Tell me: do you believe in angels? I do.
Somewhere out there, beyond these worn gray walls; beyond this sordid house; beyond the unforgiving snow, and beyond the empty sky, I just know they’re looking down at us. They watch us, they guide us, and they give us the strength to overcome obstacles in our lives. Only hope assures me that there is one special angel that will come down and rescue me from this squalid life. Hope reminds me every night, when I pray, that she’s out there, watching me, waiting for the time to lead me away and carry me away; to fly with those majestic white wings, away from these walls, away from this house, away from the snow, and away from the sky.
My mother and father died during the previous war, and so did most of my relatives. My remaining relatives couldn’t afford to take care of me so they sent me to a Catholic orphanage even though my family wasn’t Catholic. It was mid January and I was about ten years old when I arrived at the place, and there, I witnessed the effects of war.
I saw squalor and depression eating away that little orphanage. It was nothing more than a two story manor with its outside wooden walls weathered and wasted away by the elements. Heavy snow patched the roof, looking as if it was about to fall on someone. Four frosted windows lined horizontally along the second floor of the house. The windows stared down at me, but I stared back up and noticed faces of other children, pushed against the window panes; they looked back at me with amused and curious gazes. The steps that led to the grand door were carefully swept of snow in order to prevent anyone from slipping. However, I realized that the steps were still quite slippery when I stepped foot on them.
My aunt helped me walk the steps, holding my hand tightly, while my uncle was next to me with a leather suitcase stuffed with my clothes. Both of them never said a word, and both of them had a strange expression on their faces that I noticed on the trip to the orphanage. It was guilt, maybe, or maybe a restrained pity. Their flushed faces didn’t bother looking at me and completely ignored my curious stares. It felt like forever as we slowly ascended. It was fascinating to observe my uncle walk: how he raised his numb foot off of the ground and planted it on the next step, firmly, so that he wouldn’t slip. His frosty breath created little ice crystals on his haggard and matted beard. After moments of wonder, we finally reached the top of the seemingly endless staircase.
There were two great big wooden doors, unpainted and battered, filled with scratches and nicks, frozen and silent, waiting for me to enter. A nun who wore a black habit and black robes stood in front of these doors quietly and with a rigid posture. She looked quite old and her sunken cheeks accompanied with her prominent cheek bones that made me feel a bit uncomfortable while her pursed, pink lips looked menacing. When she opened them to speak, I gasped, because I never thought that they would separate.
The nun greeted us with a withered voice, and introduced the name of the orphanage as St. Joseph’s Orphanage. She glanced down at me with a nod, her stern lips curled up into a smile, then looked up at my aunt to my left and then to my uncle. She held her nose high and proud, maybe because she wanted to set herself as an example of good posture, although her inflexible and thin frame emphasized how uncomfortable it would have been. She reminded me of a sleeping, leafless tree during the winter.
She introduced herself as Sister Therese, the supervisor of the orphanage with a dry whisper and the way she talked was as if it was in an airy drawl. It reminded me of the winter wind and how it would crash on the walls of my old home. After her introduction, she looked down at me with watery, beady, black eyes and asked me my name.
“Jordan,” I said out loud, trying to find my voice within my dry throat. My breath was frosted and the thought of it made me shiver.
She repeated my name with her quivering voice, her lips mouthing every syllable of my name. She told me that it was a nice name and that it was also the name of the river where our Lord was baptized in. The way she said this made me uncomfortable and I didn’t understand what she said, but I nodded anyway.
A little conversation between my aunt and uncle and Sister Therese ensued and it was a few minutes of shivering before she beckoned us to come inside. She opened the great wooden doors with a grunt and a push and welcomed us into the orphanage.
When I stepped inside St. Joseph’s Orphanage, it didn’t feel any warmer. It was quite chilly inside, almost as cold as outside. Inside, I was greeted by an eerie silence, accompanied by a manor devoid of color. There were candles in numerous places, but they didn’t seem to make the place any brighter. The windows let in light, but it was light without warmth. I wondered, as Sister Therese led us upstairs, where the children who were staring me outside. I wondered this because there was neither a whisper nor any faint chatter within the halls. There was no echo of our worn shoes as we stepped on the cold wooden floor, no scraping from my luggage, nor the rustle of nun’s robes as they floated from room to room, hushing the children.
