Ruth Shepherd looked at the baby in her arms and compared it to her own body. The baby was fair skinned like its father Brian, but it seemed quite content to be enclosed in her brown arms and attach to her greedily at feeding time. She marvelled at the miracle of birth that had produced her daughter from the union of two greatly different heritages in marriage. Ruth examined the baby more closely to see she was not dreaming. It was too early to judge who the baby looked like. She imagined it to resemble Brian’s family more closely, but those deep brown eyes identified a Southern Asia heritage. Her heart overflowed with joy at the touch of this young life. She’d not felt this way before and a softness chipped away at the hardness inside as she remembered her childhood. That was when she was Roopa and not Ruth. Roopa, blessed with beauty as she understood the meaning of her name, but it was long ago, and her memories of the language had dimmed though the horrors of her childhood had not. Perhaps this baby would erase some of that pain now.
Her earliest memories were of a train platform and of a slightly older boy who she imagined must have been her brother. She remembered the routines. Begging from those who it was apparent had the means to be charitable and sometimes scoring with enough for a meal, but the motivation for giving was not sympathy for Roopa and her brother but rather to gain merit through that gift to ensure reincarnation into a better life form in the after life in the endless cycle of reincarnation. That is until the ultimate merging with Brahma. There were other routines such as the collection and sale of trash which was tolerated by rail authorities struggling to keep their platforms clean and running errands for money.
But there were dangers they had to be aware of and they had to run fast to avoid them. Adults looking for children to sell to human traffickers were a constant threat, and too a lesser extent so were the social workers who periodically rounded them up to be deposited in institutions where they were supposed to be benefited through education, food, and a better place to rest safely. The social workers were not the problem and had honest motives and sympathies in rounding them up. But once inside there were instances of the children being traded for the night to rich people with money to spend. It had happened to Roopa on some occasions as a child and the social worker who came every day to try and rehabilitate the children came to know of this and the shelter worker was transferred to another location much to the anger of the social worker who grieved for damage done to the child and thought he should be jailed. The social worker determined to put Roopa at the head of a queue for adoption. There were foreign families looking to give such children a chance in life. The brother who’d gone through similar abuse had escaped not to be seen by Roopa again and had probably jumped a train to another city to get away from this abuse.
Then one day Roopa was summonsed to meet the social worker. She showed Roopa pictures of a foreign family and asked Roopa what she thought of the picture. The child studied the picture for a long time. It was the picture of a man, woman and three children. They were white. She had seen some white people boarding trains at the station before she was captured and locked into this shelter and had wondered what disease had made their skin so white. Some had been kind and given her money and some had treated her as if she didn’t exist. She remembered handing the picture back to the social worker and saying nothing. Each day the social worker would show Roopa the picture and inquire what the child thought as she viewed the picture. Eventually Roopa asked about the children. Had they been taken from a shelter by these adults and what was that clean place they were living in theirs? The social worker had explained the children belonged to the two adults and they were loved and happy. Roopa had no understanding of love or happiness and the social worker shed tears trying to explain what that meant. Roopa felt sorry for the social worker seeing her in tears.
Then one day the social worker told her they were to take a long journey together. They were to fly high in the sky on one of the airplanes Roopa had seen fly over the quadrangle at the back of the shelter. Roopa was terrified. What if they fell out of the sky? Roopa couldn’t sleep at night for some time thinking about that but as time wore on those fears left her. During the year that followed the social worker was hard at work on Roopa’s behalf. There were passports to attend to, permission to enter the other country and the documents of adoption and permit to enter America. It took more than a year but eventually it all come together with Roopa unaware of what was happening on her behalf. She’d quite forgotten about the family in the picture by the time all these permissions had come together.
Then one day the social worker called Roopa from class. She was taken out of the shelter to the social worker’s home where servants bathed her, and a hairdresser fussed over her hair. She was dressed in strange clothes and invited to look in the mirror. Roopa studied herself in the mirror soberly and wondered what it was all about. They were accompanied to the airport by people Roopa had never met before and she followed patiently waiting inside a gleaming building where hundreds milled around inside waiting for the call to enter a gate. She walked through doors and along corridors and entered a silver tube with seats. She and the social worker walked down the aisle and the social worker indicated where they should sit. Roopa found the sound of swishing air pleasant as the plane ascended and immediately fell asleep in her chair to be woken periodically when food was bought for them to eat. Then after sleeping again she became wide awake and watched with interest people moving up and down the aisle serving drinks and food.
