A few weeks back, Rachel sent a message on the class whatsapp group asking if anyone was interested in doing something in memory of Merlin. That’s what got all of us started on this small project that ends today on November 9 – which was Merlin’s birthday.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in her memory”, Rachel said. “The other day, I was watching my niece – she goes for ballet classes – and she is small and when I was watching her, I suddenly remembered Merlin”.
We were in 8th std, when it happened. This was 2001. Joybel Ma’m was our class teacher. The half yearly holidays were just over, and all the children returned to school. Merlin had gone to Orissa that year to spend the Christmas at the mission field with her father, mother and younger sister Gracelin (Class of 2006).
Merlin was a frail, petite child. She was the shortest in class, so she stood first in the line. She also happened to be the smartest, and most diligent. A favorite of students and teachers – always wore a cheerful smile. She usually topped the class.
Merlin wanted to become a “medical missionary”, like most children who did well at school. Like their parents, missionary children are also exposed to the needs of the mission fields. And what she saw in Orissa, probably influenced her answer, she voiced her desire occasionally when teachers asked the question – “What is your ambition?”, and her parents may have hoped to see it happen, because she was a sincere student.
Throughout her time at school, she went up to the podium on those occasional Monday mornings for scoring over 90% in her exams. She saved the face of our class which was usually more curious about other non-academic endeavors.
When Christmas holidays were over that year, Merlin did not return to the class. Our half yearly results were out, but Merlin wasn’t in class to receive her answer sheets. She is sick, we were told. And when Monday morning came, and Merlin’s name was read out, our claps were as loud as ever, but she was in the hospital.
By the mid of January, we were already informed about her illness. “It is Malaria, it seems”, the word was out.
“Her condition is very serious. They took her to another hospital in Thirunelveli”, our teachers told us.
A few days after that, the chain prayers started in the hostels. All of us were grouped into twos and threes, and asked to pray for Merlin. Night studies were converted into prayer times. These prayers lasted throughout our night study times. So they went on for hours. Although we did not know the complications of her condition, we all prayed. Very fervently, because we were still children.
Merlin’s father and mother had come down from Orissa, to be with their daughter through her illness.
The whole school prayed for Merlin during those days. In dorm prayers, we mentioned Merlin. In our morning Assemblies, her name came up. Our class teacher Joybel Ma’am never forgot to mention her every single day. Manimehalai Ma’m reminded the girls to pray for Merlin everyday. The entire school knew she’d gotten very sick. We resorted to the only help we knew – prayer.
Her death came on an idle Thursday afternoon.
When we heard about her death, we did not know how to react. Many of us cried. Why didn’t God answer our prayers – that was our common question. Many of us were angry.
“I wish God had taken me instead”, one boy said, “She was a good girl. Not like me”.
We were children on the brink of adolescence, not fully sure how to process our grief, or even make sense of the situation. Death was too big for any of us, but this loss suddenly seemed bigger than the fear of death even. We would have gladly traded places.
The whole school mourned her loss. The smallest coffins are the heaviest, they say. None of us can imagine the pain her parents and younger sister went through.
Merlin’s parents came to school a few days later, and picked up all of her belongings for the last time – her trunk box, and her bed sheets, her notebooks and her tiny shoes, and all of the letters from her mother resting in her mosquito net.
November 9th was Merlin’s birthday. On this day, the class of 2005 has come together to donate some money for the purchase of a computer in her memory. One of the computers donated is part of the school’s digital learning center and will help many children enjoy learning new concepts. Who knows, one of them may become a “medical missionary”.