The girl was wearing her parent’s 15th birthday present: a white collared dress with a blue ribbon tied on it. She really didn’t like the dress but her Aunt Vera insisted she wear it on that day, so she would look respectable in front of Sister Clara, the owner of the said orphanage. The place where she is supposed to be living until she reaches her legal age.
Yoan’s parents just got their marriage annulled last week, while she was having her birthday party with her friends and colleagues. Neither of them wanted to take the custody of their only child, Yoana Gaelic – nicknamed Yoan. It was her father’s younger sister, Aunt Vera who took her instead. However, Aunt Vera herself couldn’t afford to support her financially. It was simply because her young Aunt was still on College, though she already got a job as a freelance writer. Yoan’s parents didn’t have much money left for her, so they really couldn’t help her. Yoan already expected that.
Sister Clara’s orphanage was the only left option for her. She’s expected to live there and take care of the orphaned children until she turned eighteen. And when that time comes, she has to leave the place, look for a job and settle down to her Aunt Vera’s place. Aunt Vera had already explained every single detail to her.
Yoan tilted her head towards the window where she could see her own reflection. She gazed at her own image there, as if she didn’t recognize the girl her bright green eyes were seeing. Or is it really a girl? She really looked like a skinny, pale boy because of her hair cut. Thanks to her Aunt Vera who have messed up with her hair. Her Aunt was only supposed to cut down her long brown hair into a short but a girly one. And that’s what happened. It’s not really a very good sight, wasn’t it?
“We’re here.” Said Aunt Vera as she made her own way out from the taxi.
Yoan followed her silently.
She heard her Aunt telling the cab driver to wait for her. “Give me just ten minutes.” She said.
Yoan took her attention away from them and stared at the orphanage standing in front of her. It looked like an old house that was built a hundred years ago or so. She guessed it has three floors with so many rooms for the children. The place was also surrounded by flocks of huge trees that gave the orphanage an eerie atmosphere.
She looked around after noticing something. The orphanage was supposed to be a very noisy place because of the children living in it. But it wasn’t. And it was still broad daylight.
That’s strange. She thought.
“So you’ve noticed?”
Yoan cocked her head sideways and saw a woman who seemed a few years older than Aunt Vera. She had this kind of a smile that makes anyone who sees it to wonder if it’s genuine or not. A quick glance at her head piece and dull gray eyes told Yoan that the woman she must get along in her new home now stood in front of her.
“The children are always on their beds during this hour. It’s just natural for the place to be silent when the noisy makers are all asleep.” The nun continued. “You must be Yoana?”
She just stared at her but didn’t make an effort to reply.
For others, it would be really rude not to answer older people’s question. But for Yoan, it was just normal not to.
“Excuse me?” The woman furrowed her brown brows.
“If you are waiting for her to reply, you better think of it again, Clara. Or should I say, Sister Clara?” It was Aunt Vera who was starting to flash a big smile on her face.
The woman who had talked to Yoan smiled happily to the writer. “We meet again, Vera.”
Now, that was a true smile. Yoan thought.
AUNT Vera and Sister Clara made a small talk about Yoan, as their subject was strolling around the place. The orphanage wasn’t a good place to spend your days as a girl like her grows up. But she really had no choice. It was the only place her Aunt Vera knew that would accept Yoan.
“She was like that already when she turned fifteen last week. She never talked to anyone since that day. I almost lost my patience to her and was tempted to hurt her because of that.” Aunt Vera said before making a sip to the tea Sister Clara had given her.
“Hitting her will do no good to her case. You said her parents’ marriage was just annulled last week. Don’t you think it was because of that?” asked Sister Clara.
“I’ve also thought that possibility. I already told my brother about her case.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said he couldn’t take care of her if she’ll stay like that until she grows up.”
“That’s horrible. Yoana needs her parents.”
“I know.” Aunt Vera said desperately and sighed. “But what can I do? My brother’s so stubborn. And so is his ex-wife.”
When the writer suddenly heard the horn of the cab she left outside, she abruptly stood up. “Oh, God. I forgot the Cab. I’ve got to go, now.” She said as she snatched her handbag and made her way out from the orphanage.
“Vera, aren’t you going to say good bye to your niece?” Sister Clara reminded her.
“I already did back at home.” She said but suddenly stopped and turned to face the Sister. “Clara…”
“Can you do me a favor?”
“What is it?”
“Please take good care of Yoan.”
Sister Clara slowly smiled at her. “Don’t worry, I will.”
SHE can hear it. A very beautiful melody played by an unknown instrument. It was so sad she almost wanted to cry. Yoan wondered if the player was in agony. It was coming from the deep forest at the far back of the orphanage. She felt herself wanting to follow the sound and gently pat the shoulder of whoever was playing it.
He or she might have been crying at this minute.
She made a one step forward.
“You better not try to do, what I think you are thinking to do.” Said a small voice from behind her.
She turned around to face the person who have spoken and found no one behind her.
“Up here.” Said the voice from above.
She looked up on a single tree standing at the backyard of the orphanage and saw a blond haired boy hanging upside down on one of its branches. He seemed a few years younger than her and if she’s not mistaken, the boy belonged to Clara’s Orphanage.
I thought all the children had gone to bed?
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” he asked.
“That explains it.” He said. “You don’t know that the place you were heading is off-limits to everybody.”
Why is that? Her brows furrowed.
The boy seemed to understand her silent question. “Oh, you want to know the reason? I’ll tell you. But only if—”
Yoan stopped his babbling by tossing him one of her chocolate bars from her pocket.
He looked surprised but somehow caught it hastily. “Well, this will do.” He said as he put it inside his own pocket. “I’ll tell you now. Will you believe me if I tell you that if you walk deep in that forest, you will find another big forest? Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? Another forest inside a forest. Anyways, they say it was called the ‘Green Forest’. And there’s also a rumor that it was magical and at the same time— dangerous. ” He then lowered his voice as if what he’s going to say next was not supposed to be said aloud. “Because whoever goes in, can never go back.”
Yoan seemed like she couldn’t believe what he was saying.
And the boy amazingly got the message. “Oh you don’t believe me? That would be your choice. I don’t care if people really believe me or not. However, as a token of thanks for your gratitude on giving me your chocolate, I’ll give you an advice. Don’t you ever try to go in there.” He said as he climbed down from the tree. “Anyways, my real name is Thomas. But I prefer to be called Tom. I really hate it when people keep on using my father’s name. Will you call me Tom instead?”
He gave her a wide grin. “Thanks! You’d be the first one to call me Tom if you do that. What’s your name, anyway?”
She didn’t answer.
Tom blinked. “Hey! I said what’s your name?!”
“What are you doing here, Thomas?” It was Sister Clara who was heading toward them. “Isn’t it time for your afternoon sleep?”
Tom looked flustered. “Oh, yeah right.” He said and ran towards the backdoor of the orphanage but stopped in midway. He turned to face Yoan again. “It’s nice to meet you, Lady.” He said and turned around.
Yoan narrowed her eyes as she watched him leave. Instinct told her that young Tom just said a name she very well knew in the past. But who?