A sneak preview on the book Leaving Sarah by June Mendez.


Goodbyes are toxic. They eat into your mind, crippling your spirit, leaving you an empty shell, of unfulfilled promises – of things that could have been.
Goodbyes are lethal. They tear at your soul, ripping out the last shred of sanity, sometimes driving you beyond the edge of reason.

Josephine Trent was on the brink of insanity, just a hair’s breadth away from falling over the edge. As she elbowed her way through the frenzied crowds at the station, she was spared another attack of conscience. The noise, the chatter, and the harried travellers invaded all aspects of her being, stealing the right to her own thoughts. She clutched tightly at the baby in her arms, as the crowds that pushed and shoved to get ahead, propelled her forward, against her will.
The chaos at the station was in tandem with the chaos in her head. Guilt, disgust, regret, and acceptance ricocheted in her mind, confusing her with the severity of each emotion. This was perfect in a sense, as the confusion in her mind quelled the forces that could so easily turn her around and undo all the effort that it had taken to get her here.
She was here for a purpose, here to let go, to part with a piece of herself.

The sound of the whistle and all hell broke loose. A clamour at the windows, people rushing to the train, shouts of “Mama, don’t leave me!” sobs and cries rent the air!
This was a scene that played itself out so many times, year after year. It was nothing unusual. The date was another, the people different, but the setting just the same. It was also the scene that heralded the beginning of a new academic year with the departure of the ‘New Party’ from Sealdah station – a new batch of students leaving for a boarding school far, far away!
Parents jostled with each other for one last glimpse of a loved one, whilst bewildered children rushed to the windows, uncertainty writ large on faces streaming with tears.
“Children! Please remain in your seats!”
“Come on away from the window. Move aside, although gentleman through. Will you listen?”
The agitated voice of the schoolmaster could be heard, as he desperately tried to get their attention.
Now however, was not the time to listen! How could the train leave without one last attempt! Hope against hope that someone would be moved – innocent, pleading eyes, holding a glimmer of hope.
A lone figure merged into the shadows at a safe distance from the crowd, observing all that was going on, desperate to go close, but afraid to do so. She wanted to scream out in pain, but somehow managed to clutch onto the last thread of sanity. How she wished she could just get on that train and undo what she had done!
The train’s signal almost pulled her from the shadows, but a pair of frail hands held her back. Now was not the time, she had to be strong, had to hold it together till the train was gone!

A loud whistle, a strong rush of air, and the train slowly pulled out of the station with parents and relatives running alongside, keeping pace with it.
“I’ll come and see you soon darling.”
“Don’t forget to open the balchowfirst.”
“I’ll write as soon as I go home.”
“We’ll miss you. Bye!”
Last minute instructions, and then crying, touching, and waving as the train gathered speed and was soon out of their reach.
Josephine stood watching till the lights of the train were just a speck in the distance, and then she slumped to the floor, drained by everything that had transpired. She was glad that things had gone smoothly, but was shattered by the implications of her actions. Had she done the right thing?
The pain was so unbearable, another scream rose in her throat, but she stifled it. Would it help? Change things? She pulled herself together. What was done, was done. This is how it had to be – life had to go on!

As the train gained momentum, the cries in the compartment reached a crescendo.
“I want my Mummy!”
“Please I beg you, stop the train and let me go home.”
“My daddy doesn’t know where I am.”
“Please, Uncle, why won’t you listen to us?”
John Smiley was immune to these cries and pleas – he had been escorting the New Party for a decade now, so he knew what to expect. It was always best to leave them alone for a while, till the older children took charge and comforted the younger ones.
The oldest this year was just twelve, while most of the others were below five. Last year it had been much easier with an older group of children. This trip was not going to be easy!
“Okay, okay, settle down. Now I want all the older children to take charge of a little one. Yes, yes. Samantha? This is Lucy. Keep her near you. Shh… shh… enough crying!”
Mr. Smiley was terrible at comforting little children. He succeeded in making them cry with his stern look, but was lost when it came to soothing them. His empathy could be likened to a grizzly taking charge of a little puppy, desperate to provide comfort, but more intimidating than anything else with its awkward efforts.

