The Witch, The Groom and The Orphan (1)
Huge thanks to kristenanna for the kofi! (1/2)
Her memories before fifteen were hazy. It was the same every day. She lived in an orphanage for as long as she could remember, and she wasn’t able to leave it for 15 years. She woke up early in the morning, cleaned like a maid, ate whatever was given to her like a pig, and barely fell asleep, exhausted.
The funniest thing that happened there was making the director fall over by covering the floor with candles.
Tired of labor, the children lost their innocence early. So did she. Due to lack of food, food had to be stolen, and if caught, they blamed anyone else. On bad days, you would be framed.
It didn’t matter. Because everyone was stealing, in the end, they were punished fairly. It was only the difference between getting hit early or late. Besides, she had a strong temper, so she gave back what she received. All the children who pushed her had to roll down the stairs and get bruises.
Sometimes she was hit even though she didn’t do anything wrong when the director or nannies were in a bad mood.
-You little rat!
She crouched like a ball and endured the harsh beatings. She always stole food on those days. She was always punished first, so she didn’t feel regretful even if she made a mistake. If her stomach was full, the wounds felt less painful.
When winter came, children who were not strong or not quick with their hands died one after another from pneumonia caused by malnutrition.
Fortunately, she wasn’t of that kind.
Living was hard.
Still, she was not pessimistic about life.
She originally thought everyone lived like that. Because she didn’t know anything else. The scenery inside the orphanage’s gate was all she knew.
But once, and only once, she had a glimpse of an ordinary life.
She thought about it sometimes.
‘If I hadn’t seen it that day, would my life have been different?’
‘Could it have been a more dull and boring, but flat life?’
‘No hope, no despair.’
Even if it wasn’t for that, she would have realized it someday. So she had no regrets.
Knowing was always better than not knowing at all.
At least she thought so.
It was winter.
On her way back from washing laundry in the icy river with her red, frozen hands, she noticed a bright light leaking out of a house. That yellow light seemed infinitely warm. She approached it as if possessed.
It was the feast of St. Walpurg, a festival that came once a year. It was the birthday of the greatest witch in history. People gathered with their families to enjoy dinner, exchange gifts, and came out to the square at midnight to light gas lamps and dance all night long.
Witches hid on Walpurgis Island, and even in an age where witchcraft was persecuted to the point where a witch hunter was a popular profession, old customs were still strong. In the private sector, the Walpurg feast was still the biggest event.
Brown-haired children were sitting around a table, hitting it as if playing drums. She couldn’t hear a single word, but immediately recognized that they were sisters, as the children looked alike.
Soon after, a kind-looking man appeared with a cake frosted with cream. The children jumped up and circled around the man. They put their hands together and prayed, and together they extinguished the candles and cut the cake.
The eldest child took turns hugging her sisters, taking out the presents hidden under her table, and distributing them. Their faces were full of smiles. The children, who unwrapped the pretty wrapping paper like candy shells, each held their gifts and looked around.
Without realizing it, she wiped the frosted window with her frozen hands. It was so cold outside that she couldn’t feel her nose, but even the winter wind seemed to be unable to invade the warm house.
A teddy bear with a pretty red ribbon appeared from the gift box of a girl of the same age as her.
Perhaps the child and her both exclaimed at the same time. She stood by the window, clasping her shivering hands, as the child ran to her father with the teddy bear and hugged him.
Judging by the shape of her mouth, the child seemed to be thanking her father. She opened her eyes wide to peek at what the child’s father was saying.
“I love you.”
‘I love you?’
A quiet shock took hold of her.
She thought it was just a phrase from a radio play. A faceless male actor uttered fictional words to an actress who could only hear his voice. It was completely useless to her, so she thought it was a bit ridiculous and childish.
On the day the play ended, she would giggle while saying ‘I love you’ in an exaggerated tone.
But it wasn’t. It wasn’t the actors who were stupid, it was her. That’s what people actually said to each other. Daughter to father, mother to newborn, lovers to one another. The moment she realized that fact, she became unbearably sad.
She only realized it at that moment.
What a warm phrase ‘I love you’ was.
And the fact that no one ever said that to her…
“I love you…”
She mumbled those words blankly. The ‘I love you’ which came out of her mouth lingered in the cold air and entered her ears again. It was empty and lonely, unlike the silent ‘I love you’ seen through the window. Her heart ached the more she exhaled.
She was the only one who could say ‘I love you’ to herself, and the thought made her burst into tears.