It felt as if Sister Therese’s voice was louder than our footsteps, despite whispering, since the orphanage was so quiet. She talked to my aunt and uncle about how the children will be treated with greatest care and how they shouldn’t worry about my safety. I had the feeling that they didn’t care about my safety anyway; after all, they didn’t mind leaving me in an orphanage like this. The silence made me afraid—it felt as if it stalked me as we walked through the corridors; it haunted me, studied me, and engulfed me.
Sister Therese led us to a door at the end of the corridor of the second floor. Like most of the doors in the house, it was quite battered and nicked. She turned the knob, noiselessly pushed open the door with hushed grace, and then led us inside the room. There were two beds lined up on each of the eastern and western wall—four beds all in all. The beds were simple wooden beds with simple white sheets and a pillow for each. The entryway directly faced the northern wall, which had a window, a bit foggy because of the breath of the room’s inhabitant.
The only person who seemed to inhabit the room (from what I can distinguish) was a girl with bright blond hair, sleeping on the bed against the eastern wall. I couldn’t quite distinguish if she was a person at all at first since all I could see of her is her hair (tied up in a ponytail)—her white sheets covered her face, and either way, she was facing away from the door and at the wall with the window.
I chose the bed which was in front of hers, which was the one on the western wall. I sat down on that cold bed, my leather baggage resting on my left, as my aunt knelt down in front of me, encouraging me and telling me things that I have to do and things that I mustn’t do. She told me to behave, but I couldn’t seem to put my attention to those stern gray eyes. They were so cold and callous that they even made me shiver more than the frigid air. When she finished, it seemed like I couldn’t even hear her voice anymore. She rose up and walked to the door with my uncle and Sister Therese. She waved at me to take one last look at me and soon she was gone.
I couldn’t feel any emotional attachment with her and I didn’t feel sad at all. When I learned that my family died, I was so devastated, but now that my remaining family abandoned me, I felt so odd and as if the cold outside numbed not only my body, but my soul, too. Sister Therese said something about prayer and silence, and she too left immediately, closing the door silently and without a creak. It was just me and this girl.
Silence was perhaps my only comfort as I sat on my bed, watching the pristine winter light filtering through the foggy windows. I shivered a bit as I observed the sleeping girl whose breathing caused the sheets to rise and fall. She breathed softly, her sighs sounded like the tender echoes of the summer breeze rolling through the warm green hills…
The moments dulled me, made me yawn, forced me to stand up, and gave me the impulse to wipe away the fog on the window panes. Walking silently was a challenge since the wooden floor creaked with the weight of my body. My worn leather shoes tapped the floor even though I tried my best to lift my feet as I walked to the window. These small creaks and taps reverberated loudly in my head because of the silence of the manor. When I reached the fogged window, I wiped the panes with my palm. Drops of water trickled down from my palm and some trailed down the window, making vertical lines through the foggy pane, gathering droplets that grew bigger as they found their way down.
“What are you doing?” I heard a sharp whisper behind me, which made me turn around to face the yellow haired girl who was sleeping just a moment ago. Maybe I disturbed her with the noises I was making earlier? She sat up, revealing her pallid white face that reflected the pale color of the snow outside. She appeared to be of the same age that I was. She wore a dirty soot-spotted white night gown—this seemed to be what all the orphans wear, which I noticed when I passed through the halls and peaked through the half-opened doors to see them: clad with the thick nightgown that almost reached to their bony white bare ankles.
“I…I was just looking through the window…” I stuttered a reply. It was a silly reply and the stuttering made it even sillier.
“Really, now,” she smiled, pushing her hair back away from her face. “It’s quite strange to be interested in the outside when all there is outside is snow.”
“I like snow!” another silly reply escaped my mouth. This only induced giggles from my roommate. She pushed the covers of her bed away from her body and walked silently towards me, holding out her hand and greeting me with her warm blue eyes.
“My name’s Julie,” I shook her hand, trying not to be awkward, and I certainly didn’t try to avert her stare. “And you are…”
“Jordan,” I replied weakly and faintly, almost to a whisper.
“Jordan, hm?” People seem to have a habit of repeating my name. “I just met you and I like you already!” Her thin pink lips curled into a smile—accompanied with her bright hair, she gave a warm impression in midst of the chilly air of the room. Her warmth radiated throughout the room as we talked all day that day…
Julie lost her parents in the war, too. Unfortunately, she didn’t even have a single relative left to tend to her. She told me that she was found by the nuns of this orphanage in the desolate countryside, ravaged mercilessly by war. She didn’t remember a lot of what happened—she forgot a lot of what happened during the war, probably because of what she experienced. The nuns told her about how they found her: she was crying and screaming in the middle of corpses… the way she described it was morbid, but her bright blue eyes lit up with fascination, now observing my horrified face.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered meekly. “Did I frighten you?”
