Aysea turned 11 today. It felt so much bigger than being just 10 and much bigger than 9. This was her second birthday here. She stood up on her bed and grabbed the bars, standing on her toes to see out. Was the world different today, now that she was 11? Nothing had changed outside. She could see the dust swirling as cars and trucks passed on the dirt road in the distance. Where did they all go, what did they do, those trucks and cars? Below her window, a guard was secretly smoking. He didn't know the smoke coiled into Aysea's window everyday, making her sneeze. From the second story, where the room was, Aysea was invisible to the people passing below. They never looked up.
She was 11 today. Nobody would know that. Her family was gone. She didn't know where they were. Maybe behind the bars in the buildings far across the road. When they first brought her and the other children here, she had tried to wave her hand out of the window. Maybe Mama and Papa would see her. Nobody ever waved back. After a few weeks, she stopped. It was too hard standing on her tiptoes for so long. Too hard not knowing if Mama and Papa didn't want to wave back. Too hard trying to understand what she had done wrong..
The other children around her remained curled up, still sleeping. They all shared three small, metal beds. Sleep was a good way to forget. To make the hours vanish. Unless there were dreams. Or nightmares. Sometimes Aysea woke up crying and confused. It could take a few minutes before she remembered where she was. Before the grey walls closed her off from memories of Mama and Papa and her little kitten Pipa. The uniformed people called this place "detention". They said it was to keep her and the other children safe. It didn't feel safe. It felt like punishment.
She didn't understand what she had done wrong. They wouldn't tell her when she asked. Just told her to "be quiet and behave". It must have been very bad for them take her away from Mama. They didn't make her feel safe. Just scared and alone. If only she could understand what she had done wrong, then she could be better and go home. Mama would forgive her. She always did before.
Aysea shook the thoughts from her head and sat down on the bed with a thump. She waited for the other children to wake. 7 of them in this room. The youngest only 3. Matron would come soon and lead them to the smelly bathroom at the end of the corridor. Sometimes, if the disenfectant was still splashed on the floors, it burned their eyes and made them cry. If any of the little ones cried, Matron would yell at all of them. Aysea didn't think the Matron liked little children. She never smiled or talked to them. Aysea had given up trying after the third slap.
She sat up a bit straighter on the bed. She was 11 today. A big girl. Oldest in the room. Grown up now. She stepped off the bed, feeling the harsh, cold cement on her bare feet. She sighed as her toes pinched again when she tried to put on her shoes. Matron said complaining was "ungrateful". They had been donated by invisible people who sent boxes full of mixed up clothes and odd shoes. Kind people, Matron said. Aysea wondered why the kind people couldn't get sizes right. Maybe they didn't have children where they came from. It was hard to walk sometimes when her feet hurt and there were no socks that fit. Mama had always insisted on getting Aysea solid fitting shoes and warm socks, even if her own were tattered. Mama used to say " good shoes make good walking into a good future". Aysea wondered what Mama would say about her shoes and her future now.
Smashing her feet in, she could hear Matron already banging on doors in the echoing hall. Shouting at the other children in distant rooms to get up. If they were not ready, you could hear Matron yelling more and even slaps. Aysea quickly stepped around the room waking the others, handing out their clothes and folding the tattererd blankets in a pile. When she was finished tidying it all up, she lined them up by the door, shushing them, tying a shoe and finger brushing their hair. She gave them all a quick hug and smile. They waited for Matron to unlock the door. The children in her charge were ready.
Aysea stood as tall as she could. She was 11 now. Time to be a Big Girl.