“I would now like to bring up to the podium Mr. Donatas Motiejunas, the new honorary director of the Schaub Memorial Orphanage!”
To a rousing chorus of applause, Donatas sheepishly got up from his seat and walked up to the front. His dream was coming true. When he got to the podium and squinted through the bright lights at all the people smiling at him, he knew that his life’s purpose had been fulfilled.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said, smiling broadly. “It is such privilege to stand here with such great group of people. This truly is new chapter in taking care of orphans in Houston metro area.”
A select group of the orphanage’s most well-behaved children was sitting on the floor in front of him, patiently enduring the self-congratulatory ceremony with no true understanding. When Donatas looked down at them and saw their smiling faces, he couldn’t help but smile even wider in return. Then, the memories came flooding back…
“Please, Donatas, please? Can’t we please just sit by the fireplace while you are away?”
Donatas pulled on his coat. “No, Marija, I’ve told you. Children should not be allowed near the fireplace without supervision. I will be gone for only a few minutes, and when I get back, I promise we can all gather around the fire and sing songs.”
“We promise to be careful!” piped up another child, a boy by the name of Vitalijus.
“Yes, we promise!” Marija echoed. “It is so drafty in our rooms and the fire is so warm!”
Sighing, Donatas finally gave in to their pleas. “Okay. Just this once I will break the rules for you. But don’t tell any of the nurses! They would never let me back if they knew what I was doing.”
“Yippee! Donatas said we can sit by the fireplace!” Marija shouted, running off to inform her fellow orphans.
“Be careful!” Donatas yelled. They had been so persistent, and their lives were so tragic, how could you not grant concessions to them? The store was just three blocks down the road, and the shopping list was shortened by the budgetary limits of the orphanage: milk, bread, and honey. Oh, how the children loved those things. A normal child would clamor for sweets and cookies, but the children of the orphanage appreciated the things they had.
He knew they were good children. They would be careful.
As Donatas browsed the meager honey selection of the tiny shop, his attention was diverted to the sound of a siren coming from far away, yet drawing closer. Suddenly, the small town’s lone fire engine zoomed past the windows of the shop, lights flashing. Feeling a pronounced unease deep within him, he grabbed two jars of honey blindly off the shelf and hurriedly paid for his items. When he stepped back onto the street, he saw that his worst nightmare was coming true.
The orphanage was engulfed in fire.
Dropping his bags, Donatas ran to the scene. The single fire truck sat empty as a group of ten volunteer firefighters attempted to quell the ravenous inferno. From inside the building came the anguished screams of the children, the very children who had been entrusted to his care, now being burned alive. One of them screamed the name of her favorite caretaker, and something in Donatas’ mind snapped.
“Let me through! I have to save the orphans!” Donatas shouted, charging at the entryway.
Suddenly, a pair of strong arms were around his waist, holding him back. “You can’t go in there, sir! The smoke will overwhelm you before you set two feet over the threshold!”
Donatas struggled against the police officer who was bearhugging him. “NO! Please! The orphans!” he screamed, tears pouring out of his eyes. “Pranciskus! Mindaugas! Liudvika! Donatas is coming to save you!”
The fire continued to burn out of control, seemingly undaunted by the two small firehoses which were aimed at it. From every window poured a choking black smoke, but in none of them was the face of a child begging to be saved. The screams from inside the building, which had been so plentiful, were becoming less and less. A firefighter emerged from the front door carrying a small, charred body.
Suddenly feeling very week, Donatas collapsed, only held upright by the police officer who still had his arms around him. “No. No…”
“Mr. Motiejunas? Is everything okay?”
Donatas blinked confusedly as he came back to his senses. The audience was awaiting more words. For how long had he retreated back into the torturous tunnels of recollection?
“Yes, I am fine. I am just very overwhelm by being named honorary director,” Donatas said, smiling away the concerned look of the PR Director. “These beautiful children speak for themselves, and I promising to take good care of them with help from the excellent staff of the orphanage.”
There was another loud burst of applause. Donatas nodded humbly and stepped away from the podium. In his heart, he knew that, with this opportunity, he would atone for his past sins.
Part II: https://youtu.be/VlDNIDfSpMw