Authors: Marisha Pink
Tags: #fiction, #spiritual, #journey, #india, #soul, #past, #culture, #spiritual inspirational, #aaron, #contemporary fiction, #loneliness, #selfdiscovery, #general fiction, #comingofage, #belonging, #indian culture, #hindu culture, #journey of self, #hindi, #comingofagewithatwist, #comingofagenovel, #comingofagestory, #journey of life, #secrets and lies, #soul awareness, #journey into self, #orissa, #konark, #journey of discovery, #secrets exposed, #comingofrace, #culture and customs, #soul awakening, #past issues, #past and future, #culture and societies, #aaron rutherford, #arun, #marisha pink, #odisha, #puri
The corridors were strangely quiet as he made his
way towards the elevator, but when the doors opened onto the ground
floor it was an entirely different story. The lobby buzzed with
tourists and well-to-do nationals, no doubt there to enjoy the many
sights and beaches of Puri, and there was a sociable ambience with
guests greeting one another as though they were old friends. But
Aaron didn’t have time for socialising and focused only on the task
ahead; he tuned them all out and strode across the lobby to the
concierge desk by the front door. He was pleased to note a return
to orderly queue formation, while he waited patiently in line to
speak with the man on duty, and when he reached the front of the
queue, the concierge greeted him warmly before asking how he might
be of assistance. Aaron reached into his shirt pocket and
withdrawing the piece of paper, flashed the refuge address,
explaining that he needed a taxi to take him there. The concierge’s
eyes widened instantly in surprise.
‘You are ... volunteering here, sir?’ he
‘No, no, nothing like that. I’m meeting
‘Someone is working here, sir?’
‘Something like that, yes,’ Aaron answered, not
wishing to give too much away.
The concierge was silent while he stared down at the
address in Aaron’s hands.
you are having a right place, sir?’
‘Yes, certain, why?’ Aaron replied confidently,
though he could feel his optimism waning.
‘This is … this is not a very good place, sir,’ the
concierge responded gravely.
‘What do you mean?’
‘It is not really a nice neighbourhood, sir. It is a
very quiet place, not many people are there and not a very good
safe place for tourists. Better to take a taxi to one of our very
many excellent restaurants, or to the beach, for meeting your
Aaron mulled over the concierge’s words. The
location sounded like the kind of place you would expect to find a
refuge, if not exactly like the kind of place that had caused
Arthur to book him into the Mayfair Beach Resort Hotel. The
description, coupled with the concierge’s pained expression did
little to reassure him that he was going to find what he was
looking for, but with no other lines of enquiry to pursue he didn’t
have much choice.
‘I appreciate your concern, but really, I’d just
like a taxi please.’
‘As you wish it, sir.’
The concierge set about hailing a taxi and within a
few minutes Aaron was being packed into the rear of a smart saloon
car, whilst the concierge barked instructions at the driver through
the lowered passenger window. The driver turned to regard Aaron as
though he were insane before hollering back at the concierge just
as loudly and Aaron guessed that he had just been notified of their
destination. After a long-winded exchange, the concierge withdrew
his face from the window and lightly tapped the roof of the car,
signalling to the driver that he could depart. However, unlike
Aaron’s first taxi ride in India this driver made no attempt at
conversation, merely regarding Aaron suspiciously through the
rear-view mirror with a distinctly annoyed expression plastered
across his face.
The silence suited Aaron, who was relieved to
finally be able to enjoy a journey without an onslaught of
questions. The taxi sped along the city streets and he gazed
impassively out of the window, his mind awash with the same
thoughts and fears about reuniting with his mother that he had been
grappling with for weeks. It wasn’t until the cityscape
dramatically started to change that his reverie was abruptly
interrupted and he began to take notice of the rapidly
deteriorating surroundings. The people were becoming scarcer, the
streets eerily still in their absence, and the buildings more
dilapidated and run down, some merely empty shells, the relics of
former businesses and homes. The roads turned to bumpy, unfinished,
pothole-filled thoroughfares, where the dusty, unevenly paved
sidewalks were lined with piles of garbage attracting a multitude
of stray dogs. It could easily have been a different city
altogether and Aaron was quickly realising why both the concierge
and the driver had been so reluctant to help him get there.
