We are Family

Growing up in a shelter home, I have seen a lot of different types of girls come and go. It is strange how all the girls in the shelter home felt disconnected from others in the world but seem to have connected with each other through our sorrows. I was very young when I got lost in a crowd. I do not remember that day too clearly, in fact, I don’t even remember my parents’ face as clearly either. It feels like I was there with them for a minute and then I was brought to a house with lots of girls like me. Like many other girls who come to our home, I started out with a sense of disinterest and disconnect with everyone around me, but soon realized that we are the closest thing to what a family would be like. This helped me look out for other girls in my shelter.

Among all the girls I remember meeting from when I was a child, there was one who had tuberculosis. She was a nice and kind person, but every time she coughed, she would vomit blood. Back then no one had really explained to me what exactly had happened to her, I was only told that she will probably not live as long. My young mind remembered this experience as people who bleed without a cut, die. As days went by, this girl became increasingly sick and was eventually taken for medical care. I did not meet her again.

A few years after that, a sudden feeling of wetness in my underwear got me running to the bathroom. I was really embarrassed with the idea of having wet my pants while taking my afternoon nap. However, in the bathroom, I realized that it was not pee. I washed up and quietly came back to the room. At tea time, I offered my tea to a friend of mine who loved tea way more than I did. I refused to join the other girls at game time and then at dinner I gave my food to someone else who wanted to have a second helping. A dear friend of mine was observing all this and found it completely outside my personality to not play or even drink my evening tea. She checked with me if I was doing fine. I hugged her immediately and let her know that I loved her a lot. She pushed away from me and shouted what was wrong. I just let her know that she was one of my best friends in the shelter. She ran out of the room and told the staff about my ‘strange’ behaviour who called me to her asking what might have happened. I let her know that I have tuberculosis and that I would die. She was scared out of her wits and asked how I knew this. I let aunty know about the bloodstains in my clothes and how I remember this old girl who would cough blood and had less time to live. Aunty laughed it off and gave me a sanitary napkin to wear for the night.

Having no clue on what a sanitary napkin was meant to do, I tried to hold the pad between my inner thighs, inside my panty. It was difficult, but I was happy that at least I am not going to die. That night and the next day I walked in a strange manner, pressing the pad between my legs and hoping it wouldn’t fall off. Some of the senior girls saw walk like that and asked what was wrong. I shared about the new napkin I was gripping between my legs and after having a good laugh, they taught me how to stick a sanitary napkin in my underwear so I wouldn’t be scared of it falling off. This is one of the funniest and also the best memories I have from my days in the shelter home, for two reasons – one, that I knew I was not going to die, and second, that it was reconfirmed in my head that we are indeed a family, where we all look out for each other.