students collaborate: marisol hernandez, alena mcIntosh
Next up in our series of collaborations by creative writing and photography students at JH Community School, we have a photo by Marisol Hernandez and accompanying story by Alena McIntosh.
BEYOND THE GREAT WALL by Alena McIntosh
The purple orchid came in a yellow box with a green ribbon tied around the top, a vision of happiness and sunshine. Yet, the rain fell with loud splats on the hard concrete sidewalk outside the 1950s office building. The muddy blues and greens of the paint glinting in the deep puddles tricked passersby into believing that the rain was only temporary, and that the sun was creeping out from it’s hiding place in the clouds. They would raise their heads and glance hopefully up into the murky sky only to be disappointed and let their faces slip back into their grim expressions. Cable cars clicked and clacked up the hill as cars zoomed by sending freezing sprays of water onto grumbling pedestrians. It was winter, and so the rain attacked the earth like a savage lion, rearing its wild mane.
Layla Adams sat at her desk surveying the chaos of the office before her. She hated the chaos of the morning. The frantic running of interns, the click clack of stiletto heals on the hard linoleum floors, the shouts and bellows of grumpy workers, all made her feel like she was in some kind of adult playground. However, she had never been the type of person to go against the status quo, preferring to stay inside the boundaries of everyone else’s creativity and individuality. Layla’s assistant scurried into the office holding a box that was much to bright for either the office or Layla.
“Mrs. Adams, this just came for you.”
“Thank you, Shanna. You can set it on the desk.” Shanna set the package safely on the corner of Layla’s desk before quietly departing. Layla took her feet off of her desk and pulled the package closer to her, trying to find a tag or card without success. She tugged the frilly green ribbon off of the yellow box and pulled out a light purple orchid.
She instantly knew whom it was from; they had been sending her an orchid each year since she had turned eighteen. Memories of the orphanage were burned into her brain. She managed to keep them from interrupting her daily life, but these annual flowers caused them all to bubble over. Even now, she could only bring back small recollections, but they were as clear as day. The prison- like walls of the orphanage filled with the high pitched screaming and yelling of children. Their loud screams filled the air as their parents pried themselves out of their grasp and ran down the drive, most of them never looking back. At one point Layla had been one of the crying children as her parents’ car veered away from the curb and into the thick London traffic. She had only been seven, but the memory of being abandoned crashed over her like a large wave she could not seem to extract herself from. She also remembered the bullies. They came out at night to reek havoc on sleeping students. They would punch, kick or tease the kids until, eyes red and swollen they would run into the matron’s office for shelter from the bombardment. Layla had been one of the bullies. She felt joy in the pain she caused people, it made her feel important and special. Looking back she hated herself for what she had done to those innocent children of her childhood. Most of them were just like her, abandoned, sad, and resentful. So why had she been so cruel? The simple answer was that she wanted to feel important, but it went much deeper than that. She wanted to escape the pain of her situation by making others pay for what her parents had done to her. She wanted revenge. As time progressed, she realized she would never be adopted and wondered if it was because she was not as cute and innocent as the others, or if it was because she was not good enough to be anyone’s daughter. The years past, and life at the orphanage became rougher and rougher. She was no longer as aggressive towards other people, but became more introverted, avoiding eyes and keeping the pain she felt to herself. When she finally broke free of the orphanage at age eighteen, London has lost the mystique and intrigue that she had felt as a young child. She could no longer call the place that had caused her so much suffering “home”. She spent her life’s savings on a plane ticket to the United States. After arriving in the U.S., Layla worked her way through collage and secured a well-paid job as a food critic.
Layla, realizing she still held the orchid in her hands, dumped it into the trashcan by her desk. She pulled open a drawer in her desk and pulled out a small pocketknife, stowing it in her pocket. She walked to the back door of the office and stepped out into the rain. She pulled the knife out of her pocket and placed it on her wrist, slicing away the pain. Her blood mixed with the raindrops, falling heavy like tears.