Welcome to Orphancorp: Extract

Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward

Winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adult

Winner of the 2015 Viva La Novella Prize

A sharp-edged semi-futuristic riff about a rebellious teenager’s last week at an industrial orphanage.

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I twist my hand at a weird angle to get to the itch on my wrist below the shackle. I mean, they call them ‘the Consequences of movement violations’, but shackles is what they are. When I forget to refer to them as such I get ‘the Consequences of speech violations’, which is pretty much just a gag. No one cares what I call that because everything sounds the same with a mouthful of rubber, doesn’t it?

The bus is ancient and jammed with kids, skinny bums squeezed onto the bench seats. The bus is far noisier than the kids, the whole thing filled with a riot of squeaks and rattles and the odd bang from somewhere inside the engine, while us kids keep our mouths shut and our eyes wide, staring straight ahead. Sweat makes a thin layer between my thighs and the cracked vinyl and my bum aches, pressed into the unpadded bench seat. I bounce hard on my arse bones with every pothole jolt.

No one makes eye contact with me. I’m not the only one shackled . . . sorry, facing Consequences, but I am the only one gagged. Sometimes my mouth just starts going and even though in my head I’m all like, shut up, oh just shut up, I can’t help myself.

We slow and the bus drags itself up to the curb, backfires and dies with a rumble-thud. Everyone kinda cranes their eyes slightly to the left. The Uncle up front glares, on a hawk-eye lookout for any minor infraction of the head-turning variety. They put the thickest, stupidest ones on transport duties, usually as a punishment. They like to make us pay for that. I’ve been enjoying this one’s company for fifteen hours of this broiling hell-trip back to Sydney and when he motions for us to stand and file off, I make sure to catch his arm with one of the strings of drool that have spilled out the sides of my gagged mouth.

‘It’s been a pleasure,’ I say, but it comes out all garbled.

‘No talking,’ he barks, looking like he wishes he could gag me a second time.

We line up on the footpath beside the bus. The sun is going down and everyone’s always tired and grumpy as hell after a transfer, but they’ve got to stick to procedure, don’t they? We all wind out our wrists and ankles as they scan our armband codes and make sure no one’s pissed off or died during the trip. It happens.

I take a moment to look over the facility, though I’m not sure why I bother. Every Verity House is the same — a big grey box straddling an entire city block. It’s like they knock them together off-site and heli them in or something. Maybe they do, I don’t know. Broome or Blacktown, Albury, Cairns or that one they say is on that island down in Tassie, it doesn’t matter. The dining hall is always to the right of the dorms; the watch quarters have those thick, double-brick walls that mean they’re easy to sneak past if the door’s closed; the bathrooms are sweet little Kidcam blind spots where I can read a non-reg book on my tab, have a cry or a quick-and-dirty interlude up against the wall without facing any of the related Consequences. In their hurry to manufacture heartless functionality, they’ve made me a home.

I breathe in, scanning the familiar rise and fall of the walls. I take every tiny victory I can, because eventually they add up.

Small victories are all you get in an Orphancorp.