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from Hiren's Journey by Rebecca Onkar

Chapter 3
Strays

Thinking of Thea always brought a smile to Bram’s face. She had been his wife for the last six years and she was more than he deserved.

Still, he wasn’t sure how she would respond to him bringing home a strange girl. Normally Thea would be overjoyed to take on just this sort of project. Thea collected people like others might collect stray animals. To Thea it was unheard of to leave a person without a home and loving care as long as she could do something about it. If it were up to her she’d take each and every forlorn creature under her wing and nurture them until they were on their feet once again.

Over the last six years there had been dozens of people in and out of their home, some staying a week, others months or longer. All of them were in need and stranded for some reason or another. Sometimes Bram wasn’t even sure why they were there but Thea knew them all, all their hurts and pains and problems. To her credit there were more victories than failures. Sure, some had come to take advantage of a gentle soul like Thea’s. Usually they left suddenly in the middle of the night, stealing some small thing of value before heading on their way, but mainly Thea’s strays were gentle people in need of a roof over their head and two loving arms to hold them.

Their latest strays had been with them a year already. Mitchell Chellings died in the summer last year and it wasn’t a month later that his widowed wife, Sarah, and daughter, Charity moved in.

Left penniless and alone save for her daughter Charity, Sarah had nowhere to go and no way to earn an income. Charity was eleven years old but her mind was underdeveloped from birth and she required full-time caretaking.

Charity was the daughter of Mitchell and Sarah’s old age, Sarah being forty-five when Charity was born and Mitchell fifty-three. The Chellings were overjoyed when they found out they were to have a child. Their only son, Robert, had died many years before when he drowned in a river that had overflowed its banks. He was only nine years old and had been dead for almost twenty years when Charity was born. Sarah and Mitchell never seemed able to move past the tragedy, that is, until Charity came along and their hearts were renewed.

But their joy was checked when Sarah’s labor and delivery continued for three days. The midwife was not certain at the time if even Sarah would survive to see her dead child, for there was no doubt in the midwife’s mind that the child would be stillborn.

Yet after three days of exhausting labor Sarah found the strength to push her child into this world. Thea, who assisted with the birthing, later told Bram that for a moment she did think that Sarah had died.

Thea leaned close to see if Sarah was breathing, and after a moment Sarah turned her head and spoke in a voice barely audible and asked, “Why isn’t she crying?”

Thea felt tears spring into her own eyes, joy that her friend was alive and sadness at having to tell her that her baby had never taken a breath and would never cry. Exhausted from her own bedside vigil, Thea lowered her head to the mattress and tucked it close beside Sarah’s body. At that very moment there was a gravelly cry, weak but present, and Thea swung her head toward the noise. The child, while being cleaned by the midwife, had first gasped and then let out the cry. The midwife, Mrs. Newman, a tall, thin, severe looking woman, was so shocked she just stared at the child.

“Give her to me,” Sarah whispered. Neither Thea nor the midwife expected the miracle child to take another breath, but breathe she did.

Physically, the child Charity was healthy and strong. Yet her mental facilities had stopped developing at four and they refused to progress any further, but to Sarah and Mitchell a more perfect baby had never been born. Even in their impoverished state they were happy people, thankful to God in all circumstances. But last year Mitchell had died. He had worked hard all the days of his life and at last his heart had given out while working in his fields. Soon after, Sarah and Charity joined the Armstrong family.

Even as Bram stood there thinking it over it occurred to him that having someone come and stay with you for a short period of time, or allowing friends that you’ve known most of your life, like the Chellings, to come and board, is much different from taking in a girl from a foreign place and of unknown upbringing. Even so, Thea would t...






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