Jane had woken up very early that day. After all, it was her Karen's first day at school and she wanted everything to be perfect. A single unmarried mother, Jane had come a long way since her boyfriend abandoned her after she was pregnant. Outcast from her family, she had to fend for herself, and for her child. The world is a harsh place for anybody to live on their own, and being a pregnant woman, Jane had learnt it the hard way. And she had fought the odds and won. Taking care of Karen along with doing the odd jobs for survival had robbed Jane of her youth, but she had no regrets. The faintest smile and the smallest chuckle from her little daughter was more than sufficient to drown all the weariness that she felt. They had carved their own lives together, Jane and Karen. A little world for themselves which none of the wolves outside could penetrate.
No, she wasn't going to let the bad memories of the days gone by to spoil this day. Her Karen had now grown up and would be taking her first step into the outside world without her mother for the first time. Nothing should spoil this day, for this was their day. Karen was very excited about going to school. Since Jane kept Karen with herself most of the time, Karen didn't really have many friends of her own. She was looking forward to meeting other people of her age and making friends.
As she readied Karen for her big day, Jane marveled at her creation. Hardly a few years ago, she would not have thought this to be possible. Some days she had to go without food which was very hard to get considering her meagre income. There was this constant fear that they would not survive their ordeal. The nagging guilt that she was not able to provide her daughter with the basic necessities in the most formative years of her life. But the bad time had passed. From crashing at one friend's place to another, now they had rented their own little apartment, a home they could call their own. Jane had a steady job which paid her enough to live comfortably. She had finally proved to the big bad world, and more so to herself, that she could survive on her own. That a single woman outcast by her own society could survive, and survive well.
Jane walked with Karen the small distance between their home and the school. Karen held her mother's finger with her tiny hand and walked along. The excitement was apparent in her footsteps. Her eyes were brightly lit up and she was looking forward to meeting new people. The air was cool, the sun was out and it was a perfect day. Jane looked down at her chirpy daughter and a tear went down her cheek. Maybe this is what happiness really was.
They stood together outside the classroom. It was finally time to say goodbye for a few hours. For the very first time, Karen would be without her mother or any familiar face for a few hours. As the excited Karen let go of her mother's hand, Jane felt an emptiness around her. Would her child be alright without her looking over? More so, would Jane be able to manage without those tiny fingers curled around her finger? Suddenly she did not want Karen to leave. School can wait a few months more.
The teacher came over to Jane and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"She would be just fine. Don't you worry." said the teacher.
Going against her maternal instincts, Jane turned around and walked out. The tears were increasingly becoming uncontrollable. This was not correct she felt. Something was terribly wrong. Her heart pulled her back, but the brain urged her to walk away. Is she old enough to be on her own, albeit for a few hours?
The weather had changed. It was cloudy outside now. There was a gloomy feel to the entire climate. It was just not right. Wasn't this supposed to be her happiest day? Even the weather gods weren't helping cheer her up. There was a loud clap of thunder. It sounded more like a gun-shot. Then there was another, and somehow the clouds were all too excited. Too many thunders all around. Or were they really thunders? Why was it not raining when there were so many thunders. Did thunders really sound so much like gun fire?
Jane turned around and looked back at the school. All she saw were screaming children running out in total chaos. She yelled Karen's name and ran towards the building but strong hands held her back, not letting her go to her Karen and rescue her.
"Control yourself Jane, let us get you inside now." someone said.
But Jane was not going to relent so easily. Her Karen was in grave danger.
"Come on Jane, it's about to rain now. The time for outdoor activity is over." they repeated.
The two pairs of strong hands lifted her off the ground and carried her inside the building. The mental health care facility was a big place and they had to walk for several minutes till they reached her room where she was sedated and allowed to sleep. Next to her bed, on the table was a newspaper clipping which read
"Twenty children and six adult staff members killed in a shooting incident. A twenty year old man carrying a gun trespassed into the school premises and began shooting randomly .................. "