“What’s in a name?” wrote Shakespeare. He clearly had not been thinking of John Smiley when he penned those lines. There was nothing remotely ‘smiley’ or happy about his countenance! The grey beard, and bushy eyebrows that stood out so prominently, gave him a stern ape-like appearance. An enormous belly, now replaced the solid muscular frame he once boasted, and although he had a slight stoop, his enormity seemed to fill the whole compartment. He was a man not to be trifled with.
His wife on the other hand, was usually able to get around the little ones with songs and stories. When Sylvia Smiley began singing, Lucy peeked out from behind the doll she was clutching, her little face blackened by her tears. At two, she was the youngest of the lot, a tiny little apparition whose growth had been arrested by malnutrition. She had spent herself crying, and now sat quietly as the train rushed on into the dark night.
Melissa was still crying, the angry wailing had been reduced to quiet sobs. She could not understand the cruelty of her mother’s actions. She had not left her side in these three years and had even accompanied her to work! How could mama do this? She had always tried to be a good girl, so why was mama sending her away? Boarding schools were for naughty children, or so she had heard.
The different faces in the compartment, some still crying, others lost in thought, uncertain, all apprehensive; each face had a story to tell. These were not the faces of the elite being sent away to some posh boarding school, but were the products of disturbed lives, of harsh realities, abuse, alcoholism, and despair – the faces of the selected few! The lucky few, being given a new lease, after battling the misfortunes of circumstance!
The train sped on, eating up the miles, bringing them closer to an unknown destination. They all had a vague idea of where they were headed. It had been mentioned several times during the interviews. Some place in the hills – a boarding school called The Abode. A strange name no doubt for a school, but the name had been deliberately chosen for the school, which had been fashioned on the likes of a tiny village to create a home away from home.
All Ryan knew was that it was going to be quite cold where he was going.
“You’ll have nice pink cheeks the next time I see you,” was what his mother had said.
He hoped it snowed there in the winter. He had never seen snow – that would definitely be something to look forward to!

It was over two hours since the train had left Calcutta, and a quiet calm had descended on bogey no. 2. The wails and sobs had died down, replaced by occasional sniffles. Most of the children had fallen asleep.
The Smileys felt a little relaxed now. A child might wake in the night, but the rest of the journey was usually quite uneventful.
The clickety, clack, clickety clack of the train, lulled Mr. Smiley back in time to when he had first escorted the New Party.
He was quite apprehensive about handling such a momentous task, but had accepted it on his wife’s insistence. The extra money that they would be paid to do the job was something that he could not pass up since they had needed the money at the time. His mother had been through a rather expensive surgery, which had drained his finances. Although looking after a bunch of wailing, screaming children was not his idea of an extra buck, and by no means an easy feat, he had agreed.
The lack of adequate donations that year had not made his task any easier. They had been forced to travel by third class, which was an experience in itself. The third class had been horribly dirty. He unconsciously scratched his face, thinking about the bugs that had bothered them throughout the journey. He could still feel his body ache after a night of rocking and rolling on those hard wooden bunks!
What a sight the children had been in the morning! Hair tousled, faces blackened by the soot emitting from the engine, they looked like a bunch of chimney sweeps! Looking back on that time, brought a rare smile to John Smiley’s face.
Mary Pots had been the youngest in that lot. Just three years old, but she had had a temper that was so fiery he had felt sore when her tantrums were over! He pictured her now, kicking and screaming on the floor. She had been quite something!
Since then the journeys had not been all that bad. Apart from his wife, another houseparent also accompanied them, which made the task much easier.
Sylvia Smiley had mastered the knack of getting around the children. She was a soft-spoken woman who seemed to have a way with children as well as adults. She was the perfect foil to her husband. No matter what the situation, Mr. Smiley had never seen her lose her poise. She dealt with everyone in the same manner as she would a child. Her voice was so soft, at times one had to strain to catch what she was saying.
If her quiet cajoling did not work with the children, one shout from Mr. Smiley was enough to numb them into silence! There was no mistaking his deep baritone, which could be singled out in a room full of people. It had stood him in good stead as the P.T master.

