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She kicked the grass at her feet. The grass that wasn’t grass lay under her, making her angry. It was too stiff, too pristine, and too lifeless. She had walked barefoot over fields of sunned grass, and this wasn’t it. It had no parches, just green blades that carpeted the entirety of the yard. It stopped abruptly at the fence, a fine line between green and concrete.
A warning yell rang out into the afternoon sky. Ten more minutes. All around her, the children stood and began to clean up the various messes that they had created. She stood where she would, because she hadn’t made any messes. She thought the toys they had were awful, horrible, repulsive things, and she refused to get them out to play. She spent her break times leaning against the brick wall, her eyes on the gate and what lay beyond.
Another, heavier shout sent the kids reeling into the main building, satisfied that playtime was over. She sauntered in after, dragging each step across the fake turf. The building was warm, and too comfortable. Sugary smells wafted from one end, tempting the others to eat the green that lay on their plates. Soft nursery rhyme songs played in the background, resonating through the air from morning to bedtime.
“Come on, everybody! Playtime’s over, but don’t worry! You’ll play outside again tomorrow!” Thick, feminine voices assured the children, who smiled and giggled and trusted. She hung back, expressionless and apathetic. Having play time the next day wasn’t important to her, not like it was to the others. They were ushered into the main room, which was filled with rounded edges and soft toys and bright floral patterns. The children dispersed, ready for naptime, into the rooms that branched off from the main room. Boys on one side, girls on the other, the ladies reminded them. Girls into the pink room on the right, boys into the blue room on the left.
Following the girls, she was soon surrounded by faded shades of pink; princess pink comforters, hot pink curtains, light pink walls. Pictures of all the girls were hung up around the room, bordered with pink frames that had their names engraved into the wood. Sophie, Sarah, Ally, Mary Hannah, Gracie, and many other common American names were etched into the wall, which drove her crazy. These names were permanent, lasting; which she didn’t want to be. She wanted to be fleeting, gone as soon as the weather changed warmer and her age grew to an acceptable number. Ten, she decided, when she was ten, she would leave. That’s three years away, which was plenty of time to grow taller and smarter and plan how she would make it in the place beyond the fence.
“Hey, Gracie, you have to snuggle in!” One of the ladies chastised her, guiding her to the pink sheets that had already been turned down and warmed. She glared, hating the stupid American name they had given her. She was Gira, not Gracie. She climbed awkwardly onto the mattress, still unused to the way it heaved and adjusted to her weight. The sheets were pulled up over her shoulders, darkening the world around her, and for a moment she almost heard the cracks and shouts…
She shouldn’t think about that, or she’d remember, and remembering always gave her night-mares.
She closed her eyes when they turned the light off, even though the nightlight continued to light up the dark corners and crevices where bad dreams lie. She didn’t like the dark at all, neither did she like listening to the other girls’ perpetual whispers. She shoved her fingers into her ears to block them out and slept, slept, slept.
Her momma is scared, grabbing her hand and yanking her out the door as fast as the big spotted cats she had seen on TV once. Krish is running, too, with little Lakshmi gathered up in his arms. He has abandoned his Game Boy, she notices, and is surprised that he has forgotten all about his prized possession. Lakshmi had been taking a bath, and she has a towel wrapped haphazardly around her that was falling off and exposing the brown folds of her body. The night air is filled with a scent she had never before smelled, but could already tell she had a great disliking for it. There are the greatest of bright flames, like the sun exploding in her face. Loud, angry shouts fill her head with words that she is not supposed to hear, and she stops to throw her hands over her ears. Her mother picks her up and keeps running, throwing glances back at Krish, who is struggling to keep up with Lakshmi’s extra weight.
They reach the edge of the lawn, where they greet frightening men with guns and knives and hate that flame in their eyes like ice. They call her momma names, and spit in Krish’s face, and laugh at her traditional night-gown, when she wants to cry at the symbol of luck that is tattooed on their arms.
“damn Hindu whore,” they say to her momma, “with your little Hindu vermin. Get back to India!” They hit her momma in the stomach with the butt of their guns, and she cries out as she is dropped onto the ground. Her momma curls over, holding her stomach, moaning. She tries to find Krish for help, but cannot find him or Lakshmi or anyone she recognizes in the darkness of night. The men keep hitting her momma, and she can only lie on the ground and cry, and wait for someone to come and help her, and no one is coming, and she buries her dark face into her arms and sobs.
She woke heaving dry, breathless sobs into the dark room. The other girls were still asleep, and she tried to match her rapid breaths to their slow, even ones. Their pale bodies rose and fell with every breath, light hair splayed out on the pink pillows. She felt out of place, too dark and different for this group. She reached for her own black braid, the end finding its way into her mouth like it always does when she got scared.
Momma, she whispered, Krish, Lakshmi, daddy. Saying the names out loud somehow made them more real, more tangible, and the memory of them almost made her believe she could find them when she left the orphanage.
She hated America.