“I love you…”
The way back was long. She was beaten harshly for finishing the laundry late. Oddly enough, her heart hurt more than the leg that was beaten that day. She was cold and empty.
She limped and went to the bedroom. It was a place where about twenty children slept, piled like luggage. There weren’t enough cheap beds made of iron frames, so juniors were pushed to the cold floor. Her bed was also near the window with severe drafts.
Of course, it was cold. She needed something soft and warm. The warm scenery she had seen a while ago hovered in front of her. Even if it was not a living being with a beating heart… something to hug. Even if it was a ball of cotton.
She got up and wandered around the dark room. But there was no way such a cozy thing existed in this place. The orphanage was made of iron bars, cold stone floors, and icy wooden posts. People were the only ones who had warmth, but it was better to hug a pillar than to hug orphanage mates.
The moment she got caught hugging someone with a tear-drenched face, they would brand her as a weakling. Laughter and bullying would follow.
Craving for warmth was what Anna, who was weak in this place, did. The children despised her foolishness and tears. Actually, she was the same until yesterday. She thought it was pathetic to see a child crouching and crying because she had been beaten up or bullied a bit.
Rosen was a child who never cried, because crying wouldn’t change anything. No less beaten, no less work. Wasn’t it enough to just endure it? You just had to spend today like yesterday and wait for tomorrow.
She was wrong. Anna wept not because of pain, but because of longing. Not because she was weak, but because she was sad. Unlike Rosen, Anna knew what a bright and warm world was, and she knew how cold and lonely the place they were right now was.
“I love you, Rosen.”
She found out that day.
That she was lonely…
She leaned against the window, buried her face in her lap, and wept bitterly. It was dark before her eyes, and she had no one to hold her. There was nothing to miss at all.
Cakes, warm houses, teddy bears…
She had nothing.
She didn’t think that was unfair. She compared the children’s white, chubby cheeks with her blurry reflection in the window. The children were lovely, and she was like a corpse.
Maybe this was normal.
Just, she was upset. She was a child who was good at giving up. She was able to accept anything.
Her tears were just… Because it was difficult to endure the cold and darkness. That was why. She wanted to believe so.
“…I love you.”
She got up and hugged the wooden posts that supported the orphanage building. They were hard and absurdly cold, but better than nothing.
On the Feast of St. Walpurg, people put candles on cakes and make wishes to the greatest witch in history, Walpurg. Because they believed that Walburg would grant one of the poorest and most desperate of people’s wishes. She had no cake to offer as a tribute to the witch, but she still made a wish shamelessly. She didn’t prepare the most delicious cake in Leoarton, but she was sure to be the poorest child in Leoarton.
-Walpurg, let me meet someone who hugs me warmly. Someone who sincerely tells me that they love me. Anyone. If that’s too much to ask… Even if it’s a lie when they say they love me, it’s okay. I’ll just believe it.
-As long as that person hugs me warmly.
Even after realizing her loneliness, time flew by. Not much had changed. Her sad memories were clouded by busy daily life. She was sad a little more than before, but it was hard for her to just be sad. Tiredness or loneliness had to be dulled.
So came her fifteenth birthday.
“Rosen Walker! The director is calling!”
She realized that the final turning point of her life had come. She put down the laundry basket she was carrying and ran to the director’s room.
When a girl was over fifteen, she could no longer stay in the orphanage. The director sold the children raised with minimal resources at the highest possible price. The pretty children became the concubines of wealthy old people, and the strong children became maids.
The director became the neighborhood’s best businesswoman in her ten years of running the orphanage. The orphanage received a steady flood of donations, and her face was often featured in the local newspaper. Only the people inside the iron bars knew the truth.
Anyway, she already knew her future. Some children said it was better to be a concubine, while others said it was better to be a maid.
-Once you become a maid, you have no choice but to live as a maid until you die.
-A concubine is swayed by their husband’s planning. I’d rather be a maid who earns money proudly.
-Do you think a maid doesn’t care about their master? If you’re unlucky, you’ll get a perv…It’s better to have a husband.
She could have looked a little prettier if she put powder on her cheeks and rose water on her lips, but she wasn’t sure which was better, a maid or a concubine. So she just went to the director’s room with a bare face.
The director smiled unusually and handed her candy and chocolate. It felt good.
‘If you ask me how I could laugh like a fool in that situation… Well, I would answer that children like me did not think about the future.’
If you didn’t surrender yourself to the joy of the moment and live, you’d go crazy. In other words, life was like a tightrope walk in the circus. The moment your thoughts soaked in, you lost your balance and fell. So, you should live lightly as if you have wings on your back.
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