by Emily Lynn Salvador
Sixteen-year-old Julie Singh tied and retied her beaded sari excitedly as the train pulled into the station. She couldn’t believe that she had persuaded her parents to allow her to attend and dorm at the Adventist academy in Bangalore with her cousin Linda.
Traveling to Bangalore was a long two-and-a-half-day journey from Julie’s hometown in central India. Yet Julie had purchased tickets and transferred trains without any problems. She just knew that going to the academy would bewonderful.
However, Julie’s parents did not share her enthusiasm. They did want Julie to get a good Adventist education, but they felt that she was still too young to leave home. But Julie had pleaded and argued rebelliously with her parents. Finally, after much discussion and prayer, Mr. and Mrs. Singh had agreed to let Julie attend.
Gathering her luggage, Julie stepped out into the stifling, damp heat. A middle-aged Indian lady greeted her at the station and tried to introduce herself, but Julie couldn’t understand her language. She guessed that it must be Tamil, a southern Indian language. Julie later learned that the lady was the girl’s superintendent at the academy. The lady gestured for Julie to follow her, and she led Julie through the village to a small cluster of buildings.
“This is the academy?” Julie asked shakily. The lady nodded cheerfully,recognizing the English word “academy” but not recognizing Julie’s obvious disappointment.
The lady led Julie to the girls’ dormitory. She pointed at the restrooms and at two corridors, still jabbering in Tamil. Finally she knocked at the last door inthe hall.
“Hey, Jewels!” Linda squealed as she opened the door. Julie gave her cousin a quick hug, then nervously walked into the room. She ignored her cousin’s nonstop chatter long enough to survey her new bedroom. The walls were yellowed and faded, and the floor was made of cracked concrete. There was a tiny wooden dresser beneath the only window in the room, and there was a low built-in bunk bedcovered with stained sheets. Julie groaned inwardly. What had she gotten herself into?
Julie felt terribly alone that first night at the academy, though seven other girls shared the narrow bunks. She was hot and miserable. Worst of all, Juliemissed home. After tossing and turning for hours, Julie fell into a fitful sleep.
“Julie,” Linda whispered, shaking Julie’s elbow. “Julie, wake up. I need to go to the bathroom!”
Julie yawned and slowly opened her eyes. “Then go!” she answered groggily, pulling the covers up over her face.
“I can’t go out there by myself. It’s dark. Please come with me,” Linda prodded persistently, giving Julie a final tug.
Julie groaned. “Fine. Let’s make it quick.”
So the girls stumbled out of bed and through the shadowy corridors. The bathroom was dark, lit by only one bulb that dangled from the ceiling.
“Could you come with me, Jewels?” Linda asked shakily.
Before Julie could think of a reply, both girls heard an ominous scratching sound that made their backs stiffen. A scream rose up in Julie’s throat when she saw a huge gray cloud of rats lunging toward them.
“Jump onto the sinks!” Julie shrieked as the rats raced closer. Both girls screamed piercingly as they jumped onto the sinks, then whirled around to get abetter view. The herd of rats scurried under the door, leaving the bathroom inperfect silence.
“Julie,” Linda whispered from her perch on the sink, “I have to go to the bathroom NOW!”
Julie took a deep breath. “Well, I’m not coming with you.”
Linda looked desperate. She cautiously lowered herself from the sink, then darted into a stall.
Finally the girls crept out of the bathroom. They watched the shadows apprehensively as they made their way to their room. They had to stifle screams when they mistook a lumpy shadow for a rat.
“Our talking must’ve spooked them,” Julie whispered as they snuggled under the covers. Linda just shivered.
The next morning, the girls washed as quickly as they could in the rat-infested bathroom. They feared another attack.
* * * * *
A fewmonths later, Julie frowned at her worn textbook during a three-hour study period. She was learning Tamil as her second language, and she had to admit that it was very hard work.
Snapping her textbook shut, Julie reached for a letter that had recently come from home. Reading it made her awfully homesick. She missed her papa’s kind guidance, her mother’s gentle presence, and her brother’s and sister’s mischievous giggles. Julie wished that she had never left them. She sighed. Nothing could be done about it.
