Instructor: Jennifer Seward
A Name is More Than a Label
A Name is More Than a Label
Today started just like any other day for Seven. She woke up, got dressed and opened the door to breakfast at 7:00 sharp. At that same moment, eight other doors swung open; all revealed girls wearing a white button-down shirt, a blue plaid tie and a blue plaid skirt that covered her knees. Each fixed her hair in a sleek simple bun, fastened with a blue ribbon. The girls would make their plain white beds, and check that no clothes were lying around on the floor. If there was one flaw, Miss would punish the children.
At breakfast, Seven sat next to her favorite sisters, Two and Five. A new girl was coming today; she and Five were happy, but Two was grumbling about how there would be another one.
While everyone finished, a loud knock reverberated through the walls. The new girl had arrived.
"She's here! She's here!" young Eight called, while Miss strode over to the door. Miss's long brown locks bounced down her back. Her wrinkled skin turned into a smile; her eyes gave off a friendly glow. Yet it seemed fake, awry. Miss wore a long blue dress that flowed to her ankles and an apron, even though she was not cooking.
The girl at the door looked odd- wrong almost. Something about her gave Seven the chills. Is it her black hair and pale skin? Her large, sunken eyes? She looks really old. Maybe even older than me or Five, who is fourteen. This wasn't like Miss; she only brought in kids who were younger than two years and barely remembered their lives before they came, Seven thought.
The new girl's glassy, dark eyes widened as she took in the corridor. As she wandered through the dark, wooden hallway, she heard the floorboards creak loudly. She caught glimpses of the upstairs floor and made out an office as well as many other small bedrooms. The new girl sensed that there was something amiss about this place. She fixed her gaze on Miss, who looked so happy, so delightful, who strangely looked as if she might cry.
"Where is my room?" the girl asked.
"The tenth one down the hall," Seven hollered. Ten nodded again and slowly walked upstairs with her bag.
As the new girl was on the landing, Miss told her, "You are Ten."
"What? No. I think you must be mistaken, my name is-" she started.
"No," Miss interrupted. "Your name is Ten." Miss smiled. Ten slowly shook her head and opened her mouth to say something, but with one stern look from Miss she did not say a single word.
"Oh and before you go, change into this," Miss handed her the uniform along with the ribbon. Ten grabbed it and ran upstairs.
"Why is she so old? I mean she looks as if she's as old as you, Five!" Seven said.
"Yes, I agree. Miss is acting really weird by letting that girl in. And did you hear? She has a name. An actual name!" Five exclaimed.
"I wonder how that must feel," Seven said curiously.
"Bad or at least odd," Five immediately spat.
"She also argued with Miss; no one dares to do that," Two added.
"We need to keep an eye on her," Seven announced. The others agreed.
The following day, Seven decided to spy on Ten, whose new room had been the spare room where all of the kids used to hide in during hide and seek. Seven, who was always the seeker, knew there were holes in the walls she could look through. She peered through one to find Ten scribbling away in a hard-cover notebook, which was a blue-green hue and had three letter stickers, A, D and I in a pink shade. A, D and I…what does that spell? Seven wondered. She leaned on the door, getting a little too comfortable, and it burst open. Surprised, Ten quickly hid her notebook underneath her pillow.
"I could see your notebook, you know," Seven stated.
"You cannot tell a single soul. Miss wrote to me, way before I came, and told me that I was not allowed to bring anything with me except for two pairs of clothes, as well as the expectations here, the uniforms, the rules and the chores! So do not tell!" she demanded. Seven nodded. "This place is so peculiar! I mean, why is my name a number? Is your name a number, too?" Ten asked.
"Yes. I am Seven."
"Why does she want everyone to have number names? She could just give us some random name, or better yet keep our actual names. What is your actual name?" Ten scoffed.
"Seven has been my name for my whole entire life. I do not know what my birth parents named me." Seven shrugged.
"Oh, you have been here your whole life, so you are pretty accustomed to how things happen around here. Maybe you can help me get settled." Ten went on, "Because my father died, this is where I am. Before I know it, I'm taken away to the middle of a forest, where you can't see anything but trees and this strange place!"