“No, no. I just can’t imagine what I would do if I were you.”
“Me, neither!” she smiled in exclamation, “after all, I couldn’t remember all of that.”
Dinner was held in a long hall along wooden tables that stretched lengthwise from wall to wall. I wasn’t fond of the way Sister Therese said grace. The way she wanted her chilly voice to reach across the room felt like an arctic wind rushing down the hall, riddling my skin with goosebumps. I shivered a bit while rubbing my arm, attempting to alleviate my bumpy skin, although my actions were replied by giggles from across the table.
Julie found it silly for me to wear one of those sooty nightgowns, and seeing me tremble like a leaf was apparently amusing to her. Eating was equally as uncomfortable—we ate lukewarm porridge (more of a soup of wheat since the water drowned most of the wheat) from worn wooden bowls with soggy spoons that poked my mouth with splinters and other debris every time I stuck it in my mouth. There was something about the silence that bothered me. Silence seemed to be a sort of an unwritten and unspoken rule; it was as if the consequence for breaking such rule is so unspeakable that it terrors any child to even utter or create a single noise as dinner passed by. This was difficult for me as I was terrified of learning what sort of cruel punishment awaits anyone who breaks the unwritten and unspoken rule. Nevertheless, silence stalked me again.
Much of my attention was with Julie, exchanging glances with her studious eyes and curious, silent smile. She ate her porridge almost mechanically and almost in sync with the rest of the children. Clockwork was the best way to describe this event which astounded me. This scared me a bit since I realized that this was probably a routine for the inhabitants of the orphanage. Nights of silence was unimaginable for me—I simply cannot be restrained like this forever (or at least until I’m older). I feared that I might grow mad under these circumstances.
Time eventually lifted the blanket of snow and bore nature’s blossoms to the orphanage. The spring sun was welcomed to the dank manor and children had a chance to explore the outside to quench their curiosity of Mother Nature’s works after being locked up for so long.
As for me, I found myself running with Julie. She held my hand, panting and leading me away from the orphanage. “I’ve got something to show you!” she said to me when I asked her where we were going.
The fields were once bare, desolate, and dead when they were coated with snow, but the arrival of spring scattered it with green, and this conveyed a sense of warmth flowing through me as we ran across young, blooming meadows. The grass was still wet, the earth still loose, moist with the melted snow, but the aroma of blossoms that wafted around us guided our way through the grassy fields. It lifted my spirits and invigorated me. For once, I forgot about the miserable place where I lived.
Our shoes squeaked as we continued to run, the warmth of her hand grasping mine encouraging me to run even faster to keep up with Julie. She occasionally looked back with her wild blonde hair going all over the place and she looked back with an excited smile—the ones where you can’t keep a secret any longer and you just burst out laughing and telling it anyway.
We followed the aroma of flowers through rolling, flourishing hills, and finally to a lone, budding tree on top of a taller hill that overlooked a deeper meadow. We stopped on top of that hill, hand in hand and looking down at something that I have never seen before… if God had a canvas, it would be this meadow, and His paint would the numerous flowers that splashed through the green canvas. It was as if it was by chance that several flowers congregated in such a small place… shades of blue, purple, violet, accompanied by whites, yellows blotched that meadow. Splashes of red clung from hill to hill, and the soft caress of the spring breeze made it seem as if this painting were alive and moving. There were so many flowers of different color that I could not even name all of them, but it was certainly moving to think of such an amazing work of nature lies underneath an unforgiving layer of snow for a whole winter.
“This is the second time I’ve seen this,” Julie broke the silence between us after what felt like hours of admiring the beauty of this field. “I—I was afraid that it might not even be here anymore.”
“Well it certainly stayed, didn’t it?” I gave her a reassuring smile, almost confident in my own words. “And I’m sure it’ll stay!”
There were nights when sleep refuses to take me away from my earthly consciousness. I lay awake, staring at the void, attempting to find sleep’s invisible beacon through it. Unfortunately, these nights happened quite often, and I found myself, at these nights, sitting on my bed, pitifully searching for sleep, lost through the stars.
“Jordan,” the darkness called out my name on one of those nights.
