In the huge dining room of the Suri Orphanage, Kaleem sat alone while the other children laughed and joked with each other. Kaleem was fair skinned with a sharp nose. His eyes were a rare grey colour, and his teeth were clean and white. He had a thick mop of black hair and was ten years old. He was regularly mistaken for someone younger.
There were tables and chairs arranged throughout the dining room with hungry orphans sat waiting for their meal. The ceiling was very high and there were windows spread out across the room letting in the morning light. Due to the space and light, the dining room was Kaleem’s favourite room in the orphanage. There was usually the nice smell of food in the air and unlike the rest of the orphanage it was always bright.
The orphanage building was huge, built a century ago with high ceilings and massive doors, some which required two people to open and close. It housed sixty orphans, all male and there were toilets and bathing rooms on each floor with a huge kitchen and dining area on the ground level. There was a musky smell everywhere and the walls were a dull greyish colour. Apart from the airy dining room the orphanage wasn’t a comfortable place to live, perhaps the original inhabitants had lived luxuriously, but now it was sparse, no carpets or cheerful colours.
Kaleem listened to children talking about food and their plans for the day but he didn’t join in.
“K- K- Kaleem,” said one boy from a nearby table, mocking his stutter. Kaleem looked at the boy but didn’t say anything.
Breakfast was usually porridge and water and on some days, milk. The orphanage had been established twenty years prior when a rich donor had bought it and donated it to the charity that had ran it since. It was managed by the Daughters of Fatima, the charity which funded the orphanage. There were ten members of staff including the headmistress. The women who ran the orphanage had been labelled as ‘aunties’ by the children.
Kaleem sometimes considered what his parents were like and why they had abandoned him. He dreamed like every orphan that one day his parents would come to the orphanage and take him away. He had been informed by one of the aunties that he had been left at the doorstep of the orphanage ten years ago.
“Hurry up and get your breakfast,” the aunty shouted, immediately the children rushed to the serving table, Kaleem joined the queue but the other boys pushed in front of him so he ended up at the back of the line.
After everyone had been served, Kaleem finally went to get his breakfast, the aunty sighed as she placed porridge in his bowl. There were three large pots of porridge on the table and a pile of plates. The aunty had a wrinkled face and long uncombed grey hair and had a harried look to her. She looks exhausted. The food was bland, but Kaleem ate ravenously. Anything was better than nothing.
After breakfast he went to the toilet, he covered his nose with his sleeve after entering. There were five cubicles with basins where the excrement and urine would collect. There was a small open window which let in a little bit of fresh air, but the stench was still unbearable.
After relieving himself he washed his hands and was about to leave when three boys came into the toilet and blocked his way. What will they do to me now?
“Leave me alone, what d-d-do you want from me?” He asked apprehensively and tried getting past the boys. His heart hammered in his chest and his palms became sweaty as he looked up at them. He knew all three of them, Sham, Deen and Azad.
“Where do you think you are going bitch?” Sham asked roughly and punched him.
Kaleem held his jaw, “What have I ever d-d- done to you?”
“Shut up bitch,” Deen shouted.
“We have a special gift for you Ka- Ka- Ka, hold him.” Azad, the leader of the group commanded.
As Sham and Deen blocked him from each side, Kaleem looked around desperately. He watched as Azad leant down and picked up a toilet basin. He then emptied its contents all over Kaleem who retched and wiped his face and eyes. His head and upper body were covered in waste. He couldn’t stop himself and started to cry softly, which was a big mistake as Azad pushed him hard, causing him to fall on his back and hit his head on the floor. Why me?
Azad approached Kaleem and began to kick him viciously and his two friends joined him, kicking his legs, stomach, chest and back. Kaleem cried out in pain, but there was no one to help him. Save me God. They were careful not to kick his face so the aunties wouldn’t become suspicious. Kaleem rolled into a ball and tried to ignore the pain. His tormentors were grunting with the exertion of kicking and stamping on him. Azad was tall for his age and was dark skinned, Kaleem looked at his pockmarked face and saw a crazy glint in his eyes and a smile on his face as he continued to pummel him with his foot. Kaleem shut his eyes as they brutally kicked him for what seemed like hours. It felt like his body was being hammered with iron rods. The only sounds were their kicks on his body and their heavy breathing. Kaleem had stopped crying out and tried to block out the pain. They are going to kill me.
Fortunately, they stopped due to exhaustion and spat on him one by one. “We should go, it smells disgusting,” Azad ordered and mercilessly kicked Kaleem one last time. Then the trio of bullies walked out laughing mockingly. Kaleem stayed on the floor and wept. Why does everyone hate me? What have I done to deserve this?
Azad had always had a vendetta against Kaleem. It was in his nature to build his own reputation by demeaning and bullying others. He was Kaleem’s worst oppressor who hounded him day in and day out, thinking of progressively worse torments to inflict on him.
Kaleem stood up unsteadily, his whole body was aching, especially his ribs, he lifted his soiled shirt and saw the bruising all over his body, dark red marks like a skin disease. If they had carried on then they probably would have broken my bones.
