EPISODES: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Epilogue.

PROLOGUE

DANA Bala arrived the Good Shepherd’s Home about a year and half ago. She had been dropped off by a mother who hadn’t spoken to anyone or even explained why she was leaving her daughter at the home. The woman had just parked her car in front of the gate, ordered Dana to get down, go inside and introduce herself to the Priest in-charge and she had driven off.

At least, that was how Dana had recounted it and how the old security guard had witnessed to it from his usual spot under the big mango tree beside the gate on that fateful evening. And almost eighteen months now, that car hadn’t shown up again at the gate and no one was really expecting it to.

The Good Shepherd’s Home was a home for abandoned and homeless teens. Most of them left by parents and guardians who promised to come back for them but never did. A very few came into the home on their own—seeking shelter, food, clothing and family. Many left after a while and most never came back even to say thank you to those who nurtured and cared for them. Really the tale of the proverbial ten lepers.

At the time, Dana Bala had been dropped off by a never-to-return mother, there’d been seven teenagers in the home—three girls and four boys. With her coming, they’d become an even number of four girls and four boys. But that had soon changed when only after two months of her arrival, one of the girls had gotten up one morning to announce that she was leaving. It had come as a big surprise to all, as Victoria had seemed the most grounded of all the youth in the home. Well, she’d left and was soon to be followed barely another two months later by Stephen.

With Victoria gone, Dana had become the sole proprietor of the room they’d shared. The teens were paired in twos not only because the home wasn’t so large but so as to encourage love and familiarity among them. Dana hadn’t seemed to care for such pairing. And since no one else came along after Victoria’s departure, she’d cheerfully ended up owning a room to herself—something she never ceased to brag about to the other girls.

Today was Dana Bala’s last day on Mother Earth. But like it was often said of death coming like a thief in the night, no one knew and most definitely not Dana.

She had woken up that morning, dressed as prettily as her meagre wardrobe allowed and then had appraised her tall, slim, light-skinned and pretty self in the narrow mirror in her bedroom, paying herself approving compliments before coming out to join in the usual Morning Mass. After the compulsory Mass, she had done what little had been assigned her that morning and finally excused herself, as she was often wont to do, on the pretext of asthmatic attacks.

The excuse this time though hadn’t entirely been pretence as she’d lately been suffering from regular attacks of headaches and vomiting. Of course, Sister Clara was beginning to suspect her of suffering from another ailment altogether but Dana knew that wasn’t it at all.

It was midday when anyone saw her again. They’d all gathered to pray the Angelus and thereafter the girls had gone off with Sister Clara to help out in the kitchen. But the smoke from the firewood would be too severe for her asthma, so Dana had remained in the refectory, her head bent over a book she wasn’t reading until she was certain the ground was clear.

Standing up and gingerly brushing her hand over her long, long-sleeved peach top over black leggings, she bent her head to survey herself before striding, in hip-swaying steps, towards the sitting room. She’d have preferred the top to be shorter and sleeveless, showing off her flawless light skin and nice curves, but she hadn’t dared wear the pink clingy top she secretly wore in her room, not with Sister Clara a.k.a. Mother Teresa around and scowling at her.

She strode into the large, old-fashioned furnished sitting room and found the boys there as she’d expected.

Dominic was at his usual spot on the old polyester-covered sofa by the window that overlooked the lawn, shuffling and reshuffling his pack of cards. That was his favourite pastime. And as she sashayed past him, he gave her his usual sneering look before turning away like she disgusted him. He was the oldest of the teenagers in the home, eighteen years old, and thinks that makes him special.

In all her time there, Dana hadn’t been able to penetrate his cold demeanour and since she’d failed to have him under her spell, she’d tagged him boring and had learned to ignore him just as he ignored her. At least visibly, because deep inside, she still seethed that he could treat her so nonchalantly.

Well, he wasn’t her mission that afternoon. The one with a book plastered over his face was, so she aimed for him.

He’d once been under her spell. Had even told her he liked her more than all the other girls. Had done secret things with her in the garden close to the Chapel. That was until five weeks ago, when he’d turned seventeen and Father had spent the entire Mass preaching like he was about to convert a sinner right out of hell. Well, he’d obviously converted Anthony because out of nowhere he’d announced to her that same evening that he was no longer interested in their escapades and wanted to be left alone by her.