Summer passed, and autumn brought the cold winds that announced winter’s soon arrival. After classes one chilly afternoon, Julie suggested that she and Linda go shopping for warmer clothing. Linda happily agreed.
After obtaining the superintendent’s consent, the girls ventured into the busy village of Bangalore. They purchased a few pairs of shalvars, which are tunic-like shirts that are worn with loose-fitting pants. Then they explored the other small shops. At one shop Julie purchased a thick patchwork quilt that reminded her of the winter evenings that she had spent with her family. Julie’s eyes welled up with tears.She missed them so much. She would give anything to be back home.
Then suddenly Julie got an idea. Drying her tears, she asked Linda if they could go to the train station for a bit. Linda looked puzzled but reluctantly agreed.
Julie scanned the ticket expenses anxiously. Most of the good seats were completely unaffordable, but third-class seats were only fifty rupees.
By then Linda looked suspicious. “What are we doing here?” she asked.
Julie felt hot, homesick tears streaming down her cheeks. “I miss my family.”
Linda nodded sympathetically. “I miss my family too. If you’re planning to visit them, then you can count me in.”
* * * * *
Winter had set in completely by the time the girls were allowed to visit their families. The cold made the girls sluggish despite their warm clothing, and they soon found themselves very late.
They were only a few hundred yards from the station when a huge freight train stopped on the tracks before them, blocking any further passage. Julie felt like crying. If she missed her train, then she wouldn’t be able to visit home. Julie rubbed her hands together with true determination. She had to catch that train.
“Linda, let’s crawl under this train,” Julie said daringly. ” Look, it isn’t moving. Let’s go!”
But Linda only shook her head. “You go, Jewels, but I just can’t make myself. It’s too dangerous.”
Julie took a deep breath and began inching her way underneath the freighttrain. Halfway to the opposite side, Julie stopped for a moment to rest, then continued moving forward.
She was three-quarters of the way there when she heard a terrifying sound.The squeak of wheels, the crunch of gravel. The freight train was movingforward!
Julie just lay there, paralyzed with fear. As the train rolled forward, Julie cried,”Jesus, save me!”
It was all over as soon as it had begun. Julie opened her eyes just a crack, not knowing what to expect to see. Slowly it dawned on Julie; she was still alive.Julie crawled out from under the train. Linda screamed and flew at her, crying tears of relief. Julie felt shaky. How had she survived? Then Julie knew that her heavenly Father had protected her from the train’s massive wheels.
They ended up catching their train just in time. Julie had sent a telegram to her family ahead of time, and they all met her at the station. Julie couldn’t remember ever being so happy.
The weekend passed quickly. Julie begged to stay home, but Mr. and Mrs.Singh knew that they needed to teach Julie the consequences of a bad decision.
The next morning Julie bravely hugged her family goodbye and boarded the train. She missed her family even more than before.
* * * * *
Julie soon settled back into the academy’s daily schedule. Summer came and went, marking the beginning of Julie’s second school year. She had begun learning her third language, and this kept her very busy. But in her spare time Julie found her thoughts drifting to her family. She tried studying extra hard tokeep them off her mind, but she still missed them.
Then came winter. Julie spent many chilly evenings studying in her dorm room, wrapped in her quilts. Even the banticoot rats took shelter in the dorm, and the girls became used to their presence. Cockroaches also raided the kitchen pantries often during the winter.
Finally summer came. Though it was terribly hot and humid, Julie was overjoyed, for summer meant the end of her second year at the academy. She could finally go home.
After bidding some tearful goodbyes, Julie boarded her last train. Comforting thoughts of her family filled her with anticipation. She definitely didn’t want to leave their love and protection again any time soon.
During those lonely years at the academy, Julie had learned to appreciate those who cared about her. And she now understood that her Heavenly Father had been watching and protecting her even when she thought that she was alone.
As the last rays of golden sunshine disappeared behind the jade-green hills, Julie breathed a quiet prayer of thanks for having a place to go home to. She didn’t know what would come next in her life, but she did know that no matter where she went, God would be with her.