He stared dumbstruck out of the window when the taxi
slowly drew to a stop outside what looked to be a disused concrete
building. The driver turned to face him, his left hand outstretched
greedily, whilst his right pointed fervently at the meter. Aaron
looked uncertainly from the driver to the building and back again,
and unconsciously shook his head; this could not be the place that
he was looking for. The driver continued to regard him impatiently,
his hand still outstretched and an increasingly irritable look on
‘Are-you-sure-this-is-it?’ Aaron mouthed slowly,
pulling the address from his pocket and pointing between the piece
of paper and the building in an attempt to facilitate an
understanding of his question.
‘Ha,’ replied the driver, nodding his head
‘Ha! Looking here,’ answered the driver, pointing to
a faded bronze plaque that was clinging desperately to the
crumbling walls. Aaron peered over the driver’s shoulder and
following his finger saw that ‘RACHNA HARI WOMEN’S REFUGE’ was
embossed on the plaque beneath a thick layer of dust.
He felt his heart sink. They were in the right
place, but the streets were deserted and the building seemed
lifeless. At first Aaron wasn’t sure how to proceed, but then he
had an idea.
‘Can-you-wait-here?’ he asked the driver, simulating
a stay motion with his hands for effect.
tried again, miming his words in a desperate bid to be
‘No stay,’ repeated the driver, shaking his head and
smiling toothlessly, his few remaining teeth stained a dark
yellowish-brown colour from smoking too much.
Aaron sighed hopelessly, exasperated by the language
barrier and by the driver’s reluctance to help him.
‘I-can-pay-you-more-if-you-will-stay,’ he begged,
pulling his wallet from his pocket and gesticulating at the rising
‘No stay. You pay now!’ screeched the driver, who
had obviously run out of patience.
Aaron didn’t know what to do. Should he get out of
the taxi and risk not being able to get back to the hotel, or would
it be safer to simply turn around and go home? He knew that it was
foolish, but having come all that way and with Rachna Hari being
his only lead on locating his birth mother, he simply couldn’t
bring himself to leave.
Scowling, he fished in his wallet for the correct
fare and no sooner had he stepped out of the taxi than the driver
sped off without a backward glance. Alone on the dusty roadside, he
looked up despairingly at the gloomy grey building. It was not
quite how he had imagined the refuge and in his mind his arrival
had played out very differently. Where were all the smiley-faced,
snotty-nosed children that should be running up to greet him,
excited by the sight of a stranger? All the women, humbled to have
clean clothes on their backs and food in their bellies, though
their eyes spoke of untold suffering? And the overworked, but
hugely satisfied, aid workers that would recall both of his mothers
with great fondness, amazed at how well he had turned out? It was
all wrong and as he stood in the shadow of the building, shielding
himself from the blistering heat, he felt defeated.
He peered helplessly through the ground-floor
windows into the emptiness, but there was nothing and no-one. He
moved around to the side of the building, peeking into each of the
windows in turn, desperately searching for anything that might help
him in his quest, but it was futile. There were no clues and no
sign of what used to be, the building seemingly abandoned without a
trace. When he had circumnavigated the building three times, and
only once every fibre in his body was satisfied that there were no
hidden clues to be found, he dropped down miserably onto the broken
pavement beneath the faded plaque. His head in his hands, he felt
his heart sink further and further, crushed as it dawned on him
that he was out of luck. Pig-headedly, he had come all that way
only for his one big lead to wind up at a dead end. Arthur was
right; he should have written to Kalpana to find out exactly where
she was first. He had wasted so much time and now, even if he wrote
to her from Puri, who knew how long it would be before she received
the letter and was able to respond? And what would he do while he
waited? He couldn’t go anywhere; he would have to wait in Puri.
Wallowing deeply in self-pity by the roadside, Aaron
was so self-absorbed that he didn’t notice a short, balding man
approaching, until a shiny pair of black shoes came into view
between his knees. Startled, the hairs on the back of his neck
instantly pricked up with fear and he raised his head sharply,
certain that he was about to be robbed, or worse. But the short man
peered down kindly at him, both surprised and intrigued to have
encountered another human being in the otherwise desolate part of
‘Can I help you?’ he asked, his voice full of warmth
Aaron smiled up at the man gratefully, a spark of
hope involuntarily igniting within him.
‘I hope so.’
‘ARE you lost?’
‘Um, sort of. I was looking for the Rachna Hari
Women’s Refuge. Have you heard of it?’
‘Yes, actually I know it quite well.’
‘It was supposed to be here, in this building,’
muttered Aaron glumly, motioning at the concrete mass behind
‘It was here. For a very long time, in fact.’
‘Let me guess, it closed down, right?’
‘Quite the opposite actually. The refuge was
recently gifted rather large, and, might I add, much improved,
premises. It has simply moved to a new location.’
Aaron’s eyes instantly lit up.
‘Do you know where I can find it?’
‘May I ask first, why you are seeking it?’ the
stranger countered, dabbing at the glistening beads of sweat on his
shiny bald head.
‘I’m looking for information about someone who
stayed there once, a relative of mine,’ he answered honestly.
There was something about the shiny-shoed stranger
that told Aaron that he could trust him. Conversely, the gentleman
appeared to be critically assessing Aaron’s motive in his head in
an attempt to determine whether his search was genuine or not.
‘So, do you know where I can find it?’ Aaron
repeated cautiously, when the stranger had still not responded a
few moments later.
‘I do know, yes.’
‘Is it nearby? Could a taxi take me there?’ he fired
excitedly, his body filling with a renewed sense of hope.
‘No, I’m afraid not,’ muttered the stranger, shaking
his head unhelpfully.
Aaron’s face fell at once.
‘But I do know someone who could take you there,’ he
A perplexed look crossed Aaron’s face, and as if on
cue, the gentleman extended his hand in explanation.
‘I'm Manoj Rama, Director of the Rachna Hari Women’s
Aaron couldn’t believe his luck and, dusting the
dirt from his shorts, he leapt up to shake Manoj’s hand. He was
several feet taller than the refuge director and though he towered
over him imposingly, the tiny man had an aura about him that
instantly commanded respect. Introducing himself, he searched
Manoj’s eyes for a spark of recognition at the Rutherford name, but
the refuge director remained nonplussed, enquiring instead about
the relative that Aaron was seeking information on. Aaron delivered
a brief synopsis of his mother’s friendship with Kalpana, his
birth, adoption and transfer to England, and of his mother’s recent
passing, explaining that he now wished to be reunited with his
biological mother. It was close enough to the truth and, not
wanting to complicate matters any more than necessary, he
deliberately omitted details of Kalpana’s letters and his mother’s
Manoj listened intently to the young man’s story
without judgement or interruption, and by the end of it he seemed
to accept that Aaron’s quest was genuine. He looked up at the young
man kindly, his eyes soft and full of empathy.
‘That is quite a remarkable story, Mr
‘Aaron. Please, call me Aaron,’ he quickly
corrected. ‘Mr Rutherford makes me sound like my father.’
‘Very well, Aaron. And tell me, what does your
father make of your decision to search for your birth mother?’
Aaron looked away and shifted uncomfortably on the
spot, unsure how to answer.
‘He … he understands.’
Manoj seemed to sense that he had ventured into
awkward territory and raised his hands, partly in apology and
partly to signal that Aaron need not elaborate on his answer.
‘Well, you are welcome to accompany me to the
refuge, Aaron, but I’m afraid that record keeping back then was not
quite what it is today. In fact, before I came from Delhi and took
charge a few years ago, things were in a terrible state. It’s
possible that we have some information, but there is a good chance
that it is incomplete and I have to say that a forwarding address
seems very unlikely indeed.’
‘Unlikely, but not impossible, right?’
‘Nothing is impossible, Aaron,’ replied Manoj with a
He motioned for Aaron to follow him to where a large
motorcycle was parked and, with a renewed sense of hope, Aaron
trundled down the street taking one step for every two of Manoj’s.
He clambered awkwardly onto the back of the motorcycle, struggling
to tuck his long limbs in alongside Manoj’s small frame and greatly
concerned by the absence of a helmet for either of them. Yet there
was little time to give it further thought when the engine
sputtered to life in a thick plume of swirling black smoke and with
Aaron perched precariously on the back, his arms wrapped tightly
around Manoj’s waist, the pair sped off towards the new refuge.