Dear Anonymous Sponsor - Chapter 6
“Judith, you left your scarf!”
Millian ran out in a hurry with a thick woolen scarf in his hand. His scarf fluttered in the wind as he dashed towards Judith and wrapped the shawl around her neck.
“You’re going to catch a cold again. Look. you got sick this week last year too.”
“It was just a mild cough and cold.”
“You’re not even afraid. Don’t you remember the doctor telling you that you’re lucky you didn’t develop pneumonia?”
Millian would often worry about her health as if she were going to die any time soon. Perhaps it all started when she got sick from the flu last winter.
It’s not as if she was weak; her health was just fragile. Judith sometimes wondered how Millian would react if he knew that she’d been shot and had escaped captivity before.
Bang! A faint gunshot rang from a distance. Hundreds of winter birds that covered the snow-laden fir trees like a shroud flapped their wings and flew from the noise. Mr. Wirrius’ shooting class in the forest must have started already.
“Millie, aren’t you going to class?”
“I’m excused for today. I’m taking you downtown.”
“Can I do that too?”
“No, only elite students like me can.”
Millian smirked and unlocked his bicycle as several more shots rang out in the forest. Judith looked up at the pigeon flapping its wings in the clear blue sky.
Sometimes when she heard the gunshots ringing in the forest, glimpses of memories flashed in her head briefly.
Her chest throbs in pain whenever she recalled the day she got shot. It was like a nightmare.
Judith’s vision blurred, and darkness covered the red brick building of Wortherford Nursery in front of her. In contrast, the light bulb on the porch lit up like a lantern, with the harsh light seemingly piercing her eyes.
In the dark, she could see the silhouette of a man standing behind the light and hear him whispering.
Along with the hallucinations, Judith also frequently experienced flashbacks. A single light from a lantern multiplied into a dozen, and soldiers carrying guns surrounded her.
Judith looked down at herself. She stood at an angle with her left foot a step backward, and her numb arms held a gun as if it were to fall any moment.
She was aiming the rifle at a person. Her posture was that of an amateur, but her target was clear. She could see a man wearing a dark uniform from the lantern lights, and a sense of danger rose from her.
‘Did I shoot a gun too?’
Based on her hazy memories, Judith couldn’t tell if she pulled the trigger or not.
“Let’s go, Jude.”
Right after she recalled the gunshot’s noise, Millian’s voice pulled her back to the present time.
Judith raised a sorrowful look and saw a bicycle parked in front of her. Millian nodded to her, gesturing to the back of his bike.
“What are you doing? Let’s go already.”
Judith shook the unpleasant images from her head. Millian pedaled vigorously as soon as she sat at the back of his bike.
“Hold on, and don’t fall. Here we go!”
A bicycle carrying two people made its way around the streets. They were traveling the path she had been running on a year ago with the sound of her heart pounding quickly underneath her big clothes. Judith willfully pulled down her scarf and let the cold wind brush her cheeks.
The pieces of memories that resurfaced from her subconsciousness brought her crippling anxiety.
‘Will I ever see that man again?’
He was the only one who knew her identity. Why did that officer try to save her? Most of her memories during the time of her captivity were still vague.
It would be such an unfortunate event if she happens to meet him again and he recognizes her.
The black boots that crushed Kilgeny’s Main resurfaced in her mind. Her people were helpless against the flag of Ailance that painted a howling lion on a red background. Cold rage engulfed her heart like thin ice.
“…Millie, I think I should learn how to shoot.”
“What? I can’t hear you!”
If she told Millian that she wanted to know how to shoot, he would probably disagree. It was good that she didn’t bring it up right away. Since her other lung couldn’t function properly, it would be difficult for her to train like the other children.
Nevertheless, Judith thought she could learn how to shoot a gun properly. She decided that she would visit Mr. Wirrius alone later.
If she meets the man again, she wants to be the one to pull the trigger first. Judith’s eyes glinted with a clear sense of purpose.
‘I should probably ask my sponsor for a pistol.’
Didn’t he say that he would provide her with anything she needed? She thought about her anonymous sponsor for a while.
Will he reply if she made a request like that in her letter? Or would he be suspicious? She didn’t know. Her sponsor might have already forgotten the girl he decided to support on a whim.
As expected, it was presumptuous of her to write and send him a letter every month. Now her enthusiasm died out.
Judith hugged Millian’s waist tightly and buried her face in his fluffy fur coat.
On their way back, Judith’s foul mood disappeared.
On the way home from the meat shop and grocery store, Judith saw a postal wagon heading to the nursery. It looked as if it were having a hard time climbing up the hill with all the heavy packages.
Perhaps the package is for her, so she patted Millian’s back excitedly.
“Millie, speed up.”
“Jude, please don’t forget that we’re climbing uphill, and you’re an added weight too.”
She teasingly pinched Millian’s forearm, and he pedaled faster while grumbling. Judith’s eyes widened when she saw the postal wagon stopping in front of the nursery. Workers unloaded large packages that resembled moving boxes.
“Uh, that looks somehow familiar.”
Millian muttered as he witnessed the scene in front of them. He looked back and laughed at the look on Judith’s face, who was hugging his waist with a face full of joy and relief.
“I’m sorry for being impatient…”
Judith mumbled an apology with an awkward expression on her face.
“I never expected a gift would come…”
“Why are you apologizing? What’s wrong if you were impatient? I bet you’re going to cry if the gift isn’t for you.”
Millian went around and teased her. Of course, it didn’t happen because the packages were for Judith, which took nine months to arrive. The contents of the boxes were almost a hundred books.
She remembered a line from the letter she wrote to her sponsor a few months ago saying, “The novel I read in the city library was fascinating, but I couldn’t finish it because it was closing time already.”
It didn’t matter what the contents were.
“I’m going to read them all.’
Just the fact that somewhere, someone in the world was looking out for her and was willing to help her was already more than enough. Even though her sister warned her not to trust people, she still felt relieved that she had someone supporting her.
If it were the man in the shadows, she would have avoided him and aimed a loaded rifle at him.
Judith was afraid of being discarded while knocking on the door of an empty house that her anxiety piled up, but now it was slowly dissolving.
Now Judith knows that someone is obviously on the other side of the door. It’s the person that responds to her calls and returns her heavy knocks with packages. Judith knocked on the door by sending letters as if they had naturally melted into her daily routine, sometimes out of obligation and other times out of desperation.
Several Christmases have passed, and New Years came, and the length of her letters was getting longer, quickly filling five pages of paper. The occasional unexpected packages that her sponsor sent also contributed to the comfort of the children living in Wortherford Nursery.
Time passed by quickly, and it’s already been five years.
Spring of 1925
Party poppers exploded in the student cafeteria of Kinsley State University.
It startled the girl who had just entered and dropped the books in her arms in the process. Greetings of congratulations and birthday wishes poured out everywhere.
“Happy birthday, Jude!”
“Surprise! You didn’t expect this, did you?”
“Hurry up, and come here. The candles are going to fall!”
While the girl with long dark hair and a slim body felt embarrassed and confused, three people rushed to her and led her to the cafeteria’s center. They placed a yellow butter cake filled with white candles in front of her.
Millian held the cake with a big grin on his face.
“Judith Wortherford, congratulations on your twenty-first birthday!”
“Wait, when did you all start preparing for this…”
As if her embarrassment wasn’t enough already, dozens of students gathered and started singing her a birthday song. A shy smile spread on her lips, not knowing what to do.
After the song, she blew all twenty-one candles on the cake, and the student cheered once again. Among them were several people from Wortherford Nursery.
Then they filled her arms with neatly wrapped presents.
“When did you all prepare this? Thank you so much!”
Judith opened Millian’s gift when the students crowding the cafeteria began to split like Moses’s miracle.
‘Oh, what is it this time?’
Judith felt uneasy. Is there another big surprise for her? But of course, her hopes were shattered once again.