by Nicholas P. Snoek
It's mid afternoon when Jack reaches Paro. He is cold and hungry, and very, very tired. He ties the horse in a secluded spot just outside the settlement, and tries to gather some grass for it. Then he sets off to find Jim.
He wanders round the area for several hours without seeing anyone familiar and tries several times to locate the house Jim described, without success. He sees no one he knows and in spite of his best efforts, founders and flounders with each attempt to talk with anyone. Now he wishes he had studied the Dzongkha language.
He's getting weak. He must eat.
But again, he has nothing to trade.
Well Jim. I know I said I wouldn't do this, but I cannot help it. If this is stealing, I must steal.
Forgive me Lord, for what I am about to do.
If I get caught I will be punished, but most likely I can eat a bit before they catch me. And that seems fair. Anyway, if I do this right, I may get enough to eat without getting caught.
With that Jack brings all his faculties to bear on the challenge before him. With the inventiveness and intuition of a practised thief he works his way from shop to shop, handling and inspecting the merchandise, breaking little pieces off of loaves and cheeses and tsampa, flipping smaller fruit into his sleeves and pockets, and moving along, always moving along, to avoid attracting attention.
Here and there between shops he steps into an alleyway, and pops a tidbit in his mouth, but he slowly builds up his cache. He starts to feel a bit better.
Well, Jim. I made fun of you about the taking of an orange. What a ridiculous fuss, I thought, about an orange. And now I don't dare steal anything that big. How things change. An orange seemed so small before, and now it is so big!
Eating as he goes, Jack makes his way back to where he left the horse. The poor horse is hungry, too. Jack moves it to where there is more grass. It's getting dark quickly, as it does in mountain country. Another night in the open. Jack gathers leaves and mosses, and covers himself as best he can.
In the morning he is stiff and cold, but he slept better than the night before. He leads the horse to water, and ties it in a new spot.
He is getting dirty. His hair and his clothes are starting to show neglect. He tries to wash, and runs his fingers through his hair repeatedly, trying to get it to behave. Something has to be done; this cannot go on!
Carefully he reviews the events of the last few days. He just has to find Jim. It is his only hope.
He decides to go to the exact spot where Jim told him about the light brown house with the black roof, and work his way back and forth in a widening arc from there out to the very edge of the built up area. That should get him somewhere. He sets out, eating the last of his gleanings on the way.
Jack locates the place where Jim talked about his home and starts to carry out his plan. And yes! He finds the house. Or what he thinks is the right house, since it is the only one he has seen that fits the description. But it looks kind of bleak, and there doesn't seem to be anyone around. He climbs up to the door and knocks. His knock sounds hollow, and there is no answer. He tries the door. It swings open silently.
Jack steps in, "Hello, is anybody home?"
Not a sound. He walks in. All the rooms are empty and bare. The fireplace dead cold. If this is the house, they have gone.
Then he remembers. Jim's father was going to teach for one year. That year must be finished... they've gone back to Maryland! Whew! Despair. Now what?
Listlessly Jack wanders back to the dzong. The only other person he knows of who speaks English, is Ietje. And she wasn't very friendly. Still, unfriendly English is more appealing than what's been happening so far. Besides, he's not exactly presentable, to make an impression on any adult. Now his only hope is Ietje. He decides to try to find her.
He goes back to the place where he saw her and her friends skipping. She is not there. He starts to make circles from that spot outward. He does this for several hours, and then -- what luck! He sees her. She's coming out of a store, carrying a small parcel.
"Hello, Ietje! Hello!"
She looks around. When she sees him she hesitates, then... "Hi."
"Please don't walk away. I must talk to you."
"Sure. Why would I walk away?"
"I don't know. I just thought you might. Can I walk along with you? You're the only person I know here who speaks English."
"My name is Jack. I know your name because Jim told me. I met him here the same day I saw you and your friends playing."
"Oh, the girls? They're not my friends, they're my sisters!"
"You have three sisters?"
"That's right. How about you?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know if you have any brothers or sisters? How can that be?"
"I'm an orphan. I live in a monastery. Or I did till three days ago. A bunch of Chinese soldiers came and chased us out. They shot Borg, and they shot Brother Andre too."
"A monastery? Where? And who is Borg?"
"Yes, a Christian monastery. Borg is my dog. Was my dog. And Brother Andre was the priest in charge of everything. The monastery is quite far from here, almost where the boundaries between Sikkim and Bhutan and Tibet all come together."
"So where is everyone else? How come you're here alone?"
"The soldiers took all the monks away, probably to Yatung. They tied them all up and just marched them off up the mountain. I was hiding in the bushes when that happened. I watched them leaving."
"How did you get here?"
"I waited till it was dark, then I took a horse. It's tied up in the woods over there. I've got to get back to it pretty soon, to move it again. But I don't know what to do.
