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Orphan Train

Madison Melton

Isobelle Carmody Award

for Creative Writing

Honourable Mention

Somehow, even at a mere five years old, I knew I would never see my

mother again. Perhaps I hoped it would not be so, and when I was all

grown up I’d somehow find her in the huge place that is New York

City. But I had never been much of a dreamer.

It was an uncharacteristically frigid March morning, the train

station bustling with passengers of all shapes and sizes. The orphans

were always easy to pick out; most were dressed in little more than

patched pants and ragged dresses. Faded ribbons hung loose on the

lopsided pigtails of the younger girls. These were children exposed

much too early to hardship, who had never heard the words ‘I love

you’. This was my fate; it had been since the day my mother left me

at an orphanage, five years ago.

‘You look after your sibling, you hear?’ In my memory, she always

looked like an angel. Golden hair, beautiful features, clothed in a

stunning white dress. Her hand rested gently on her protruding belly,

settling the being growing inside. The reality was different.

‘I promise,’ I nodded solemnly, five-year-old me not

understanding the harsh solemnity of what was happening. Her plea

had confused me at first; but when a little bundle of life was left at

the doorstep, I understood. I peered out the window, watched her

walk away. Mama turned around for a final time, and I will never

forget her expression. Her entire being was in indecision, logic and

love at war. Logic won that battle; but little did she know love had

stepped in. A gift more powerful than anything else: a brother.

Somebody to love, something worth holding onto. Some children

cried themselves to sleep. Some children did not speak again for

years. But I stood strong, steady. I had a promise to keep.

‘Come, Oliver, we don’t want to miss the train!’ I reprimanded,

but my tone was gentle. The scrawny-haired child looked up from

his game, eager to please. I held out my pale hand and he took it.

‘What’s your name, Miss?’ The ticket conductor was kind, sharply

punching a hole in my ticket and my brother’s.

‘Aurelia, sir,’ I replied proudly.

‘Have a nice ride, Aurelia,’ the ticket master winked.

That night, falling asleep was harder than it had ever been. Our

seats were straight backed, hard and cold. Oliver lay across my lap,

his gentle breaths having relaxed long ago. Everyone’s dreams were

always similar: snapshots of a happy family, a beautiful house. Some

nights, when I lay awake alone, I could almost imagine the dreams,