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A Different Kind of Voice
The air was chilly as I walked toward the building. It wasn’t very big, but it wasn’t small, either. The social worker called it a ‘home for young people’, but I knew what it really was. An orphanage.
All my life I’ve lived in various foster homes and ‘homes for young people’. When everything you own fits into a suitcase and a backpack, it isn’t hard to move.
There I was, walking towards my new home, following the social worker. She was telling me something, but I didn’t really hear her. I had heard it all before.
The first sound I heard as we walked through the door was music. Piano music, a soft, complex melody. Looking around the lobby area I was in, I saw a girl at a grand piano. Her fingers moved across the keys with the ease of someone who has practiced a piece over and over until it comes as easy as breathing.
Reluctantly, I turned my attention to the social worker, who was speaking to another lady.
“Come this way,” she said. She was short with medium brown hair. Her name was Jane, I was told.
After I was given a brief tour, Jane showed me to my room.
“You’ll sleep there.” She pointed to a bed on the left side of the room. I set my bags on it, surveying the room. Half of it seemed occupied, and half was empty except for the bed.
“Am I sharing with someone?” I asked.
Jane nodded. “You’ll be sharing with Vanessa.” She backed out of the room.
After that, I was alone to think. If I had anything to think about. I was in an orphanage, and I probably will be until I turn 18. End of story. Of course, I wanted a permanent home, a family, but I had just about given up on that. If I was going to be adopted, I would have been years ago.
But then again, I could be wrong. That’s the thought that keeps me going; that gives me strength and hope.
Half an hour passed, and I was still standing there. Silently, as if not to disturb me, a girl entered the room. I quickly knelt down on the floor and started to unpack my suitcase, so I didn’t look completely pointless.
It was the same girl I had seen earlier playing the piano. Now that she was standing I could see her better. She had a friendly face framed by long, light brown waves of hair. She sat down on her bed, watching me.
“You’re Vanessa, right?” I said.
Vanessa smiled and nodded.
“So I guess we’re going to have to get used to each other,” I said, trying to make conversation.
Vanessa smiled and nodded again. Was that all I’d ever get from her? It was a bit unnerving the way she never said a word.
“How long have you been here?” I asked, trying to get her to speak.
She said nothing. That made me confused. I would have tried to think about it, but I was tired.
“Good night, Vanessa.”
All I received in reply was a friendly nod.
“How was your first night? I know it can be tough for newcomers...” Jane’s voice trailed off. It was the next morning, and I had just finished breakfast.
I waved her question away. “I’m used to it. Vanessa’s a bit odd, though. She never says anything.”
“She’s been mute ever since she was born.” Jane said bluntly.
I hadn’t thought of that.
“But she gets along fine,” Jane continued. “It doesn’t really bother her.”
Walking into the lobby area, I found Vanessa sitting at the piano again. This time she was playing an upbeat tune that I vaguely recognized from somewhere.
“That sounds amazing,” I commented.
Vanessa didn’t look up from the keys, but I saw her smile and I knew she heard me.
Except for Vanessa, this orphanage was like all others I’d been in. Very few people came in with the intention of adopting.
But Vanessa was different. Every day she played the piano for hours at a time. Her musical abilities made up for her lack of voice.
And just like the rest of my life, there was something missing. I had Vanessa and Jane, but eventually I knew that I’d get shipped off to some other place, and they’d be gone. I wanted someone who would always be there for me. I wanted the sense of security that only comes from having two parents and a permanent home.
“What are you writing?” I asked Vanessa one evening as she scribbled away in her notebook.
She showed me a page covered in music notes. They danced around the page, as if they wanted to leap off into the air.
Then she handed me another sheet. On it was what looked like a poem:
The rain falls
It calls to me
Calling me back home to you
Where the sun never stops shining
And I’m not alone
“I love it,” I said, handing it back to her. “Even though I’m not much for poetry.”
Vanessa shook her head.
“Song lyrics?” I guessed.
She nodded, and stood. Then she took my hand and beckoned for me to follow.
“Are we going somewhere?” I asked.
I followed her out into the lobby, where she sat down at the piano. She played the beginning of a song, then stopped. She handed me the song lyrics and the music that went with them.
“What?” I didn’t know what to do.
Vanessa dipped her head to the sheets of paper, then played the song again.
“Oh,” I said, suddenly comprehending. “You want me to sing the lyrics for you?”
She nodded. I pushed the paper back toward her. "I can’t read music.”
In answer, Vanessa played the melody three times, then looked at me as if to say, “Got it?”
“Oh, all right. I’ll do it.”
Smiling, Vanessa started to play.
My voice cracked on the first note, but I soon got into it.
“The rain falls. Softly, sweetly, it calls to me. Calling me back home where the sun never stops shining, and I’m not alone—” I broke off when I saw Jane standing near us.
“That was beautiful,” she said.
I was glad I couldn’t see myself blush, because my face must have turned thirty shades of red. “I’m not a good singer.”
“That’s not true,” Jane countered. “You’ve got talent. Both of you.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
Vanessa started playing again. I took that as my cue to begin.
“The rain falls...”
Later that night, I watched Vanessa do something that still puzzled me, even after living with her for a while. Every night, she would kneel down beside her bed, fold her hands, and pray.
On that particular night, as I watched her, I wondered what she prayed for. Did she ask God for something? A family, a voice? I’ve never been a prayerful sort of person. I guess I find it hard to believe that someone who could control the whole universe would want to listen to someone like me. But that night, for some reason, I felt inspired to try it. I didn’t know how, so I decided to be straightforward.
I asked god to help people in need. Then I asked him for the one thing I’ve wanted ever since I can remember. A family. I prayed for a mom, and a dad. I even prayed for one of those annoying little brothers that people complain about, just for the sake of it. It was satisfying, in a certain way.
A few days later, I was called into Jane’s office. She was sitting there in her swivel chair. Across from her sat a couple in their mid-forties and a boy.
“This is Mr. and Mrs. Roland, and Mattie.” Jane began.
“Hello,” I said politely.
Jane continued, “They’ve been considering adopting for quite some time, and, well...” She gave me one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen. “Congratulations.”
It was just one word, but it meant the world to me. I sent up a silent prayer of thanks, now that I was convinced that prayers did work. And God had even decided to throw in the little brother.
Caught up in the moment, I hugged my new parents. Ten minutes ago I’d never seen them, but it felt as if they had been around my whole life.
Vanessa silently helped me pack up on the big day. It was a good day—I had woken up that morning with the thought that I would never have to spend another night in an orphanage. I was saying goodbye to the only life I knew. I had expected to be a bit nervous, but all I felt was excitement. My wish of thirteen years had finally been granted.
Jane peeked in on us. “Ready?”
“Just a moment,” I replied.
She nodded and left. I turned to Vanessa. “Well,” I said. “I guess this is goodbye.”
She nodded slowly and reached for her notebook. She tore out a page and handed it to me with a sense of finality.
I looked it over. It was Vanessa’s song. Or rather, our song. “Thank you. Now I have something to remember you by.”
Her answering smile sent a pang of loss through my heart. I hadn’t realized how much I would miss Vanessa and her quiet, smiling nature. Without ever saying a word, she had made me feel loved and welcome in a way that nobody else ever had.
“You know,” I said, standing up from where I was on the floor, by my suitcase. “People don’t know what they’re talking about when they say you have no voice.” I wondered why this had never occurred to me before.
Vanessa tilted her head to the side, confused. Her large silver hoop earrings moved in harmony with her head.
“They’re wrong,” I continued. “Because you do have a voice. Most people think of their voice as talking. But your voice is your music. I could always tell how you were feeling by what kind of song you were playing. A piano can’t lie.”
Vanessa gave me a huge grin and hugged me tightly.
“Time to go,” Jane called from the hallway.
“You have a different kind of voice,” I told Vanessa. “Use it.” I would have told her that she had, in a way, been the person who got me a family, but I kept that to myself. By inspiring me to pray, she had changed my life.
As I walked out with my new family, I waved to Vanessa. She didn’t see me, though; she was sitting at the piano playing our song.
The last sound I heard as I walked out of the building was piano music: the soft, complex melody I would never forget.