“Do you believe in angels?” I couldn’t make up Julie’s slim figure that sat on her bed, but the moon’s pale light lit up part of her face to reveal an uncertain expression—one that I have never seen in Julie’s cheerful face. I saw her arms hugging her knees, trembling a bit, maybe because of night’s chilly embrace.
“Yeah, I guess…”
I saw a smile of reassurance appearing on her face after my reply. “That makes me happy, Jordan…”
I felt a bit guilty because my reply to her rather awkward question was uncertain and half-hearted… I found it hard to believe in angels, or guardian angels for the matter, after all that my family has gone through. After all, if angels really did exist, then they would have helped my family and me go through the war.
“What I remember from my mother,” Julie continued after a brief moment of silence, “is that before I go to sleep, she’d sing me a song… and tell me that when she’s gone, she’ll be an angel to watch over me… and take me away from a horrible place like this…”
I pondered for a moment at her childish philosophies—to a ten year old, that statement never sounded childish, but would probably strike curiosity and wonder to the mind that could never perceive the concept of God. I thought for a while, trying to think up of an angel… a figurative angel, at least. Silence observed us with ominous stares, but I pushed it back into the darkness. “I think someone’s already watching over me,”
“Really? Who’s your angel?”
“You!” My reply was eager, and as predictable from the naïveté of a ten year old.
My eager reply seemed to have some sort of strange effect upon my friend—her face flushed and her eyes widened—was it of surprise, embarrassment, confusion, or maybe a little bit of those emotions, I wasn’t so sure.
“Jordan… I—I don’t know what to say…” before I could even reply or use another silly explanation, to which she derived her pleasure from, her flushed appearance transformed into the smile that I was familiar with, although still blushing. It’s hard not to notice how red she was, especially because of her pale complexion. “I think that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever told me!”
Truth be told, I found my reply embarrassing after a moment of thought, and how it could have meant in so many ways…
When spring and summer subsided, a certain hunger encroached upon me; it wrapped itself around my chest, clouded my mind, and drained my emotions. It was a vague hunger—and I was unable to describe it, for it was something I have never experienced before. Along with silence, this hunger stalked me through the corridors of the orphanage, within the long hall where we ate our miserable dinner, and within my room with Julie. I forgot how to yearn for sleep and this was replaced with the looming hunger that stared down at me as I lay awake in midst of darkness’ thick blanket.
Fortunately, Julie was there to comfort me, and with those warm blue eyes of hers, it seemed as if she saw through my soul and understood the hunger that refused to release me. Her soothing words eased the vague hunger and yearning. Her calm whispers at night chased away silence… and for once, I found sleep within her embrace…
Time can be unforgiving, especially for someone who does not anticipate winter. Once again, nature slumbered under her white blanket that time made for her. The fertile earth no longer cradled us, but instead, bit our feet with frigid fangs—they sunk deep into our skin, freezing the blood that keeps us warm.
There was one morning, in the middle of winter; I woke up and was extremely upset with the absence of Julie on the bed in front of me. I remember that day—chilly, crisp, a new layer of snow covered the dismal orphanage, and outside was pristine, bright, and brusque. The sheets were on the floor, strewn, as if someone dragged them and let them go before approaching the door to the corridor outside of the room.
I asked one of the nuns that day about my companion and the reply was that she was found outside on the front steps early that morning, shivering and wearing just her night gown. The nuns were horrified and immediately sent her to the ward, only to develop a fever.
After asking the permission of Sister Therese, I found her on one of the several beds in the ward, flushed and sweating, breathing heavily, as if the moist towel on her forehead weighed a lot. The once cheerful face that eased my emotions conveyed agony, and it was too much for me to bear. There, at that moment, I just held her hand, called her name, hoping she would just sit up and laugh with me. It was hours before she regained consciousness and with her weak, thin lips, she smiled at me.
“Julie, what were you thinking?” I demanded, half worried, half angry. I tried my best to bring my voice down to a whisper.
“Jordan…” she whispered. Her voice was faint, wispy, and it was as if it could just slip away from my ears. “I’m…sorry…” she retained her smile, albeit her eyes started becoming teary. “I…I saw Momma… last night…she was waiting for me…downstairs…outside…”
“No, don’t say things like that!” And I thought for a moment that she was such a foolish girl to follow such an illusion. Why did she abandon regard for her health just to follow something with the likes of a mere dream? “Get rest and promise me you’ll be fine,”
She gave me a mysterious smile in reply. It was a pensive smile, ambiguous; nevertheless she didn’t give me a direct answer and fell back to sleep, a bit more peaceful this time, although she retained her flustered appearance.