Kaleem limped to the bathing area before he was seen by the aunties or the other boys. He washed himself and scrubbed his clothes roughly in an effort to remove the filth, without soap the smell was hard to remove. Kaleem only had one set of clothes so he did his best to remove the urine and excrement. The others are going to laugh at me all day.
Kaleem faced humiliation and violence like this regularly but the incidents of severe bullying were becoming progressively worse. Sometimes at night, Kaleem would wet his pillow with tears of grief and anger and would plot violent revenge. The bullying had started two years ago with the onset of his stuttering. Azad was one of the many who made his life hell. His frail demeanour, unique looks and stammer had made him a target. Kaleem was too soft and didn’t defend himself physically or verbally. They targeted him because he was so different to the rest of the boys, too gentle, too small and too quiet.
They would criticise his stammer and mock his grey eyes, they would swear at him and insult his parents. They would barge into him in the corridor and beat him viciously. The constant harassment had left Kaleem depressed and hopeless. He was isolated because most of the other boys were afraid they would become targets by associating with him. So he had no friends to support him or even someone to talk to.
Surrounding the orphanage was a small forest, home to all manner of birds and animals. There were many types of trees, from oak trees to willow trees and there were a variety of animals such as squirrels, rabbits and foxes.
After washing himself Kaleem left the orphanage and slowly limped to the forest. Every footstep was like climbing a mountain. He didn’t think he could face the other boys after what had happened in the toilet and due to his smell. The sun was an orb in the sky and Kaleem wiped his wet brow with his sleeve and breathed in the smell of soil and grass.
He often went to the forest to get away from the orphanage, away from the bullies and everyone who stood by and watched him suffer. He would eagerly observe magpies and crows and rarely, robins.
He found a spot and gently sat down, even that took a huge effort and he groaned as he lowered himself. He shifted positions to try to get comfortable but he wasn’t able to do so. He hoped to see an animal or a bird but it was quiet and there was only a deathly stillness in the forest.
He took his shirt off and was shocked at the state of his body, he was black and blue all over his arms, chest and stomach and his legs were bruised too. He realised his back would also be in a similar state. He wiped his brown coloured shirt on the grass hoping to remove the smell. He did the same with his grey pants. Although it helped a little, the foul odour was still there.
He spent a number of hours in solitude, but his mood didn’t lift even after seeing a group of magpies and a crow. As the sun began to set, and darkness began to spread, he reluctantly struggled to stand up and slowly walked back to the Orphanage.
Though he was physically frail Kaleem had strong conviction in God. Kaleem believed that God would help him get through these hard times. He remembered the aunty who had taught him the basics of religion, from whom he had learned of an Almighty, Loving God. She had been a great teacher, patient and kind but had passed away a year ago.
He remembered how he had been raised by the aunties, at least when he was a little child no one had bullied or abused him. He was grateful to the aunties for caring for him throughout his early childhood, especially the head aunty who used to spend more time with the orphans before she was promoted. Kaleem saw her rarely but whenever she saw him she always had a smile for him.
Kaleem’s daily torture was unbearable as his oppressors were thinking of increasingly worse punishment for him. He had never been beaten as severely as he had been earlier that day. He knew that it wouldn’t be the last either. He realised that complaining or crying about the torture didn’t elicit sympathy but actually escalated the situation. He made a vow that he would never cry again in front of the bullies as they thrived off his reaction, it made them feel powerful and strong.
After returning from the forest as he was on his way to the dormitory he was stopped by one of the nicer aunties who asked, “Why are you limping?”
“I fell over aunty and hurt my l l leg.” Kaleem lied.
“Are you sure Kaleem, where did you fall?” her brow wrinkled making her look much older.
“I was in the b- b- bathing room aunty and I slipped”
“Hmmm” she said suspiciously.
“Do you want me to have a look?”
“N- N- No aunty, I am f f fine.”
She looked at him for a while, waiting for him to say more, but Kaleem remained silent. What will they do if I tell them? It will just get worse for me.
Later on, in the dorm, as Kaleem lay on his mattress unable to get comfortable, he listened to the boys talking.
“What is that smell? Asked one boy loudly.
“It is coming from over there,” replied another boy. “Is that you K K Kaleem, have you had an accident?” they all laughed.
“Have you got a case of diarrhoea, unable to control it?” a third boy said to more laughter.
“Ka- Ka you need to have a wash if you have soiled yourself.”
Kaleem covered his head with his bed sheet and tried to block out their cruel taunts. His whole body was aching and he felt jolts of pain every time he moved. He always prayed to God to make his life easier. But it seemed to Kaleem that God wasn’t answering his desperate prayers. I wish I was dead.
He woke up later on that night and noticed in the dusky candle light that the other boys were all awake and looking at him. That was when he felt something cold under his blanket. He lowered his blanket and found a bloody, dead rat; he flinched as he rose up too quickly and threw the rat away. Nineteen children began giggling, and laughing at him like hyenas. Kaleem felt tears about to burst from his eyes but he didn’t want to give them the satisfaction so he barely restrained himself. I hate all of you.
He wasn’t able to sleep for a while, worried they would do something else to him if he slept. He would shut his eyes for a few moments but would wake up suddenly fearing the worst. Finally, just before he fell into deep blissful sleep he considered his desperate situation. What will they do to me tomorrow?