"It's not that strange. What's in it?" Seven questioned.
Ten took it out from under the pillow and flipped through the pages."Nothing important."
"Why did you bring it if Miss doesn't allow it?" Seven queried.
"Because it's the only thing here that is mine, other than two pairs of clothes," said Ten. "All of my memories from my life before, all of my drawings of Mummy, Pop, my home, my…" Ten paused, realizing now her whole world was snatched from her. A few tears welled up in her eyes and dripped down slowly. She quickly registered that Seven was watching her cry and wiped her tears. "Sorry about that, I was just- I'm fine. I- I was thinking about how I no longer feel like doing anything, really. I just want to go home."
"This is your home now. Miss is now your mother and we are all your sisters," Seven replied bluntly, her brown eyes piercing Ten's.
"I guess so, but she won't be able to compare with my real mother. Also, why do you all have to wear uniforms in the house? Do you have schooling?" Ten questioned.
"The younger ones learn how to do mathematics, but that's all," said Seven.
"You don't know how to read?" Ten gaped.
"Read? As in read a book? I've heard Miss say that. " Seven looked confused.
"Reading and writing are the most wonderful things in the world! Books like Gone with the Wind, The Maltese Falcon and so many more tales. I wish I could show you them all, if it weren't for that Miss. She's very odd, actually. Why did she change my name? Why did she strip me of my identity?"
"Stop," Seven muttered.
"Excuse me?" Ten raised an eyebrow.
"I said stop! Miss has already done so much for you, she took you in! And she is your mother now and we are your sisters, so you better behave like it! Stop acting so foolish. You should be grateful for what Miss has done, whether you like her rules or not!" Seven bellowed. Ten rolled her eyes again while Seven slammed the door.
Seven sprinted to Five and Two. She told them all about the notebook, how Ten had a life before, and her thoughts on Miss. Five looked surprised and gasped, "Oh, my goodness! How could she say that? Miss is- she's amazing. Do any of you have a plan on what to do with Ten?"
"We definitely need to find more about Ten," Seven said. The trio agreed, but little did they know, Ten heard, and she wanted to open their eyes about how bizarre Miss was.
The following day, Ten opened her door three minutes late. Her hair was not in any sort of bun, but it was just down, and the ribbon was tied around her wrist as a bracelet. Miss stormed to Ten, the woman's face twisted into a scowl.
"Why aren't you in uniform?" she hollered.
"What do you mean? I am wearing a skirt and button-down shirt," Ten asked.
Miss pulled on Ten's dark tresses. "Put your hair in a bun like everyone else. Nothing else will be condoned. Understand? Now, go tie your hair up!" Ten nodded and trudged towards her room. Five minutes later, she came out with her hair in a bun.
"You also do know you came out at 7:03 instead of 7:00?" Miss said.
"Yes, but-" Ten started.
"No, buts! What about 7 AM sharp do you not understand? It is your first day so I am going easy on you. Tomorrow, I don't want a repetition of this, you hear me? Go eat!" Miss ordered.
Seven, Two and Five exchanged glances. Miss disciplining Ten was so different from the way the rest of the girls were disciplined. They wished they had gotten a pass. No punishments like camping outside in the woods or cleaning every inch of the house while siblings dirtied it even more. Just a simple shout. Seven longed for that.
A week passed, and Ten was sick of getting scolded every day for small, barely noticeable things, like how her tie was tied wrong, her shirt was stained, her dress wrinkled. She hated how everything had to be prim and proper all the time.
"I'm so irritated of this old hag, I'm going to go in her mysterious office to find something interesting," Ten said to herself. Miss's office was the only place in the house where the kids couldn't go. The others didn't think much of it, but Ten was curious.