I have nothing, and no clean clothes. I've got to tell all this to somebody who will know what I should do."
"Well, I sure don't know. How far is your horse?"
"Not that far. About ten minutes."
"Okay. Let's go get your horse and bring it to our place. My Dad will know what you'll have to do."
"Alright. Shall I carry that for you?"
Jack takes her parcel, and they set out to get the horse. They don't talk a lot. They have too much to think about. It's late afternoon when they finally get to the Schuurman home. Her mother meets them at the door. She is short and a little overweight, with thin brown hair and clear blue eyes. A soft but slightly nasal voice, usually friendly at first but now a little strained.
"Ietje, where have you been? You should've been home long ago. And who is this?"
"Mom, this is Jack. He's in trouble and he wants to talk to Dad. Is Dad home yet? Can Jack have supper with us?"
"Of course he can. Dad'll be home soon. Jack, is that your horse?"
"Yes, I guess it is."
"Well, there's a shed out the back. Just tie it at the back of the shed for now. Then come on in and make yourself at home. Ietje, give me a hand in the kitchen, will you?"
Jack takes the horse behind the house, and Ietje joins her mother in the kitchen.
"Ietje, who is this boy? He looks shoddy. Where did he come from? Is he English? Where did you meet him, and why did you bring him here?"
"Mom, please, not so fast. Okay. His name is Jack, I don't know his last name. I met him in town a long time ago. He was sitting on a motorcycle. We didn't really talk then. He's Catholic and he's an orphan, and his home is in a monastery. He was living with a whole pile of monks."
"He is Catholic?"
"Roman Catholic. Oh, don't worry about it. He's just a boy, and he's in trouble. We have to help him."
"What kind of trouble? Did he do something wrong? Is somebody after him?"
"No, he didn't do anything wrong. A few days ago a troop of Chinese soldiers came and took over the monastery. They shot the head priest, and they shot Jack's dog, too. They took all the monks away, but Jack was hiding in the bush, so he got on one of the horses and came here. That's why he's dirty. He's only got the clothes he's wearing, and he's been sleeping under moss and leaves and stuff. You see?"
"It sounds like he stole the horse. He may get us in trouble over that horse. Oh, here he comes. You get some more potatoes out over there, and I'll chop up this cabbage."
The house has been adapted from a regular Bhutan house by order of the Queen, who lives in Paro and has befriended the Schuurmans. The main floor, usually a stable, has been cleaned out and floored and is used for storage. There are stacks of boxes, and bags of merchandise everywhere.
Unlike almost all other windows in Bhutan, the ones on the second floor are glazed. And there is a bathroom, but apart from some ingenious waste plumbing, there is little in the way of comfort. Water is brought into the house in buckets. The loft, normally used to hold dry feed for stock in these houses, is also used for storage, mostly fabrics and rugs.
Heat is provided by two back to back fireplaces, one in the kitchen with a grill, used for cooking, and the other, more open, in the living room. Most fireplaces in Bhutan houses have no chimneys, that being considered too risky with pine slat roofing. Smoke usually hangs in a pall on the second floor, escaping haphazardly through window openings, but the renovations in this house included the construction of a rock and mortar chimney, right from the ground up. It is quite a marvel, and an object of constant curiosity on the part of all visitors.
Another marvel, not so visible, is the conversion of what is usually a tiny chapel or shrine room, into a communication center, where an impressive assemblage of short wave radio equipment gives testimony to a more secular dedication.
Jack comes into the kitchen, smiling hesitantly.
"Can I help with anything?"
"Young man, the best thing for you to do right now is get into the washroom and clean yourself up. The bathroom is right here. Hang on a minute and I'll find some clothes you can use. I have some of Dad's that were a bit small."
While she is gone upstairs, Mr Schuurman comes in and heads straight for the bathroom. And there is Jack, stripped to the waist, his face up to the mirror.
"What the Hell! Who are you?"
Jack is startled at this peremptory challenge, but gathers his wits to say, with a worried edge to his voice: "My name is Jack, sir. Jack Migo. I'm Ietje's friend."
"Well, excuse me." And off he goes, to the kitchen.
Bertus Schuurman is of mixed ancestry. He has almost black hair and very dark brown eyes, with a thin nose and the dark skin of an East Indian. He is a totally sensible man, with a slightly aristocratic manner inexorably evoking respect. He has a varied background, having travelled extensively and enjoys the dialects and speech mannerisms of many different cultures.
"How now, young lady. Do you think you're old enough to be bringing a gentleman caller into the house? And without so much as a by your leave from the lord of the castle? And then HE has the nerve to tie up the bathroom when I need it, without bothering to lock the door. Well, what have you got to say for yourself?"
"Oh Daddy grump. He is not a gentleman caller and you know it. He is not a caller and he's probably never even thought about being a gentleman. He's just a boy I met who needs to talk to you about some problems he's got."
"Some problems, you say. