Placing her hand on the cold metal frame, she stoops down and reaches out for the bag she has hidden under the bed. She managed to retrieve it a couple of days earlier from its original hiding spot in the nook of her favorite pine tree that stands at the edge of the church’s cemetery. Of course, it’s not ideal for keeping her most valuable belongings safe from external elements, but the spot was secure enough to serve its purpose. The cemetery was located in the church’s backyard. It was relatively easy to reach – whenever she had the opportunity during her gardening chores – by slipping through a narrow gap in the fence hidden behind one of the tall bushes in the orphanage’s backyard, which is only accessible through the kitchen. It was also the furthest place possible from the caretakers’ persistent inspections and constant glares, which scrutinized her every move.
Here, in the orphanage, you were not supposed to have any possessions except for essential hygiene-related items. Being caught with anything that resembles a cherished commodity would entail a dreary week full of punishments and cause the item in question to be destroyed right in front of your eyes. Even the clothes you wear are referred to as no-image-clothing as they consist of bland colorless shirts and pants, forcing the wearer into a state of conformity.
After quickly retrieving her shoes and stuffing them hastily inside her bag, she stands up and presses the bag closer to her body as if she is trying to embrace it. She had never inherited anything from her biological parents, not even her father’s surname. According to one of the caretakers in the orphanage, she was discovered on the church’s doorstep back in 2003, wrapped in nothing but a blanket, with a note stating that she would be named Petra. The name never resonated with her, as she was rarely ever addressed by it.
Names tend to bestow a sense of individualism, which is highly frowned upon in the orphanage. You were generally ushered and called upon along with other children, and when it was necessary to address someone individually, the pronoun “you” was the most practical and straightforward choice.
Her possessions, therefore, consisted of various items that may otherwise be regarded as insignificant, but to her, they were her sole companions. She managed to steal the cotton bag itself a couple of years ago during one of her few excursions into the village to buy potatoes from a local farmer.
Children were not allowed to communicate with the outside world. They spent the majority of their lives confined to the orphanage’s grounds, with the exception of some rare instances where they earned the privilege of carrying out a couple of chores in the village, under the condition they exhibited excellent behavior and compliance. During her journey to the farmer’s market, she was struck by a brilliant idea and promptly put it into action: She ripped one of the bag’s handles and requested an extra bag from the farmer, keeping the new one tucked safely inside her clothes upon arriving at the orphanage.
Petra’s bed was located on the right side of the room, second from the door. The one preceding hers was occupied by two girls. On the upper level was Sally, who appeared to be fast asleep with her mouth slightly opened, and on the bottom one Dolly, whose diminutive figure was facing the room’s door. She hadn’t made a single move for the last five minutes, so it was probably safe to assume that she had fallen asleep as well.
Petra starts walking towards the door, her bare feet moving slowly and deliberately on the cold stone floor, trying to stifle the sound of her heavy breathing. This was not the first time she had gotten out of bed to take a midnight stroll, but tonight’s plan would require her to descend to the orphanage’s ground floor and into the kitchen. A very ambitious and risky endeavor.
The current floor consists of seven rooms varying in size. The dormitories are located on the northern side of the building, where children are segregated by gender and age group. The location of Petra’s dorm played an essential role in her mischievous plan. Being close to the staircase was quite advantageous, except for the fact that the room opposite hers belonged to Caretaker Sofia.
She has almost reached the door when a feeling of something tugging on the back of her sleeve causes the blood in her veins to freeze. In one swift movement, she turns around, making an effort to hide the bag behind her back, only to be met with Dolly’s bright hazel eyes staring up at her. Petra lets out a muffled sigh as the blood proceeds to course through her body once more.
Dolly was much shorter than Petra. Her fragile figure and pale skin suggested signs of severe malnutrition. The long ginger hair was knotted in an elaborate braid that rested on her right shoulder, with a couple of curls escaping in every direction. Her eyes peered timidly from beneath the curly bangs that obscured her eyebrows.
“Where are you going?” she whispered, “To the bathroom, go back to sleep,” answered Petra.
She takes a quick glance from Petra’s hands, clearly concealing something behind her back, to her bare feet, before returning her gaze with her typical worried expression. “What are you holding? Where are your shoes?”
“Go back to bed before someone wakes up,” Petra repeats a little more sternly this time. Dolly flinches at the evident change in tone and gives Petra a sheepish look before moving obediently towards her bed.
Dolly was brought into the orphanage when she was six years old, following the death of her parents. On the morning of her arrival, Petra was called into the caretaker’s office to be informed that she would assume the role of Dolly’s big sister.
Newcomers are usually assigned an older child as their big brother or sister. This role entails guiding newcomers by explaining the rules of conduct, the weekly schedule for tasks and study hours, punishments, and any other details relating to life at the orphanage. Big brothers and sisters also had a degree of authority, and they were expected to report on the newcomers’ behavior and obedience. On the other hand, the little brother or sister was supposed to show the highest respect and refrain from speaking back to his or her elder counterpart.
These encounters were sometimes far from being friendly. An already traumatized big sister or brother would, in many cases, take much pleasure in exerting their superiority over the younger ones, even misleading them at times, causing the befuddled kid to commit a punishable act.
Petra never took advantage of such authority, however. She wasn’t too fond of other people, but she didn’t enjoy harming or inflicting suffering on others unless they had done something to earn it. Her attitude towards Dolly was adequately friendly, which consisted of easing her into accepting her new miserable life while trying to avoid forming a close connection.
The rules of conduct also prohibit forming close relations with others. Caretakers in white coats were always seen hovering around in rooms and hallways, monitoring the children’s every move and interaction while jotting down notes on their clipboards as if their lives depended on it. Interactions that lasted too long or resulted in laughter or even a slight smile were immediately reported and punished accordingly.
This particular rule was suitable for someone as reclusive as Petra, who preferred to stray away from the herd and delve into hours of daydreaming while carrying out various tedious chores around the place. Her time alone decreased after Dolly’s arrival, but she discovered, to her surprise, that she didn’t really mind the company. Despite being an easily intimidated and shy person, Dolly was highly perceptive. She gained some insight into Petra’s personality, made sure to respect her personal space, and avoided being overly intrusive.
Not wanting to waste valuable time, Petra heads towards the door and inspects both sides of the corridor. No one is around. The room opposite hers, occupied by Caretaker Sofia, a stern, hard-to-cross woman, has been empty for the past couple of days due to a family emergency, making tonight’s endeavor possible. Sofia usually stays up late with her door wide open, monitoring the hallway and the staircase. She wanders around, keeping an eye on the infirmary adjacent to her room.
Petra looks at the closed door opposite her in relief, turns right, and proceeds towards the staircase.
(…to be continued…)
Series – Evanescent
January: If Something Can Go Wrong…It Will – Jonay Quintero Hernández (Spain)
February: The Planet of Pleasure – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)
March: Evening with Jackie Chan – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)
April: Vuvuzelas, Walkie-Talkies and Madiba Magic – Sarah-Leah Pimentel (South Africa)
May: Remembering – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)
June: 5-4-3-2-1 – Talia Stotts (America)
July: Getting Ready for Newborns – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)
August: Regrets – Kate Korneeva (Russia)
September: A Hollow Pursuit – Diana Haidar (Syria)
October: The Test – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)
November: A Life Rekindled – Lauren Voaden (United Kingdom)
December: Translation Perfect – Zhang Lu (China)
Special: Catching Water III – Javier Gomez (Argentina)
Background – Context
Transadaptation Volume 2: Conceived – Childhood Transadapted, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2021)
Transadaptation Volume 1: In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
Emblems and stories on the international community
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world
Cover photo: Hosn, Syria – From above – Torsten Pursche (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed