Orphanage - the name alone sounds like a place from a horror movie. It's not a place anyone wants to be in; however, it's the only home there is for many children who have already been through tragedy and terror.
Some of these children were adapting fast; getting used to a new place and other kids. And some would never accept this place as home.
Little Orochimaru was one of the latter. At just five years old, he'd lost his parents in a shinobi war. Now he was completely alone in this world. The only thing he had left from his home was a plush snake his mother had given him as a baby. This little companion was now his best memory and one true friend.
He could not cope with his new situation. The happy world he knew had been torn away forever. The little boy just closed himself off and pushed everything and everyone else aside.
Most of the time, while the other kids were playing outside in the yard, he merely sat under a tree. Holding his plush snake tightly, he wished to disappear to somewhere far away from everybody.
The wardens who worked there were watching him. He could feel their eyes on him. They were always studying him and whispering words like, "strange" and "too quiet." It made him feel there was something wrong with him.
His fellow orphans were worse. They would tease him about how "weird-looking" he was and about how he never spoke, and that was on good days. The rest of the time they would push him and throw things at him.
In the beginning, Orochimaru didn't pay them much attention. Yet when their behaviour started to really aggravate him, he began to fight back. He had this strange reserve of power inside him that made his blows quite harmful. This retaliation was unacceptable in the eyes of the adults and only made things worse for him. The outraged wardens would take him by force and lock him in a single room with just one bed till he calmed down. He couldn't understand it, so he kicked and hit the door with all his might and screamed at the top of his lungs till he ran out of breath.
So far, this day was no exception from the rest. Orochimaru sat under a tree in the yard, hugging his toy snake, trying to avoid everyone. His eyes drifted down to the grass below him. He figured he could just stay there till dinnertime.
An unpleasant voice began to approach. He recognised it as that of the orphanage's headmaster, Kinnosuke. From the sound of it, there were several other people with him. Orochimaru hated the man for being cruel and feared the prospect of having to speak to him. He hoped Kinnosuke wasn't looking for him this time.
"This is him," the man said in an annoyed tone as he came up to the boy. "Hello, Orochimaru. Do you think you might talk today? There's a lady here who wants to meet you."
"Hajimemashite, Orochi-kun. My name is Emiko. I'm the new nurse here. I hope we can be friends," said an unfamiliar voice. It was light and breathy, more like a child's voice than an adult's.
Orochimaru had been content merely staring at her sandals, but soon he found himself curious about this person. None of the other wardens had ever suggested being friends with him.
He gradually lifted his head to look at her, starting at the hem of her blue-green kimono. Going up, there was a white haori and a black obi. Finally, there was a nurse's cap holding her red hair in place. After a moment's hesitation, he looked at her face. She was smiling. It was the sort of big, warm smile he'd seldom seen since his parents died.
Orochimaru still didn't speak, but he made eye contact with the woman. She didn't seem as scary or as mean as the rest of the people there.
"Why don't we go on a little walk together? Just you and me, outside the gates. Would you like that?" she asked.
He nodded and got to his feet. Getting away from the orphanage sounded like a nice respite. He hadn't left the place since first arriving there.
"I'm sure that won't be a problem," Emiko said to the other wardens. "Here, Orochi-kun, hold my hand." She held it out for him to take.
The way she acted was so different from what he'd gotten used to recently. She almost reminded him of his mother. He still didn't want to take her hand, though. It felt too soon to trust her.
The nurse let her arm fall back down to her side. "If you don't want to hold hands, I won't make you." She turned to the other adults, still smiling. "Unless there are any objections, we'll get going now."
Kinnosuke shook his head. He bowed to excuse himself and went back inside the building. The two additional wardens who had been standing around him went to tend to the other children.
"Just try to keep up with me, all right?" she said, turning back to Orochimaru. She motioned for him to follow and began walking toward the orphanage gate.
It proved fairly easy to keep up with her. He found that he moved much quicker than she did. It wasn't that she was especially slow, just slower than him. By the time they were out of the gate, he'd already passed her.
"Now don't get ahead of me, either. This isn't a race, Orochi-kun." Her voice wasn't angry. It was still gentle, but now a touch worried. "I'm afraid I'm not accustomed to children who can walk so fast. And we need to be careful so we don't trip over anything out here and get hurt. I want you to be safe."
Orochimaru slowed down until his pace matched hers. That word Emiko used, 'safe,' gave him a funny feeling. He knew what it meant, but he couldn't remember experiencing the sense of being safe. After everything he'd been through, it had faded from his memory. And now someone wanted it for him. It was confusing to him to not feel scared or sad or at least mad. This all seemed weird, but kind of pleasant at the same time.
The area surrounding the orphanage was fairly wooded. A light breeze was blowing through the trees. Birds and insects were chirping about them. Flowers were blooming here and there, interspersed with vibrant shrubs.
The lady inhaled through her nose. "I like this time of year. It's very relaxing to walk around and see all the plants."
Orochimaru watched her silently. He couldn't figure out why she was being so nice to him when no one else was. Yet he wasn't about to complain. Being taken for a stroll by someone who didn't yell at him was something to appreciate for as long as it lasted.
They came upon a patch of white flowers. Emiko bent over and picked one of the blooms. She held it out to him. "For you. It's called an anemone," she said, gazing serenely at him. "Unless you don't like flowers. I could keep it, in that case."
A moment of tense hesitation went by. Orochimaru looked back and forth, from the flower to Emiko's face. Finally, he extended a trembling hand and took the anemone. He held onto it, keeping his toy snake tucked under the opposite arm.
She smiled at this and they went on their way. Walking side by side, but not too close, they followed a worn path through the trees. The sun beamed down in open spots among the leafy canopy, illuminating their way.
Though he didn't realise it, they had been walking in a circle. Some fifteen minutes after starting, they arrived back at the gate. Orochimaru sighed his disappointment on their return. He wished he could've just kept on walking, never to return to such a dreadful place. As Emiko opened the gate for the both of them, he thought about running away. With no idea of where he could go, he decided he had no choice but to go back inside the yard.
They were soon accosted by one of the older wardens, Jun, a woman with blue hair and dark glasses. "How did it go? Did he give you a lot of trouble?" she asked.
Emiko shook her head. "Oh, he was no trouble at all. Orochi-kun is a sweet boy."
The other woman scoffed. "You'll change your tune when it's time to shower him. None of us have managed to get him to wash up at all. Look how dirty his hair is!"
Orochimaru felt his face start to turn red. As if it weren't embarrassing enough to discuss bathing, Jun had to bring up his dirty hair. Now Emiko would notice how filthy and smelly he was and criticise him for it like the rest of them.
"Maybe he's not ready for those big showers yet. I could try giving him a nice bath." Emiko brushed her hand over the top of his head, but showed no signs of disgust. Rather, her eyelashes fluttered and her smile softened till it looked a bit sad.
"Just you wait till he's running around stark naked, kicking and screaming. He knocked one of my teeth out the first time." Jun pointed to a gap in her mouth where a front tooth should have been. "That boy's not right in the head."
"One must be patient with children. Especially those who have been through more tragedy than most adults. Forcing him will only terrify him more." Emiko removed her hand and let it fall to her side again.
"Yeah, right. I was once new here, too. Idealism only lasts so long." The woman groaned before walking off.
Emiko sighed. "Don't let her upset you, Orochi-kun. I'm sure she has a lot problems to deal with, not just you. You shouldn't think you're a bad child just because of what she says. I still think you're sweet, my dear." She turned to look at him, but found she was too late.
The conversation humiliated him. As soon as the ladies had finished talking, he ran off to hide behind the tree. Nobody understood him. Nobody even wanted to try. Every single person there, including the other kids, thought he was sick and needed some treatment that no one could give him.
The evening meant bath time for all the kids before they went to bed. It was nothing special, just a huge room with many shower pipes coming down from ceiling. There was no privacy and with so many kids, there was no time for special treatment. Older kids where just given a piece of soap and a sponge and told to wash themselves. Younger kids were washed hastily by the wardens.
Orochimaru always kept his plush snake and refused to give it to anybody. That was the main reason why they had so many problems with him. Every time the wardens tried to take it away and undress him, he became hysterical – screaming, running around, and kicking anyone who came close. That was how Jun lost her tooth. Of course, they could just hold him by the arms and put under the shower, but they were weary of the risk of injury, Most of the staff now refused to go too near him. As such, Orochimaru hadn't showered for days. He didn't like being dirty, but he hadn't the will go through with taking a shower.
This time was much the same. Everybody knew he really needed to wash. His hair had become tacky and greasy, and even his clothes were starting to stick to him.
They tried to convince him. First, they said he needed to wash, but he simply ignored them. Then they tried to take his plush toy away. That only made him scream and run away from them. Finally, the headmaster grabbed Orochimaru and dragged him to the bathroom.
The place was already empty by then. The other kids had finished and gone to bed. Only Orochimaru remained. The other wardens were really tired of his behaviour. They felt helpless, exhausted, and downright angry. Kinnosuke had had enough. He ripped the boy's clothes off and forced him to the floor. He held the boy down, bruising him.
"That's enough, Orochimaru-kun! We won't tolerate anymore of your acting out! You need to learn to obey the rules!" he screamed. "And look at me when I'm talking to you!" Kinnosuke was a very strict, old-fashioned type. He thought that strong discipline could solve any problem with 'hard going kids.' As Orochimaru was young, Kinnosuke decided being smacked around would get his attention. After few slaps, the boy finally looked at him.
Kinnosuke continued his speech. "There's the soap. You are old enough to learn to wash yourself. I'm going to lock you in here until you do." He then left the boy completely naked, on the floor of the empty bathroom.
Orochimaru curled himself into a ball upon the cold tiles. He didn't bother trying to wash. Tears began streaming down his face. Several minutes later, a commotion from outside startled him.
The door opened and Emiko entered, wearing a thin yukata. She was carrying his toy snake in her hand. "I'm sorry, my dear. I had hoped to bathe you myself, but the headmaster was being stubborn. I finally talked him into letting me try."
He perked up at the sight of his plushy and stretched out his hands to get it.
She held it up, out of his grasp. "Now if you get it wet, it won't be nice to cuddle when you go to bed. You don't want to catch cold, do you?" she asked. "Why don't I put it over here, that way you can still see it, but it stays dry." Emiko placed the toy upon one of the chairs by the laundry bins.
Orochimaru began to run toward it, but the tiles were still wet and soapy. Slipping, he fell on his back and hit his head with a loud thud. He started crying again, sobbing violently.
"Oh, my poor Orochi-kun! You have to be more careful," she gasped, going to his aid. Emiko sat down on her ankles and lifted him up into her lap. "I'm so sorry, my dear. Here, let me make it better."
All the fight in him was gone. The evening's events had been too much for him. Orochimaru stopped resisting and let himself go limp against her. His face landed on her breast, where he continued to weep.
Emiko held him closer still. "You cry as much as you need to, my dear. Just let it all out. I'm here, now. I'll help you." She lightly rubbed the sore back of his head and then kissed it.
The soft area under his face felt oddly nice. Something about it comforted him. It was almost like being home again. And being held and even kissed gave him a warm sensation in his chest. He was a bit surprised that she was willing to do that, considering the awful state of his hair. After some time, his sobbing calmed down. Orochimaru shifted his head, so that he could look up at her, whilst his cheek remained pressed to her bosom.
She smiled down at him and brushed the damp strands of hair out of his face. "You're just frightened, aren't you? It's all right. There's nothing wrong with being afraid. But if you'd like to trust me, I'd like that." Her eyes glistened. "And if you want, I can wash you. I promise to be gentle."
He sighed heavily before nodding. Showering was inevitable, he realised, but at least this woman was being nice about it. They might as well get it over with. Weakly, he got to his feet and retrieved the bar of soap he'd been given earlier. Orochimaru handed it to her, then went back to the shower head that had been left running for him.
Emiko went with him. Working up some lather around the bar, she proceeded to clean his shoulders. Her movements were very delicate, yet thorough. She made sure both of his arms were quite soapy before moving on to his chest and back.
Orochimaru lifted his arms up for her to wash under, and did likewise with each leg when she reached them. He avoided looking at her face, restricting his gaze to his feet and the drain. It shocked him a bit when the dripping suds became greyish from all the dirt that had accumulated on his skin.
Holding the soap under water, she rinsed off the dirty layer of suds. Emiko reworked the lather. "I'm going to was your face now, so close your eyes. You don't want to get soap in them. It'll hurt."
With his eyes clenched shut, he could feel the bar of soap being rubbed over his face. Next, his head was moved to the water and back. His eyelids were then dabbed by what he assumed was the sleeve of her yukata.
"All right, you can open them again," she said. Once he had, she continued. "Um, your bottom and your boy parts... Do you want to wash there yourself? I can turn my head, if you like."
Orochimaru went bright red and hid himself with his left hand. He nodded, looking off to the side, and took the soap from her. Once she averted her eyes, he did his best to wash that particular region of his body. Then he tapped her on the shoulder to let her know he was done.
She took back the soap and went to put it away. "Almost finished. We just need to wash your hair now." After fetching a bottle of shampoo, she squirted some onto the crown of his head. Her fingers carefully massaged the viscous liquid into his hair. She smoothed it through from the roots to the ends.
He winced when she shampooed the spot where he hit head. It now felt tender and swollen. Orochimaru imagined there was probably a huge, red bump there.
"Oh, I'm sorry about that," she said, pouting. "But the good news is you can rinse off now and that will be it. I'll get some fresh towels for you and dry you off, then you can have your snake back."
At hearing this news, Orochimaru managed a smile. He allowed Emiko to rinse him off till all the suds and shampoo were off of him and circling the drain in the tiled floor below his feet.
When he was at last fully clean, she turned off the water and went to get some towels from towel rack. Emiko wrapped one around his head and began vigorously drying his arms and torso with another. "Do you want to dry yourself down there, too?" she whispered.
Without giving a response, he took the towel and dabbed himself till he felt reasonably dry. He handed it back to her, all while avoiding any eye contact.
Next, Emiko rubbed the towel on his head into his hair to soak up the excess water there. Wrapping another towel over his shoulders like a cloak, she gave an exhausted sigh. "I can help you brush your hair and put your pyjamas on, too, if you'd like. Though you can have your toy back now."
Daring to look at again, he flashed a toothy grin. Orochimaru gave an excited nod, which caused his damp hair swish about in thick tendrils. He was just so relieved to be getting his toy back.
"All right, but remember no running and the slippery floors." She went with him over to the chair where his toy was waiting. Before he could grab it, she took it and handed it to him. "You look tired. Are you feeling sleepy?"
He nodded, nuzzling the snake. His eyes were red and drooping. A second later, he yawned.
Emiko also yawned, covering her mouth as she did so. "I'm not surprised. You've had a long day. Why don't I put you to bed?" she asked.
Orochimaru nodded once more. He found himself wondering if she needed a towel as well. Her yukata was soaked after helping him shower.
He went with Emiko to the boys' bedroom. It looked like a hospital ward. There were some twenty beds, one across from the other, with a little extra room in between each for personal space and a small nightstand. The beds were on metal structures with two frames on each side. Each had one pillow and a tiny blanket. It was all very cold and sterile, and devoid of most every colour, save white.
His pyjamas were already laid out on the bed. She helped him out of the wet bath towels and into the sleep wear. Then she took the brush from his nightstand and combed his hair. It was the first time in ages that he looked presentable. It did hurt some when she combed out the tangles, but he was too tired to protest.
Orochimaru got up on bed and lay down, letting Emiko cover him with blanket. He squeezed his plushy tight and closed his eyes.
Emiko patted his head and said goodnight to him. After fetching the soiled towels, she left the room. It was past her quitting time. She needed to change clothes and hurry home. The rest of her work duties would have to wait till morning.
Orochimaru couldn't really sleep. He had nightmares about the whole bath incident. He remembered the headmaster slapping him, forcing his clothes off, and leaving him naked. He wanted to scream from fear, but he knew it'd wake up the other kids and cause more trouble. So again, he just squeezed his plush friend tightly and held it like that until he passed out from exhaustion.