were no drizzles at least around the time he was on the upward journey. Couple of times he had to get drenched by the time he got back to the university though. After all he could not ride the bike holding an umbrella.
He reached the orphanage at the usual time. He peeked into the hall from the front room. All the children were in their colourful sweaters, they looked old with faded colours. But the strength of the orphanage seemed too reduced by almost a quarter.
“The in-charge is not around. But you can sign here and go in.” The reception girl told him.
Advay soon sighed his name in the register. “How come?”
“There was an emergency two days ago. Many children were infected by the flu and had fevers. They were admitted into the hospital nearby. In-charge madam is with them.”
“Oh. That’s bad. How serious was their condition?”
“Mild, but they are all children. Nana kept crying for a long time.”
“Hmm, I’ll go take a look around.” He saw that there were only a few workers around.
Advay went into the hall and the few children sat calmly. None of them were running around. It was as if a doom befell them. Most of them looked uninterested and gloomy. There were no board games, no colour pencils strewn on the little tables.
Advay greeted them and then went upstairs. There was no one around. The children seemed to be in their rooms. The doors were open or left ajar. Advay saw Lily in one of them and called out to her in a hushed voice. She heard him and came running to him. Advay bent down and she cried, “Rosy got fever…”
She whimpered softly. Advay held her shoulders and swung her a little.
“Fever comes and goes. She’ll come back soon.”
Few more children gathered around and they all told Lily not to cry. Soon the girl stopped. Advay Soon asked them what they wanted to know and proceeded to tell them about the extra-terrestrial fantasies; any topic to take their minds off their sick friends.
It was lunch time soon. Advay and the children had their lunch. Advay waited to see the emerald-eyed boy but he did not see him even after waiting for an hour after lunch. Soon All the workers started to disperse. When was the boy going to eat?
It was almost five in the evening. The boy was still nowhere in sight. Maybe he was with the other kids and the in-charge. It was almost time for Advay to start his ride back to the university.
He closed his book. He had made plenty of notes this time with a careful analysis of the hygiene.
Advay still wanted to be sure. It was no harm to check. Advay zipped up his bag and put it over his shoulder. He went to the room on the far end behind the counter and knocked on it.
He waited for the boy to open, but something felt off.
‘Right, he is deaf,’ Advay suddenly realized.
He felt some hopelessness but the door opened. The boy’s face was slightly flushed. The boy seemed to notice him. He suddenly tried to shut the door.
Advay was at sea, but his quick reflex caught the door keeping it open. He looked beyond the boy into the room, ‘um, no pet.’
The room was simply a ten square feet space enclosed in four walls. There were two small windows on the opposite wall. They were open and the room was bright and fresh, just like the hall. But the windows seemed to be a little high. The boy’s eyes could barely reach the sill.
“You’re also having a fever?”
The boy still persisted to close the door on Advay’s face. He paused and looked at Advay, confused and cautious.
Of course, the boy who never talked did not talk.
Advay checked the boy’s temperature placing his palm on the forehead. The boy did not welcome his actions and dodged but Advay could reach him just fine.
The boy was burning up.
The boy then peeped outside and tried looking beyond Advay. Advay’s height did not let him see much. Advay moved to a side letting him look, slipping into the room in the process.
The boy noticed the movement and tried pushing him out. Advay put his hands in the air and chuckled.
“I already said sorry… alright, here.” Advay held his two ears and bent a little.
“Sorry really.” But didn’t the boy already become his friend? He smiled at him last time.
Something felt off to Advay again.
Something was wrong with everything.
What was it?
‘The boy just responded to the knock on the door!’
‘That meant he could hear. So why did the orphanage say he was deaf?’
Advay held the boy’s shoulders and quickly shut the door behind them.
“You can hear?”
All the boy’s eyes showed from the moment he opened the door was caution and suspicion.
“What’s your name?”
The boy did not say anything.
“You… Can you talk?”
Still no response.
“Are you really deaf?”
Advay’s shoulders slumped
Was the boy both deaf and mute? Maybe he only opened the door because he needed something; it could just be a coincidence. After all, what would the in-charge gain by lying to him?
But the boy had pretty high fever and Advay was sure his last meal was at least six hours ago. Advay had his medical kit with him and the medicine for fever was also in it. But it was not to be taken on an empty stomach. Moreover, the workers had packed the remaining food and no one even bothered with this guy.
Advay put his bag down on the floor. There was nothing else he could use for his bag. There was just one small bed in the room. There were few shelves around, most of them empty. On two shelves, there were clothes and in another one, soap and a toothbrush. The boy did not have a sweater either.
Advay opened his medical kit and took out the tablet. There was a drinking water filter in the hall and all children took water from there. Advay also drank there only, rather than carrying his own water bottle. But he caught sight of a pot of water in the boy’s room itself. He could not see any reason for the arrangement. There was also a glass over the covered pot.
Advay got a glass of water for the boy who was still standing and looking at him as if he were a thief trying to rob him.
“Just sit and take this.” Advay pointed to the bed.
The boy once again looked at him confused at his words.
Advay then showed to the bed with his hand.
The boy moved forward but he did not get any more closer, fearing Advay. He believed Advay would do no harm to him, but he can never be sure.
Advay caught the boy’s arm and pulled him and sat him down on the bed. He then handed over the glass of water and the tablet.
The boy did not take it from him. He waited but there was no movement. If anything, Advay felt like he was being accused of coming in.
Advay put the glass on the ground and swiftly caught the boy’s head and soon held his nose obstructing the boy’s breathing.
In a few moments the boy opened his mouth to take in air, all the while flinging his limbs.
Advay put the tablet in his mouth and gave him a stern glare, daring him to spit the medicine out. He left the boy’s nose and offered him water pushing the glass to his mouth.
The boy drank the tablet with water in one gulp. He soon stuck his tongue out. The tablet had stayed in his mouth for a while in the fiasco; it must have tasted bitter. Advay didn’t know if the boy did not understand anything he said before or he deliberately wanted to avoid medicine.
“You lie down, but don’t fall asleep. You should eat soon.”
Advay did not know how to deal with this deaf and mute person.
He left the room with his bag. He wanted to ask the gate-keeper or the receptionist to send the boy some food. But that meant they had to go out for a while. The in-charge was not around so for safety concerns Advay decided to fetch some food himself.
There was the kitchen but Advay did not find it proper to rummage the fridge for food. He may or may not find anything readily eatable.
He quickly rode to the nearby food shop and bought hot soup and some soft meals. He took the packages and put them in his bag hoping to save the warmth from the winter chill.
He soon came back. The gate-keeper was confused but did not stop him.
“You came back? Did you forget something?” The reception girl asked him.
“No, I decided to stay a while more. The in-charge isn’t around after all.” He told her with a grim face. He found it amusing how no one cared for that boy at all.
He noticed that the boy closed the door again. What a pain, he thought. Now how was he going to get him to open the door to eat the food?
He sent a prayer to God and knocked on the door.
The door opened soon. Advay thanked God.
“Do you want to go to the bathroom?” Advay asked but the boy glanced at him and did not say anything. He took a look outside. The whole hall seemed to be empty and the in-charge did not seem to be around.
The boy had not seen the in-charge or some kids for a while by then. But he did not know what happened. All he was aware was that he was given food only if the in-charge was around. If she was not there, he never got food. He had already gone hungry for a long time by then. He felt frail and fatigued. He had stolen three bananas last night from the kitchen and they helped him.
He was fretting Advay’s presence in his room. If the in-charge saw this, he could be beaten up and locked up without food for a long time.
He did not want to open the door for Advay but at the same time he hoped the in-charge had come back and called him out to give him some work. That would mean he could have some food soon.
Advay had already walked inside so the boy chose to face his fear and closed the door. After all, he was not the one who went to Advay but Advay came to him. So he would firmly shake his head if the in-charge looked at him with big questioning eyes.
“Why did you open the door then?”
Advay sat on the bed and the boy did not dare to sit there anymore. Every time he was around the in-charge or the other workers, he was to stand while they sat. He did not know what Advay expected of him. Advay had smiled at him and he felt very nice to have someone smile and wave at him. He considered Advay not to be one of the people of the in-charge. But he was not sure.
“It’s okay, I believe in God, anyway. Or it would have been so hard to explain and I would not sleep tonight.” Advay ranted with his hands in a Namaste. He felt very awkward to deal with the boy. So he chose to just treat him like someone who could hear and understand him. He chose to call the boy’s muteness his shyness and that greatly comforted Advay.
Advay saw the boy still standing and patted the bed beside him. “Food is here.” He began opening the packaged food. The nearest he could buy food was at a rather decent restaurant. Luckily the food was still hot.
The boy measured Advay’s action and proceeded to sit on the bed. Before him, a delicious meal. Pleasant aroma filled the air and the boy’s stomach growled.
“Eat fast,” Advay smiled. He had pity for the boy.
The boy took his time, looking from the food to Advay to food a few times before he picked up the spoon to eat. He ate all of it and soon he felt full.
The boy was starved for two days and he was already malnourished, thin and ate little food usually.
The fever started to subside and he felt much better after the hot delicious meal. Soon he felt drowsy. The boy packed the empty boxes and pushed them to Advay. He wanted Advay to take them away just the way he got them in. What he did not know was that Advay never had the intention to hide anything.
Advay sighed, it was also a good deed to help a patient.
“Sure, I’ll throw them.”
The boy kept looking at Advay’s bag, silently hoping the tall guy would hide them well. To his horror, Advay simply took the boxes from him and walked out of the room. He could do nothing but follow him worriedly.
Advay went to the backside of the building and dumped them over the compound. The boy was relieved when he saw that no one who kept a watch on him was around. People who kept a watch on him were the two in-charges who worked on shifts.
Advay turned around and saw the boy standing on the cold floor barefoot.
“Why did you come out?” At least the boy has a couple of shirts on him, one over the other.
Advay gave the boy another tablet. He did not know how to tell him to take it when he slept later.
“This tablet. You should eat when you go to bed.” Advay said one word at a time and used some actions to say what he meant. He pointed to his mouth and moved his finger down to his stomach and tilted his head and closed his eyes slowly. ‘The medicine should go into your stomach at bedtime.’
Advay was worried but he was amazed when the boy gave him an assuring smile. Advay felt happy for the boy and for himself. He soon left the orphanage.
Finally the boy lied down on the bed peacefully after Advay left. He soon closed the door and took out the piece of paper Advay had previously given him. He tried to understand what the random figures on the paper meant.
As appalling as it may sound, the boy had never once had the chance to look at any form of script. He was deliberately kept away from all of those. He was to go out of his room only when required by the workers or the in-charge, to take his food and to use the toilet. He did not dare to venture out after that happened when he escaped last time. He did not know how to speak or express himself. He did not understand anything beyond the orphanage. He could not even seek help. He had lost his way. He could not find food and he felt like he would faint. He felt a great crisis of survival.
After he found his way back somehow, he was starved further for a week. But then, the in-charge gave him food and the orphanage became his safe haven. He knew he was subjected to some kind of injustice, but he did not know what it was. He was treated so differently. If he could, he would do anything for a life like Advay’s.
On a chilly night, Advay was rushing to his university. His mind was at ease for the boy. But it was in utter chaos for himself. He had so much to read and assignments would accumulate if he kept at reading to satisfy that nonsensical professor. He rode his bike faster. His thighs were going numb but he still tried to increase the speed.
His phone rang then. An unfamiliar contact showed up.
“Mr. Advay Srnuta?”
“Yeah, I’ll call you back soon okay?”
“Well sir, not okay. It is past the bicycle return time. Do give us a good reason or we will have to escalate this to your department.”
“Security grandpa? Don’t do that. I’ll be before you in ten minutes! Bye!”
Damn, he should have informed them beforehand. He looked at his phone and the time was 7:30. He still needed another 20 min at the very least. Well, what he was more concerned about was the history book though.
He rode faster.
“Why are you late?” It was 7:56 P.M.
“Grandpa, one of the children at the orphanage had high fever. I helped him so I got held up.”
This security guard kind of knew Advay. This child had always greeted them with a small smile of a ‘good morning’. He even asked him to hide a blue bike for him one time. The guard had then given him a glare and said no. But later on, if anyone else wanted the last blue bike on a Saturday, it was always under ‘repair.’
The security guard said the same thing to him when another person once came at the same time. She was a second early and was told the blue one was to be serviced. The security guard could not say one thing to her and another to Advay. So he told Advay the same thing.
The boy had still taken the blue bike saying, “Don’t fret it Grandpa, I’ll get it done on the way.”
There was no need for the said stop on his way though.
When he came back, he thanked him thrice.
“Fine, just write your usual time in the register and sign it.”
Advay scribbled a random time, 7:14 P.M.
“Yes, yes. Bye grandpa, see you next week!” Advay smiled and jogged away. He had to finish knowing the history of this country before next Thursday.