Isobelle Carmody Award
for Creative Writing
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,