02 The Black Rose

A wet sock hit Kate in the face, and she woke up with a sudden jerk. Aisha and Roberta was running round the room, trying not to scream and wake everybody up. Aisha was a tiny black girl with the prettiest, curliest hair you ever saw. Her nose was flat and her eyes big and brown. She was an incredibly fast runner, and the larger girl, Roberta would not be able to catch up with her unless she used some kind of dirty trick. Roberta had another wet sock in her hand. A mischievious smile spread across her face as she pulled her arm back ready to throw. Roberta was plump, had short, dark, curly hair and lots of big freckles in her face. Her eyes were small and green, and they had almost a diabolical shine to them as she threw the sock hurdling through the air. It hit Aisha smack in the face, and she gave out a small scream. Kate sighed. Roberta would never let the small girls alone. She was a bully, and everybody knew it. Roberta and Sharon were the two biggest girls in the orphanage, and they let all the smaller ones know that they were in charge.

Mrs. Elaine Rose was an old nurse who started Mrs. Rose’s Girls Home on the outskirts of New York City about 20 years earlier when she had come into a great inheritance.  She packed up her job at one of the larger hospitals in the city and started up her orphanage as she wanted to make a difference in some poor orphan’s lives. She had a bedroom on the ground floor right beside the huge front door who was bolted and locked in several places. No child was to sneak out in the middle of the night, and no prowlers were to enter either without her letting them in. On the first floor were workrooms and living rooms for different kinds of activities. On the second floor were four bedrooms plus toilet and bathroom, and on the top floor the same. At this current time, there were only six girls there, Roberta and Sharon on the top floor, and Kate, Aisha, Dawn and Curly on the second floor. The rooms were quite small, and they all had bunk beds. Still, Mrs. Rose wanted the girls to have one room each if possible. When money got short, she had to fill up all the beds, but then it was harder to work with the children.

Aisha and Roberta suddenly stopped as Mrs. Rose suddenly appeared in the door. She was not amused! Her had her hands crossed over her chest as she stood waiting for an explanation.

– “I’m sorry, Mrs Rose,” Aisha started. – “We will go to bed straight away!”

Roberta sneaked past Mrs. Rose and ran up the stairs. Mrs. Rose gave out a sigh.

– “What are you doing in Kate’s rom?” she asked.

Aisha swallowed heavily.

– “We were only playing, Mrs. Rose! I just borrowed Roberta’s toothpaste, and I kinda spilt some on her bedding, and Roberta came to get me, and I ran…and the door to Kate’s room was open, so… I’s sorry, Mrs. Rose, really I am…”

Mrs. Rose gave another sigh.

– “You girls!” she exclaimed. – “Get to bed straight away! If I hear any more noise, somebody will lose privileges…”

Aisha ran into her room and pulled her duvet over her head. Mrs. Rose came in, petted her on her head and said good night. Then she came in to Kate who pretended to be asleep. Next she turned to Dawn’s room. The little mouse of a girl was snoring loudly and had not heard any of the noise the two girls had made. Finally, Mrs Rose popped her head in to Curly’s room. Curly gave her name credit. Her head was full of black curls that went all the way down to her hips. She had kicked off her blanket and turned upside down in her bed. Mrs. Rose shook her head, picked up the blanket and spread it over Curly. Then she went downstairs, turned off the lights in her office, and went to bed. Kate lay in her bed listening to Dawn snore. She had been here almost a year now. Mrs. Rose was teaching her to read and write plus many other things. Mrs. Rose was a strict teacher, but she also had a big heart. Kate felt sleep crawling into her like a shadow. Slowly she slipped into dreamland, dreaming about how life had been before she got into The Black Rose – that’s what they called Mrs. Rose’s Girls Home. She dreamed of her mother and the good times they had together. The bad times she tried desperately to push away.

Kate sat up in bed. It was dark all around. Had she heard a small sound? She strained her ears to see if she could hear anything. Her long, blond hair was done up in a ponytail, and it swung from side to side as she tried to listen carefully. Now she heard voices from downstairs. Quiet as a mouse, she slipped out of bed, sneaked across the hall, and tip-toed gently down the stairs. Halfway down where the stairs turned, she peered round the corner and saw Mrs. Rose standing in the middle of the hall. She was talking to two policemen who was holding an older girl between them. One of the policemen spoke.

– “We appreciate you taking her off us on such short notice, Mrs. Rose,” he said.