The disgusting cripple!

“Tony, what are you reading? Some classical book about crippled saints?”

He hated being called ‘Tony’. Preferred to be called his full name—Anthony. Because according to him he was sure that St. Anthony of Padua hadn’t been called ‘Tony’. As if a cripple like him could ever be a saint, what a laugh!

“Tony? Not ignoring me, are you?” She slid into the divan sofa by the wall where he was sitting.

Anthony could smell the effusiveness of her perfume and wondered why an asthma patient would wear a perfume so strong. Though he was both irritated and tempted by her closeness, he didn’t say anything or put down his book. He knew that was the only way to punish her, by ignoring her.

That he ignored her annoyed Dana and because she was annoyed she sought to hurt him more. Pushing her body closer, she leaned her mouth towards his ear. “Ignoring me, are you, sweet, nerdy, crippled Tony?”

Anthony felt his whole body go hot at her closeness. Deliver me from temptation, Lord, he fervently prayed in his suddenly fast-beating heart.

“Want to guess what I was up to last night in the garden with Cyprian?” She deepened her girlish throaty voice.

At his sharp intake of breath behind the book, Dana knew she’d touched the right nerve and her mouth curled with a taunting smile. “And he could do it better than you too.”

Behind the book, Anthony bit his lips hard to stop the outburst. No, he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of knowing she’d touched him with her wickedness. He wouldn’t give her the joy of seeing the searing pain and jealous fury that slashed through him.

Dana continued to taunt. “He was so good. So strong.” She drew even closer. “So hard.” She almost giggled at her use of that somewhat forbidden word. “Why won’t he be? He doesn’t have an ugly limp to retard him, does he?”

She saw his fingers holding to the book tighten and look almost bloodless. Good, mission accomplished!

She made a long hissing sound and pushed to her feet, strutting towards the wide-open double door. As she neared Cyprian, she caught his wide, bewildered eyes on her. He always looked bewildered like everything shocked him, she thought with a mild revulsion. He wasn’t really her type. He was too young, just about fourteen-plus. Well, he’ll have to do until that pompous Anthony got over his foolishness and returned to her.

“Cyprian, you should stop over at my room later so we can continue from where we left off last night.” She told him in a caressing tone.

Her voice loud enough so Anthony and Dominic heard her.

Cyprian felt his whole face heat with acute embarrassment. He quickly averted his eyes from her swaying back and turned to look at Anthony. He had lowered his book and was looking back at him with dark angry eyes that were filled with accusation. Cyprian swung his eyes away and they locked into Dominic’s—which held knowing pity and scorn.

Cyprian returned his eyes to the Monopoly board in front of him. He swallowed hard because he felt like he was choking. Lifting his hand, he adjusted the collar of his black shirt. He wanted to tell them that nothing had happened between them. But they wouldn’t believe him; he had seen the look in their eyes. Besides, that would be compounding his sins.

Bitter tasting bile of anger and shame rolled inside of him. Now everyone knew he had broken the sixth commandment and all because of that she-devil. Oh, how he hated her at that moment.

DANA was relaxing against the head-frame of the not-so-comfortable single bed and staring furtively at the door when the knock came. Her glossy pink coated lips curved into a smug smile. She’d thought for a moment there that he wasn’t coming, but she should have known he wouldn’t be able to resist her invitation. Though he’d wasted time in coming but he’d come all the same.

Swinging her legs down, she slipped on her fluffy deep-pink flats and sauntered to the door, unlocking and pulling it open.

“Come right in.” She invited with a bright smile stepping back to allow him in. “Ah, I see you brought me a present too.” She giggled. “How nice of you. And my favourite drink too.”

She took the pack of juice that he extended towards her with slightly quivering hands, pleased to see that he wasn’t so at ease. That only meant he kind of feared her, which suited her just fine.

“I think I shall have a glass right now.” She said with a twinkling wicked smile.

She sashayed to the small reading desk, picked a stainless steel cup and poured until she filled the cup.

He watched as she lifted the glass and drank greedily. Feeling a little choked, he swallowed hard and tugged the collar of his black cotton shirt.

ABOUT an hour and half later, when she was stepping out from the garden, Dana staggered and before she could hold herself, fell flat on her face, and within a second, was stone dead. Succumbing to the inevitable power of death to which we must all surrender.

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