While Miss was feeding the younger ones, Ten rushed upstairs to her office. Ten had some trouble opening the door, as it was so bulky and heavy. Once she was inside, she found the study to be much bigger than all of the other bedrooms combined. A queen bed was in the corner, and fancy books sat on the shelf. Ten looked at some photographs and sketches of a little girl. The girl was wearing the same uniform as all the girls at the orphanage. Ten rummaged through the drawers of the desk and saw a locked box. The key was nowhere to be found. Miss is probably carrying it. Obviously something important was in that box, why else would it be locked? Ten pondered how she could open the box until a brilliant idea popped into her head. She had seen it in a film with her father; a woman opened a lock with her hairpin. Ten took one out of her bun and stuck it into the lock. After fidgeting around with it for a few minutes, the lock clicked. Ten smiled. Inside she saw a leather journal. She opened it and began reading the first page.
Fifteen years ago today, she was taken from me. My sweet little girl, Octavia. I miss her so much, so much to the point where I take other girls that look like her and surround myself with them. It's not as bad as it seems, I take care of all these girls; I treat them like how I treated Octavia. They all have black or brown hair, dark eyes, pale or tan skin Octavia. It's tough but I'm able to see her through these children. Many of them were too rebellious, or they didn't look enough like Octavia. Four, One and Nine are examples. I told the other girls that they had been adopted but in reality…I don't feel like discussing it. But, these little girls…they remind me of Octavia. I want to have many, many girls who look like my beloved daughter with me until I die. That is all I wish for. That is my only dream.
Ten looked horrified. She grabbed the notebook, and seven documents fell out. She picked them up and realized that each document had one of the girls' pictures with their birth name. Ten found hers and saw a note on the side in Miss' handwriting.
This one I'll call Ten. I am hesitant about her as she is older and knows about the outside world, but I just can't resist! She looks so much like my Octavia. I do have to work really hard to make sure she doesn't rebel. Or anything like that, once she does join my family. The resemblance is so uncanny. When I saw her photo, I thought she was my daughter.
Ten looked horrified. She grabbed the notebook and tucked the documents back inside. She needed to tell the others about Miss' goal.
"Seven! Seven!" Ten called over the railing to Seven. "I need your help!" Seven hesitantly climbs the steps and goes to Ten, who immediately pulled Seven to her room. "I told you that woman is insane! I told you she has bad intentions!" Ten cried.
"If this is about Miss, I don't want to hear it," Seven gritted.
"No, look!" Ten shoved the leather notebook in Seven's face. Seven studied the letters and identified them as the unmistakable flourishes of Miss's handwriting.
"It can't be though! She said she wanted to help children in need! That's why…I- what? I
I need to tell Two and Five!" Seven frantically whispered. She sprinted down the steps to Five and Two. Ten returned the notebook in the box, but kept the documents. She placed it in the drawer, exactly how she had found it and prayed that Miss just thought she forgot to lock her box.
Ten, Seven, Five and Two were all gathered in Ten's room, as Ten still had one more thing to show them.
"What is it?" whined Five.
Ten handed the girls the documents with their birth names.
"What is this? Why is there my picture- why does it say "Iris Wilson!" Two gasped. "Is that…my name?"
Five skimmed the document and saw her name, "Aubrey Dahlia Smith! It's beautiful. So much prettier than the name Five. Why did Miss keep this from me? Why?" Five cried.
Seven looked through her document but ink seemed to have spilled on the document where her name should have been. Tears streamed down Seven's cheeks. The only identity she had was gone and there was no way Seven could know anything about her life. Five, Two and Ten comforted Seven.
Ten, Seven, Five and Two were all gone. They had left the wretched orphanage. They had escaped. They had been walking for a few hours; they didn't know where they were but they knew they were safe.
"Ten, what does having a name feel like?" Seven asked.
"It feels, well, it was normal. But, it is something no one can take from you. It is who you are, your identity. You don't have a name so I suggest you choose something special and what you'd want to be called for the rest of your life," Ten sighed. "It should represent who you are, show off your personality."
"I don't really know what it should be," Seven thought aloud.
"Cielo. It's similar to my name, it means sky," Ten suggested.
"Cielo, it's perfect! I have a name, a piece of identity! Something no one can snatch from me. I love it, Ten!" Seven exclaimed.
"But, what is your name?" Five asked.
Ten smiled. "Aditi, or Adi for short. It means boundless like the sky; in other words, freedom."