– “You will be contacted in the morning by a Mrs…” He looked at a piece of paper in his free hand. – “Angela Ward.”

Mrs. Rose nodded shortly.

– “I know Mrs. Ward,” she answered shortly. The policeman offered her the piece of paper.

– “Here is a number you can call in case of an emergency.”

Mrs. Rose said “thank you” and “good-bye”, and the two policemen saluted and turned to go, leaving the older girl standing in the middle of the floor, swaying gently back and forth. As soon as the police had left, Mrs. Rose locked and bolted the door, took the girl’s arm and pulled her gently.

– “Come on Tanya!” she said. – “Let’s see if we can manage to get you up these stairs, shall we?”

Kate didn’t know if she should offer to help or sneak back to bed and pretend to be sleeping. Tanya had great difficulties walking straight and was leaning quite heavily on Mrs. Rose. Kate picked up her courage from somewhere deep down inside her and swung round the corner of the steps.

– “Can I help you, Mrs. Rose?” her thin voice asked.

Mrs. Rose stopped suddenly and fastened her sharp eyes on Kate. Tanya lifted her head, but her eyes had an empty stare, flickering around the room without being able to focus on anything. Kate was wondering if she could see her at all.

– “It’s nice of you to offer, Kate” Mrs. Rose answered, -“but I’ve got this! Just go back to bed, and we’ll talk in the morning.”

Kate tuned around on the stairs, ready to go back up.

– “Is Tanya okay?” she said carefully.

Mrs, Rose had started walking again, ready to climb the stairs.

– “She will be,” she said. – “I dare say she’ll sleep for a few hours first, though!”

Kate started walking up the stairs, then stopped and turned around.

– “What’s wrong with her?”

Mrs. Rose puffed.

– “Go off to to bed, and we’ll talk in the morning!”

Kate could tell that Mrs. Rose was getting annoyed, so she turned, leapt up the stairs, then moved silently into her room and laid down in bed, covered by her duvet. She could hear Mrs. Rose and Tanya working their way up the stairs. They went further up to the top floor, and then Kate couldn’t hear any more. Once again, Kate found herself thinking of her mum. She had often had that same expression on her face as Tanya had, and it scared her. Still, it was like something was pulling her towards the new girl Tanya. There was something about Tanya that reminded her of her mother.

All the girls, except for Kate and Aisha, got up at 6:30 in the morning, got cleaned up, had breakfast, got dressed, and left at 7:30 so they  could get to school for 8:00. Kate and Aisha got up at 8:00, got cleaned up and dressed, had some breakfast, then started home schooling with Mrs. Rose around 9. Neither of the girls had never had any schooling before they were dropped on Mrs. Rose’s doorstep, so Mrs. Rose wanted to teach them to read and write before they started proper school. With all the girls that had blown in her front door and out the back door, she had a lot of experience with home-schooling.

This morning, the girls were working on their English. Mrs. Rose was a good teacher, and she managed to get the girls interested in reading a fairytale for her. Tanya stayed asleep all morning. Kate and Aisha had a break round noon. Then, after lunch, they were doing sums, adding and subtracting. In between, Mrs. Rose would leave them working while she went upstairs to check on Tanya. About three in the afternoon, Kate heard running water in the pipes, and knew that Tanya had been to the toilet. She looked at Mrs. Rose, but her facial expression didn’t give away if she had noticed the sound or not. About half an hour later, Mrs. Rose leaned back and stretched her long body.

– “That will do for today,” she sighed.

– “You can play in your room for a while till we’re gonna make dinner!”

Kate and Aisha tidied away their school books and pencil-cases, then ran to their rooms. Mrs. Rose went up to the top floor to check on Tanya. Kate sneaked into Aisha’s room to tell her about the new girl as Mrs. Rose had not mentioned anything yet. Kate told Aisha about the new girl in such a dramatic way, it sounded like the the poor girl was close to death when she arrived.

After a little while, Mrs. Rose came back down the stairs. Aisha ran over to her.

– “Mrs. Rose? Is it true we’ve got a new girl here?”

Mrs. Rose smiled and nodded.

– “What’s she like?” Aisha demanded. Mrs. Rose sat down on a chair.

– “She’s very tired. She arrived in the middle of the night, and she was not quite herself.”

Aisha couldn’t resist it.

– Who was she, then, if she wasn’t herself?”

Mrs.Rose ruffled Aisha’s beautiful hair.

– “Never mind,” she said. – “Point is she’s going to need us to help her when she comes around!”

– “Comes around?” Aisha said innocently. – “I thought she was already here.”

Mrs. Rose bit her lip. Kate was waiting for her mood to change. Aisha didn’t always know when to stop. Just like Kate had thought, Mrs. Rose stood up and cleared her throat.

– “Enough of this!” she said shortly. – “You’ll get to meet Tanya soon enough!”

Then she walked off down the stairs. On her way down, she called over her shoulder.

– “Leave Tanya alone! Play in your rooms!”

It had been another hour before the older girls came home from school. Mrs. Rose had apparently already talked to Roberta and Sharon about the new girl, because they were ever so quiet upstairs. Mrs. Rose had called the younger ones together on the second floor and told them about her, although she gave very few details about her. She basically said her name was Tanya, and she was 17 years old, and she’s had a rough life, and everybody should be nice to her and help her whatever way they could. Curly and Dawn had kitchen duty today, so they helped Mrs. Rose with dinner. They pealed potatoes, carrots and swede, cut it up along with some leek and salted meat, and Mrs. Rose added some spice and beef stock cubes into the water, and it made a wonderful broth for their dinner. They all sat down, Mrs. Rose said grace, and they all attacked their broth like hungry wolves.

It took a little while before Mrs. Rose realized that they were not alone. Leaning to the wall by the door stood Tanya, eyes bloodshot and hair ruffled. Her hair was hazelnut brown, but her eyes were a deep green. Although her arms and legs were skinny, she had a big bust. Her red t-shirt had a big smiley on it, and on her legs she had light blue shorts. She yawned.

– “Hey, Tanya!” Mrs. Rose smiled. – “Please come and join us!”

Mrs. Rose pulled up a chair for her, and Tanya slumped down on it. She was introduced to all the girls, starting with Sharon who was the oldest. Last on the list was Kate. She was half a year younger than Aisha. Tanya didn’t say a word. Her face was white like she had seen a ghost, but she gave a small hint of a smile and a small nod. Mrs. Rose asked how she was feeling, but didn’t get a reply. Broth was poured into a boll for her, and fresh bread and butter was put in front of her. She broke off a piece of bread, put a bit of butter on it and took a bite. Everybody watched her as she started chewing. After a little while she stopped chewing. She stood up suddenly, her eyes now wide open. Mrs. Rose dropped her spoon with a splash.

– “Restroom is second door on the right!” Mrs. Rose called as she stood up. Tanya suddenly didn’t seem so tired anymore. She ran out to the toilet with Mrs. Rose right behind her. As Mrs. Rose closed the bathroom door, all the girls heard Tanya bringing back her last meal, and then some.

It took another 24 hours before Tanya could keep any food down. Her facial colour returned to normal, and she also started talking – a bit. She kept herself mostly to herself, and she didn’t seem to like Aisha. Roberta said it was because she was black. Nobody mentioned any of this to Mrs. Rose, and Tanya bullied Aisha around something terrible. One evening she stood in the doorway of Aisha’s room, hand placed on her hips.

– “Go fetch, Aisha!” she roared. She only wanted for Aisha to go down to the kitchen and get her a banana, but she didn’t ask, she gave orders, and Aisha didn’t care for that.

– “Go get it yourself, you bully!”  Aisha replied. Kate was shocked that she spoke so bravely to an older girl.

– “Go get me a banana, or there will be consequences!”

Aisha stood her ground, and she swore at Tanya as well as stuck her tongue out at her. Tanya was got an evil look on her face, but let Aisha go to bed without any trouble. Evening fell, and one by one the girls went to bed. Soon, they were all asleep, even Mrs. Rose. Well, there was one of the girls that was awake till long after midnight.

The next day was a Saturday, and the girls were allowed to sleep in. It was normally Kate and Aisha, the little ones, who woke up first. They were allowed to sneak into the tv-room and watch cartoons till 11AM when there was a late breakfast. The sun had just risen outside, and the shadows were long. At first, there was peace in the house. Then, there was a loud scream. Kate shot up in bed. It was Alisha who screamed. Kate ran into her room as quickly as she could. Aisha was sitting up in bed, sobbing.

– “My hair!” she yelled

That’s when Kate realized that Aisha’s beautiful, curly, black hair had been cut off, her head full of small tufts of hair sticking up like hard straws in a haystack. Kate shivered as she saw it. It was obvious that it was Tanya’s doing. Why was she so cruel? Kate thought as she gave Aisha a hug.

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