I turned around to face a frail, short man. He looked ancient, but might have been around 70 years old. In the brief five seconds that I stared at him, I felt a pang of discomfort that stirred my chest. I couldn't put a finger on what or why it was, but the last thing I saw was the old man's face distorted into an expression that I have never seen in my entire life. And then, I fell with a thud, as if I had lost all my motor skills.
I woke up after what felt like an eternity, but I was told it had just been a couple of hours. "Here, take this, it'll help you get rid of the after effects of motion sickness." I had never felt blood rush to my cheeks as fast as it did then. What a great way to create a first impression! I mumbled a drowsy "Sorry", but the old man just smiled and reassured me that it was alright. He introduced himself as Vasu, the owner of the orphanage, or rather, what was left of it. I looked around to see what he meant. From outside, this place looked like your average Victorian-style mansion. But now that I was inside the building, I saw exactly how dilapidated it was. The walls had irregular patches with paint stripped off from them, the bed in the room I was in were rusty, the fan was squeaking, as if trying to compete with the mouse that I spotted in the far corner of the room, the place was a mess. "I am barely able to keep up with my own self now, I cannot afford to renovate this place", he smiled, although it was a sad smile. Another rush of embarrassment, I had no rights to be judgmental! "But as long as I have my kids with me, I don't think anything else matters", he stared outside into the garden, and as I followed his line of vision, I could see about forty kids running around in the garden. His eyes lit by merely glancing at them.
Mustering the tiny bit of courage that I had, I asked, "Sir, don't get me wrong, but..." The same anticipatory pause that I had experienced over the phone call; he was wondering what lay at the end of that sentence. "The name, it's a bit out-of-place for an orphanage, don't you think?" Mr. Vasu let out a laugh, or more of a bellow, that seemed to defy his age. Apparently, he often got this question asked by confused couples who drove up here. He told me how the actual owner of the place had named it after his childhood dog, and when he transferred the ownership of the orphanage to Mr. Vasu thirty years ago, his only wish was that the name shouldn't change, and Mr. Vasu complied. Still, why would someone name their dog "Beelzebub"? But I kept it to myself.
This conversation was followed by an awkward silence, and it was eventually broken by a now serious Mr. Vasu. Fumbling and faltering, he tried to string words together. "Doctor, I know you must be wondering why I pulled you here, and why I was so desperate to get Julie...ummm...my daughter treated only by you" He reiterated how Mr. Bose, the warden of the asylum Liza Shaw was in, had always spoken highly of me and the progress that I had been making with her. He knew that I was the only one who could help Julie. "Would you like to speak with her? I believe she can give you a much detailed insight of what she has been going through. It's just that... It hurts a lot to see how she has become. She was always the shining sun in a dark room, you know?", he tried to sound strong, but was very much on the verge of breaking down.
We walked up a spiraling staircase, and I could have sworn that I heard Mr. Vasu's old bones crack a couple of times. He continued to walk up the stairs, that led us to a landing with bad lighting and creaky floorboards. Can't say that I expected anything better. After a twist and turn of corridors that felt like a maze, we finally stood in front of her room. Through the open window, I could see Julie sleeping, facing us. At the first glance, you wouldn't have been able to tell that something was wrong with her. But as a psychiatrist, I have known and seen better. But one thing felt odd here - she looked like she was in her early twenties, and Mr. Vasu looked at least seventy, if not more. A late marriage? A child out of wedlock? I smacked myself mentally for being a judgmental prick again. As though reading my mind, Mr. Vasu narrated, "Julie came in here when she was eleven months old with just a note that said, "Please take care of my Julie". Even as a baby, she was the least troublesome of the lot, barely cried, always broke into random singing sessions, always found a way to make people laugh. But strangely, no one ever adopted her. Even my naughtiest kids were adopted, but not Julie. The only time she was adopted, the couple dropped her off here the next day itself. They appeared visibly shaken, but before I could ask them anything, they left. Julie always told me that nobody loved her. So on her fifth birthday, I legally adopted her, and I have been the happiest ever since."
I shifted my gaze back to Julie, she looked oddly peaceful. I turned back to Mr. Vasu as he briefed me about Julie's dream. He also told me that this was the first time in days since she has fallen asleep, and a ray of satisfaction shone on his face as he said this. Barely had I finished scribbling in my diary, when I heard a blood-curdling scream. It came from Julie's room. We dashed through the door into her room, there sat Julie, panicked and disheveled, blood trickling down from her fore-arm and staining the white blanket and bedsheet.