It was about dusk when the nun who attended the sick in that ward asked me to go to dinner. She told me that she’ll do her best to help Julie recover. She was very reassuring, and I wanted to believe that she could heal Julie. I just wanted her to fix Julie up so that I could be playing with her by the next day…
Dinner in that silence plagued me with thoughts about my companion. Without her company in front of me, it felt like a void swallowed me. The absence of her reassuring eyes and her fearless smile across the dinner table almost drove me to tears while I became one with the others in mechanically eating my porridge.
At night, the silence and the hunger haunted me to no end. I cried for the whole night, unable to find sleep, unable to hear the comforting whispers of stories, and soft giggles and murmurs that lulled me to sleep. That night without Julie made me feel the cold of winter, chilling the marrow of my bones, clawing at my back, biting my neck. Only when dawn came did my nightmares subsided, albeit they left me weak and wounded, unable to fend for myself. I stayed in that room for the whole day, despite the inviting calls of nutrition and amusement. I waited for a long time until Sister Therese had to personally drag me out and had me stay put on the dinner table. That night, I didn’t follow the rules. I sniffed, coughed, and just stared at the disgusting broth that lay in front of me. Of course, this was prerequisite to punishment—I found myself at the icy and dark chapel the next hour, kneeling on salt scattered all over the stone cold floor, asking for God’s forgiveness for my misbehavior.
Two more nights of agony followed.
At the third night, Sister Therese approached me, to inform me of the passing of my companion. According to her, Julie’s fever went out of control and transformed into pneumonia. The nun said that they did their best to help her, but she didn’t seem willing to fend off her sickness. Sister Therese said that she died silently this morning…
That night, I cried like there was nothing left in my life. I cried because the last person who ever cared for me in this world let herself go. I tried asking the questions over and over again: Why did she ignore her own safety and follow some dream she had? Didn’t she ever think of me that night? After all, I was right in front of her. These futile queries were my efforts of pushing back a haunting thought that stayed in the back of my mind, staring down my reason. I remembered that she told me that her mother was her angel… this bothered me to think that her mother was the one who guided her to her passing, and that this was her way of freeing her from this miserable life.
In the darkness, I pondered and watched the snow dance from my bed; they reflected the gloomy moonlight, falling silently and eerily. I wondered if the sky was mourning with me that night. All night, I thought of Julie—and I wondered if she became my angel that night. I wondered if she’s watching down at me, to help me come through with my life. After all, I couldn’t depend on Julie for the rest of my life. Maybe her passing was a way of telling me that I need to help myself, too?
That night, I tried to push away the memories of childish infatuation in order to drag my life away from misery. The distinction of uncertainty and cowardice were set before my eyes, and with this, I tamed the silence that befuddled me, and I managed to understand that faceless, vague hunger—it was a yearning for warmth, for love. Unfortunately, unconditional love was such a complex thought for a ten year old to comprehend, and yet Julie probably understood this when she helped me and showed me happiness. This unconditional love was the warmth that Julie radiated with. When she comforted me and showed me the way on those nights, she filled my hunger and eased my yearning…
I felt warm and happy that night. After all, I was looking forward to spring… and I’m always hopeful that Julie was always watching over me, and I’m always here, ready for her to take me away to someplace happy. Through this happiness and warmth, I felt a connectedness between Julie and me. It wasn’t vague and faceless, nor did it torment me at night, but this connection made my days happier than ever. What was a vague answer that I gave her at that night when she asked me of angels was changed to a stronger reply of belief.
This belief was as reassuring as the spring following winter. It’s as reassuring as nature cultivating the barren earth with rubbery, moist grass, as reassuring as the tree that buds on top of that lone hill, and as reassuring as that secret garden that Julie showed me, for I know it will bloom again when spring comes. I know it will be there, waiting for me, and maybe I can find Julie there, in the form of memories—she’ll be waiting on top of that hill with her refreshing smile and warm eyes. She’ll hold my hand, and maybe we can run again through the rolling hills, blown by the crisp spring breeze and wafted with the perfume of the blossoms that splashed across the meadow.
When the day comes and I see my angel, I won’t hesitate. I know she’ll greet me with open arms… and maybe, we’ll run again through the meadows.