This story is by Josephine Albers and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Isiah Vergil stumbled into a run-down bar, filled with smoke and the mumble of broken-hearted men. The voice of his former commander echoed in his brain: “You are worthless, get out!” Those words had made him laugh at first, but he was now regretting it. No one would give him a job. His dishonorable discharge had scarred him, and he knew it.
He sauntered to the counter and shouted for whiskey, even though the bar tender was right in front of him. He gulped it down and demanded another. Then, a man who looked like he had just stepped out of a Men’s Wearhouse magazine walked up to him.
“Are you the famous Medal of Honor recipient?” he asked, “My name is Tom Omar, and I heard you were discharged. I thought you might want a job. You could help out at my orphanage, and the pay is good.” Isiah gave him a drunken look.
“How’s that? Ain’t no one givin’ me a job. You no different.”
“I am truly offering you this.”
“GO AWAY!!” Isiah roared, and shouted for another whiskey. Tom turned sadly away.
A week later, the two bumped into one another at the local Target store, and Tom repeated his offer. Isiah wasn’t drunk this time, but he still didn’t want the job. After ten minutes of coaxing, Tom finally got Isiah to come to the orphanage and check things out.
Tom led the way to the orphanage and through the large double doors into a small, office-like room. The receptionist greeted Isiah with a smile.
“The children just finished lunch,” she said, “they’ll be in the play room now.” Tom thanked her, and took Isiah to see the kids.
Upon entering the room, the first children Isiah met were two twin girls, Mary and Jeannette. They tugged on Isiah’s sleeves, begging him to play with them. Isiah couldn’t turn them down. They had the sweetest, most angelic faces, and the cutest laugh. Before fifteen minutes had passed, Isiah was actually enjoying himself, helping the girls dress their dolls, and setting up furniture in the dolls’ house. And of course, he had to be the “Daddy” of the family.
Isiah played with the children for the rest of the afternoon, and was even invited to dinner. Not a word was said to Isiah about coming back, but the next day, he made his appearance.
“I couldn’t stay away,” he said when the receptionist questioned his arrival, “they make me happy.”
Every day after, Isiah came back to play with the children and help with whatever odd jobs he might find. Over the few months he was there, Isiah bonded with every child, and he saw how wonderful they were. With the boys, he played castles and knights, dinosaurs and fantasy monsters. The girls preferred to play house and dress dolls, but Isiah was more than willing to join in. The children began to wait for him at the door each morning, even refusing breakfast to do so.
Despite the children’s overwhelming sweetness, kindness, and genuine characters, few people inquired about adopting. No one seemed to care about the children with no parents. Some parents had been killed in horrible ways, and others died of this disease or that. Still more had had severe addictions, and were not able to care for a child any longer. These stories lay hidden in the eyes of the children, so precious and innocent.
Every day that Isiah was at the orphanage, these few facts troubled him more and more. Why don’t people care? Was his first thought, but eventually it changed: Why don’t people know? Isiah hadn’t known how the kids had suffered until he started helping out. He didn’t realize that these kids were starving. Starving for love and attention. He had thought the orphanage was just a place to get kids off the streets, but it was so much more. He saw that now, in a powerful way.
One cold winter day, after three months non-stop at the orphanage, Isiah found himself trapped at home. The night before, there had been a tween-season blizzard, and roads were blocked. Isiah was restless with no one to play with, and no jobs to do. He fumbled with a few things in his house, but he wasn’t satisfied. He could picture the mournful faces of the kids when they learned that Isiah wouldn’t be able to make it that day. He wanted to do something for them, but what? He clumsily picked up an old newspaper and began to fish through it, trying to find something to distract him. Sports section, blood-chilling news, weather, stupid political arguments, nothing seemed to appeal to him until he found the ad section. He jumped off his couch and ran to the computer. After typing hastily for fifteen minutes, he jumped up again and grabbed the phone.
“New York Times business office, how may I help you?”
“My name is Isiah Vergil, and I would like to place an ad.”
“Dictate it to me, and I’ll put it in for you.” Isiah read what he had typed, double-checking to make sure the man had every single word correct.
The next day, Isiah arrived at the orphanage later than the morning paper did. As usual, the receptionist was idly flipping through it. Her eyes became saucers as she scanned the ads. Isiah hurried away to the play room.
That afternoon, a couple walked in the door, showing the ad to the receptionist. Isiah smiled as they came to meet the children, and he smiled even wider when the couple decided to adopt the twins. When they had left, the receptionist gave Isiah a knowing look.
“You put that ad there didn’t you?”
“I sure did.” Isiah smiled, knowing that people had seen it, and more children would be adopted. Best of all, Isiah knew he belonged at the orphanage, and nothing could ever change that.