The social worker eventually told her they would soon be arriving at their destination and she felt a bump as the plane landed slowing down with a roar which frightened her. Some time after arrival they were walking through corridors again to emerge into a milling crowd linking up for processing. A man at a table examined documents carefully asking a lot of questions from the social worker and eventually waved them through after stamping the documents. They took their luggage through another door and the social worker paused to scan crowds waiting to welcome arrivals. They moved in the direction of someone holding a placard identifying themselves and Roopa remembered the faces on that photo she’d seen several times long ago. The people handed Roopa a stuffed toy and spoke excitedly in a language she could not understand. They headed for the car park and found a minibus waiting for them. The white children spoke excitedly to Roopa in their strange language and she stared at them trying to comprehend what was going on. Her social worker translated the conversations and she understood she was to stay with this family from then on and the children were welcoming her into their home. Roopa was frightened and wanted the social worker to take her back to the shelter but the social worker gently told her she now belonged to this family. Her name was no longer Roopa, but Ruth. She was Ruth Bradfield from that day until her marriage.
Ruth looked at her baby and smiled. She could not remember when or how she learned English. The family had treated her lovingly, but she was constantly on her guard and cried when social worker left to return on that long journey back home. The family hired a woman from the sub-continent to live in and care for her in the transition period until she acquired her new language skills, and the family could converse with her themselves. The children pointed at things and gave them sounds in this new language. Roopa would point at the same things and repeat the names in Hindi and her new brothers and sister would walk around the home repeating the things Roopa taught them. She began to enjoy the game and her language skills improved under instruction from her Indian tutor and the children.
With her new language skills, she was home schooled up to the point where she could join regular school and she remembered how difficult it was to make friends. Some of the children were kind and supportive but there were others who bullied her. She would take it as that’s what she learned living on the station platform with her brother where kindness was a rare commodity. Apart from the loving family adopting her she was constantly on her guard with those around her. She’d not learned to trust yet.
High School was a blur. but she remembered college as a place of interest. She shunned contact outside classrooms and poured herself into learning. By now she was achieving high grades and the more knowledge she drank in the more she yearned for a never-ending quest for knowledge. Counsellors advised her to pursue an academic career and she determined to be a teacher. She was now in boarding and supported fully in her quest for higher education. Her relationship with her adopted family was formal. She greatly appreciated what they’d done to rescue her from the shelter and educate her but didn’t know how to express her appreciation. The family understood the trauma she’d faced as a child and made no demands of her.
It was when she commenced MA study, she met Brian Shepherd and her name Roopa from childhood was now a distant memory. She was now Ruth Bradfield and felt comfortable with that. Brian and Ruth had a common interest in a research project given them in class and shared their ideas after class. It was natural for them to sit around together discussing classwork at school or in a social environment and they bonded well together. But when Brian asked her if she’d be willing to accompany him to a party she quickly refused, and her guard went up again. Their relationship cooled for a while, but their common interest in education saw them back together soon after that and Ruth relaxed in his company again. In their final year of study Brian tried again and this time she agreed. Her experience with men as a child had her on her guard but Brian did not make any moves and each time they went out together she grew to trust him more. So, when he asked her to marry him, she hesitated but soon after said yes. She realized she needed him in her life.
When she told her adopted parents, they were delighted but told her that she should be open and honest with him from the beginning and let him know of the abuse she’d suffered as a child as this could affect their marriage. So, Ruth poured it out and waited for the response. Brian sat and thought about that then reached over and hugged her indicating he’d work with her in dealing with her traumatic childhood. And it was tough as she tried to break through the hardness she’d developed from her experience and learn to trust him. It was hard on Brian. He wanted to pour out his love on her and was sometimes frustrated at her response but his love for her remained strong through these difficult times. Slowly she responded to this demonstrated love and did her best to understand it for his sake.
Then one night she felt an unconditional acceptance of his love for her and gave herself unreservedly to him. He cried afterward and she tenderly comforted him realizing what a sacrifice he’d made to prove his love.
And now this baby was the evidence of her liberation from a horrendous past. She’d give herself over and over to this man who’d been so understanding and loving to her as she dealt with her issues and make every day the kind of day she’d seen modelled by the Bradfield’s as she grew up in their home. She was just beginning to understand the sacrifices each in turn had made to bring her to the happy situation she found herself in now and determined this child in her arms and those to follow would see love modelled to them too every day in the family Brian and she were creating together.
© Copyright 2021 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved
© pexels-photo-3030199 Himesh Mehta
2 thoughts on “Roopa”
A great story, Ian. One of trauma and one of hope that life events can turn around for the better.
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I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. While the story in this case may be fiction in actuality this does happen all too often, even in our own countries unfortunately.
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