I started teaching at the orphanage the following Wednesday. Khadija taught there every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and I was going to teach every Wednesday and Friday so Khads gave Yusha Tuesdays, so that the kids could at least have lessons from Monday to Friday. We grouped the kids into two groups, based on their ages, and decided to teach each group for an hour everyday. Then we could increase the timings later on as they progressed and we had more volunteers.
The first day I decided to teach the younger group first. I went in the room they had turned into a classroom for the first lesson, greeted them with a smile and gave them a short introductory talk. As I was concluding the talk I noticed that Brianna was missing. “Where’s Brianna?” I asked the class. Some of them shrugged, looking disinterested, others mumbled something and a few of them snickered. I frowned. What was going on here? I remembered Khads saying that Brianna was subject to taunts and bullying and abruptly got up,”all of you remain sitting and be quiet, I’m just going to fetch Brianna.”
I went to look for Brianna and found her in the same room as before. She was sitting on the settee, her knee drawn up, looking out of the window, lost in thought.
“Brianna,” I said softly. She jumped and turned to look at me wide eyed. She relaxed a bit when she saw me but the guarded look in her eyes was back. I sat down next to her, carefully leaving a space between us. “Brianna,” I repeated,”how come you haven’t come to class today?”
She shrugged and looked down, fiddling with her hands. “Don’t you want to come?” I continued,”we’re going to have so much fun learning about different things! Don’t you want to show me how much you know?”
“No,” she replied sullenly,”I don’t want to come.”
“Why not, Brianna? Do you want to tell me why?”
She shrugged again, avoiding eye contact. I sighed. How was I going to get through to her? I decided to be blunt. “Is someone troubling you, Brianna? Does anyone laugh at you or make fun of you? Is that why you sit by yourself here?”
I had struck a nerve there. Her eyes filled with tears and she clenched her little fists in her lap. “Yes,” she whispered,”they laugh at my leg. Because I can’t walk nicely. They say I walk like a grandma. And one big boy…he said my mummy threw me down the stairs because I’m a good…good for nothing.” Tears started spilling out of the corners of her eyes and my heart just broke a little for her. How cruel this world was, for people who didn’t fit the “perfect” image.
I took Brianna’s hands in my own and leaned forward to look into her eyes,”no Brianna, you’re not a good for nothing. You’re a very special, and a very strong girl. Don’t listen to what anybody says, ok? I’m here for you and you can come tell me anything you want and I’ll help you out. Now will you come to class with me?” I looked earnestly into her eyes. She hesitated for a while,”they’ll laugh at me again.”
“Nobody is going to laugh at you, my darling. Everyone is going to see how strong you are. Come show me how nicely you walk with those crutches.” She got up slowly and walked forward a bit. I clapped my hands,”that’s it, darling! So many people can’t even walk with that, it’s so hard! The next time anyone teases you just lift your crutch like this,” I placed my hand over hers and lifted the crutch,”and whack them one! Then they’ll never trouble you again!” Brianna broke out in a giggle and I smiled at her,”you’re my strong warrior and don’t you ever forget that.” I brushed her hair away from her forehead and pressed a kiss there. Her eyes shone with joy at my small gesture and it touched me so much. It was a small gesture that I did without thinking and yet it meant so much to this little child who was deprived of a simple, loving touch.
“What’s a warrior?” she asked shyly.
“A fighter,” I smiled at her.
She smiled back at me and walked a little straighter. We entered the classroom where the kids were talking and laughing away; as soon as they saw us they stopped talking. I heard a few snickers again and frowned. I led Brianna to the front then turned to face the class with Brianna sitting by my side.
“I want to tell you all something,” I began,”I have noticed you all teasing Brianna about her leg. This leg of hers,” I tapped her leg gently,”is a sign of courage, not of weakness. It is a symbol of the hurt she has born yet she continues to rise everyday. She has been through alot and you all aren’t making life any easier for her by constantly picking on her. Shall I tell you all a story?” They nodded and I took a deep breath. This was totally off the top of my head and I had no idea how I was going to put this story forward but anyways, here goes,
”There was a man who lived a long time ago. His name was Nuh (A.S). He was such a good man that everybody loved him. And everybody wanted to be his friend. Then one day Allah made him a prophet. Allah told him to tell people to stop doing wrong things and worship only Allah and pray to Allah. Now the people didn’t like that. They didn’t want to pray because they were bad people. So they stopped liking Nuh (A.S) because he was telling them to pray. They started making fun of Nuh (A.S) and teasing him. He got very sad and prayed to Allah to take him far away from those bad people. Allah told him to build a ship then he could go far away from those people. When Nuh (A.S) was building the ship all the bad people started laughing at him because there was no water anywhere so where would he sail his ship? But Nuh (A.S) ignored them and continued building the ship. After Nuh (A.S) finished building the ship Allah told him to take all the good people in his ship and leave all the bad people. Then Allah sent down lots of rain and all the bad people went away and only the good people remained. So, my dear children,” I continued,”what we learn from this story is that just because a person is different he doesn’t have to be a bad person. Nuh (A.S) was different from all the other people but he was a good person. Even though people were teasing him and making fun of him he was actually a good person so Allah saved him…” I paused to take a breath. One girl stood up,”so are we bad people for teasing Brianna?” she asked timidly.
I shook my head,”no sweetie,no one is a bad person here. You are all very good boys and girls and but you always need to do good things. Don’t tease someone just because they’re different from you because they might be such wonderful people and you would just be hurting them by making fun of them. Let’s all be friends ok? I don’t want to hear anyone getting hurt by anyone anymore. You all are brothers and sisters so live together nicely and you all shall be happy.” I decided I had said enough for one day and stood up. As I was gathering my things I heard one boy asking,”who is Allah?”
I smiled and turned to him,”Allah is our God, sweetheart. He made you and me and all of us here and this whole world and everything in it. Allah loves all of us, sweetie so if you all want anything ask Allah to give it to you and he will definitely give it to you one day inshaAllah.”
The children were all smiling as I left them and I felt a sense of joy and accomplishment that I hadn’t felt before. Mum was right, spending time with children and especially orphans softened my heart, and it made me grateful for the little blessings I had taken for granted before.
As I was leaving the place I heard someone calling me. I turned and saw Brianna making her way towards me as fast as she could. I went towards her and as I reached her she threw down her crutches and threw herself in my arms, twining her arms tightly around my neck and burying her face in my neck. I felt her body shaking and grew alarmed. What had happened now? Had those kids not heard a word of what I had said?
“Brianna,” I said gently, prying away her arms from my neck and moving her back slightly so I could see her face,”what’s wrong, sweetie? What happened?”
Her lower lip trembled,”they…they said sorry! They want to be my…my friends now!” she smiled happily at me through her tears, a bright ray of sunshine bursting through stormy clouds.
I broke out into an exultant smile as I realised that the worst of the storm had passed for this beautiful child. The path from here was still long and rocky but there was finally a glimmer of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. I embraced her tightly and held on to her a little longer, willing my touch to begin stitching together the fragments of her broken heart. As I pulled away from her, I smiled into her eyes and whispered,”warriors never lose.”