The orphans’ column

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A couple of blocks behind where I used to live were the orphans’ dormitories.

Every day, early morning, they would be taken in column and lead by their carers to the other side of town, to their canteen and school buildings.

Every day, late afternoon or towards the evening, the same column of orphans would return for sleep.

The routine was followed daily, in all seasons, in all weathers.

The column was made up of two or three lines of perhaps a hundred or so of younger and older kids. Many of them limping, as they advanced with great noise.

The bigger ones – the adolescents – hit or shouted at the younger ones… Everybody seemed to fight everybody in the column, whilst the carers shouted their lungs out to make them stop…

Some neighbours or passers-by would get startled: ‘What’s going on?’

But Madame V, from the ground floor, would always reassure: ‘It’s just the orphans!’

The kids from the block used to get near to watch the orphans as if they made their journey back or forth. Some kids used to say cruel things.

The orphans would immediately retaliate. They would say: Shut your faces – you from the outside!

The orphans had one thing in common: the look in their eyes.

It was that of animals in the zoo.

Those outside and those inside.