“Waaah! Waaaah!” The desperate cry of a baby cut through his thoughts. Was he imagining things? “Waaaaah!” There it was again; much louder and more demanding this time. He looked over at his wife. She looked as startled as he was. They could not possibly hear the sound of a baby in another bogey, could they? He knew there were no babies in this one. He had taken a quick recce of the other compartments once the children had settled in, to ascertain who the other passengers were.
“Put the light on Sylvia.”
Mr. Smiley and his wife looked around their compartment, but there was no sign of a baby there. The cries had become more frantic, more desperate!
He checked the next compartment thoroughly. From the increased volume of the cries, he knew the baby was definitely in this one. The berths at the bottom were occupied by sleeping children so it was highly unlikely a baby would be amongst them. He checked his berth at the top. The sound was emanating from a bundle of clothes, quite like the dhobi’s bundle at the corner of the bunk. He gingerly brought it down.
The sight of a red faced, screaming little baby in the midst of all the clothes so startled him; he almost dropped the load in his hands! Had he really seen a tiny infant? He looked again.
The baby was quite small, hardly six months old. There was a tag around her wrist, which said ‘Sarah Jane.’ A little note was attached to the tag, which simply stated:
“Due to unavoidable circumstances I cannot look after this child anymore so I am entrusting her to the care of The Abode. Please don’t abandon her! Signed, Josephine Trent.”
There was even a signed court order, granting the school the temporary custody of the child. The child’s mother had thought of everything. A bottle of milk, and a few nappies, were also rolled up beside her.
Mr. Smiley wondered when the child’s mother had managed to sneak the baby in, and how the infant had gone unnoticed for so long. The big man was at a loss for what to do. His face seemed to be frozen into a big question mark!
“It would be best to report the matter to someone in authority,” said Sylvia. “Get the right opinion.”
The question mark immediately vanished, to be replaced by palpable relief. Yes, that would be the right thing. They would know what to do.
Like a man on a mission, he all but galloped in search of the Ticket Collector.

Leaving Sarah – PROLOGUE

Dear readers, this is a follow-up to my previous post on Leaving Sarah by June Mendez for which the author has written the PROLOGUE.

“Sarah Jane McCalister!”
Here it was at last! The hushed undertones which brought her name wafting through the air, flowing gently into eardrums that had been yearning for this final call – for this moment.
Those hushed tones so inconsequential to the less discerning were filled with promise, hope, and foreboding to others. She had tasted this moment over and over, a chilled glass of lemonade flowing down a parched throat. She had savoured it, swirled it around in her mind and thirsted for more, year after year, sitting on the hard benches of the chapel pews. This was her crowning glory, the moment when she would be thrust into the spotlight to attain what every man longs for – freedom!
The doors of her cell were finally being thrown open, but she found herself reluctant to embrace what was being offered. Was she insane? Stupid? She had always imagined herself running, falling, gasping, but striving hard to attain this goal, but now that it was here she did not know what to do.
As if in a dream she stood up, but her legs would not carry her forward. They had suddenly acquired a life of their own and seemed to have cut off ties with the rest of her being.
Her eyes glazed over, and sadness descended upon her.
What was wrong? Was this what she had been waiting for all those years? Was this the ‘Grand Finale’ the grand exit she had imagined!
She had lived this moment so many times.
In her daydreams, she had always seen herself smiling and rushing forward. Like a triumphant Olympian, pushing ahead to claim her prize.
Now, however, her body seemed to be frozen, and even her facial muscles ceased to work. Try as she might, she could not pull them into the smile she wanted.The only thing working was the secret tap, which had suddenly been turned on behind her eyes.
Through a film of tears, she stared at the candles lining the pews, which seemed to be swimming in and out of focus.

