Rough Diamonds

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Chapter 35

Kate-Emily Retief

Kate-Emily watched, and Jako stood aside as Mr Labuschagne led them through to the common room in which about 50 people were present. Mr Labuschagne tried hesitantly to introduce them. He appeared nervous.

Kate-Emily let Jako speak first and address the ‘inmates’ of the orphanage.

“Hello, I’m Jako and this is my sister, Kate-Emily. We’ve been through a harrowing experience.” His voice was on the verge of breaking. “Our parents and brother were killed and... ”

Kate-Emily took over the talking. “We’d like to borrow some clothes, please. We’ve lost everything... just the clothes on our backs... ”

The residents exchanged questioning looks. They were aged from under 10 to just about grown-up, but not old enough to be let loose on the streets.

Susan offered to lend her some clothes. She was about twelve, and larger than Kate-Emily by two sizes, but that would do. Another girl offered some takkies, or sand shoes, and socks.

The two boys followed up by offering to lend Jako clothes, but not shoes. They didn’t have any spare. Jako couldn’t face wearing the same shoes he was wearing because they were damp, but at least a boy had lent him a pair of socks, which were a bit worse for wear.

Kate-Emily asked Mr Labuschagne where they could find a shower or bath. He gestured to a girl’s bath and a men’s shower.

Kate-Emily slid into the bathtub, the horrific events fresh in her mind. She heard Jako making the most of a shower down the passage.

The day’s agonising events haunted her. She was in shock: Mum, Dad and Mike had been destroyed by the fire.

Kate-Emily bathed and swapped her damp, dirty clothes for an ill-fitting, borrowed clean set. As she dressed she thought she could see someone watching her. She thought she saw some movement through one of the many tiny holes in the make-shift wall. But, she put it out of her mind as a ridiculous thought. She put it down to tiredness.

The bra was missing, but at least there was a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and a threadbare but warm, fitted coat to be slipped on. She felt cold, and pulled up the collar as far as it would go. At least the clothes were dry.

Kate-Emily met Jako in the passage. He wore a small, rather tight-fitting pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and a jersey.

They found Mr Labuschagne in the office.

“Sir, what could we eat, please?” Jako asked. Kate-Emily thought that food was the furthest thing from her mind. She had abandoned the idea of eating.

She watched Mr Labuschagne’s reaction and was hardened by it. He was lukewarm at best - particularly given what they had been through.

“The kitchen is already locked. It’s too late,” he said.

She decided to speak up: “Excuse me, Mr Labuschagne, how can you treat us this way, after the tragedy we’ve been through?”

Mr Labuschagne stared at Kate-Emily blankly. This got their backs up.

“The food is finished,” he said with an air of finality.

Jako spoke first. “How can that be? You have 50 or so residents here, and there’s no food? The food is finished? It’s eight o’clock in the evening!”

Kate-Emily didn’t feel like eating anyway. “May we have a place to sleep?” she asked him.

Mr Labuschagne looked deep in thought. “You may sleep in the dormitory. There are spare beds in there.”

They were both exhausted by the day and went to their respective quarters.

Kate-Emily looked, but didn’t see the made-up beds. She looked for Labuschagne, or another staff member, but there was no sign of them. She returned to her dormitory and collapsed from exhaustion on the bare mattress.

Suddenly she was surrounded by a half a dozen girls firing questions at her.

Kate-Emily quickly summed up what had happened and concluded, “I’m very tired and I need some sleep.”

A girl in her late teens dismissed the others: “Kate-Emily is dog tired, so she should get some sleep.”

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