“Sarah Jane!”
Her name again, said with more urgency this time!
“Go child!”
The loud whisper carried right to the back of the chapel.
That was Aunty Isabelle, always pushing, driving her forward; her guiding force all these years.
Thank goodness her legs began to work again. She dragged her feet behind, counting every step as she walked down the long aisle.
She had run down this aisle hundreds of times before; had even skidded down on a pair of ‘rubbers’ numerous times while cleaning the chapel.
The aisle was the part of the chapel they had enjoyed cleaning the most. It was so long, it gave them plenty of space to race on their rubbers. Now looking down the aisle, she envisioned Tandy struggling to pull Daisy, who had squatted on her haunches, demanding a ride on the rubbers. What a riot it had been watching them! They were like Laurel and Hardy – Daisy obviously Hardy’s lost twin! Tandy had huffed and puffed, and tried dragging Daisy, while everyone teased, egging her on, knowing what the outcome would be – a collapsed entangled mess of arms and legs, followed by Aunty Isabelle’s hard rap!
The memory of that time almost brought a smile to her face, but she was rapidly drawn back into the present. Back to reality, back to the unknown.
She wondered what was wrong with her. Perhaps the solemnity of the ceremony had got to her. Yes, that is what it was.

The ‘Carol Service’ had always had a strange effect on everyone – even the most cynical could not help but be touched by it. It was a special service that marked the end of another school year. A beautiful farewell to all those leaving school!
Just before the service began, the electricity would be switched off, and the whole service conducted by candlelight.
The chapel looked beautiful, like a grand Christmas tree, with rows upon rows of candles, twinkling in the darkness and then reflected in the children’s eyes. As the service progressed, one would occasionally get a whiff of singed hair as someone dozed off, but in all the years, there had never been a calamity. No one had gone bald yet!
Sarah had found tears welling up in her eyes as they sang ‘Silent Night,’ and then again as she heard Miss Sharma read the nativity story. She had heard the story year after year, read by the same person, so why was she crying now?
Were her tears for real? Was that sinking feeling sadness? Had an alien invaded her being? Why did she feel this way?
It was almost the end of the service, the most important part for the students – the farewell ceremony. This was the final moment of parting, the goodbye in the form of a Bible, the beautiful memento that was presented to each of ‘the school leavers’ passing out after class twelve.
A kind of hush descended upon the congregation during this part of the ceremony. Time seemed to be suspended, waiting for the congregation to release the breath that it seemed to hold.
It was as if everything moved in slow motion. The Principal and Headmaster stood before the altar, grandly dressed in their flowing gowns. As each name was read out, the respective student rose, collected his Bible and stood before the marble steps leading to the altar.
All eyes were glued to the front of the chapel. A clearing of the throat or a stray cough was met with stern disapproval. The principal’s voice was the only sound heard. The only other sound was an occasional sniffle from the bowed heads of the row standing before him.
This had been a point of heated discussion.
Hours before the candlelight service, a debate would ensue and a list of those who would cry would be drawn up. It was the last game of the year!
Sitting in the congregation over the years, Sarah had always wondered what it would be like to be amongst the school leavers, to walk down the aisle of the chapel and collect her memento.
Time and again, she had made her contribution to the ‘crying list,’ had keenly watched girls and boys walk down the aisle, stretched her neck to see if she could catch a glimpse of a tear in someone’s eye; mentally making a note of it!
“Hey Sarah, what are you going to do tonight. Do you plan on shedding some tears? Come on tell us. Let me add your name to my list.”
The juniors were ribbing her, the same way she had done to the seniors before her.
“Me, cry! Puhleese just watch me run down that aisle!”
Now that the time had come for her to ‘run down the aisle,’ she could not do it. An image of her mother suddenly manifested itself before her, and she involuntarily took a step back. The way ahead was filled with uncertainty, and she felt like she would fall into a dark abyss of nothingness if she continued forward…

Leaving Sarah

A blurb on the title book Leaving Sarah by June Mendez

The fading lights of the departing train force Josephine Trent out of the shadows…

She can barely stifle the scream that rises to her throat as waves of self-loathing, relief and pain threaten to smother her. Her actions leave her in a state of shock and disbelief, as the image of her baby being snatched out of her hands manifests itself before her eyes.

This desperate step sets off a chain of events that will plunge their lives into an abyss so dark that the annihilation of two beautiful souls is inevitable.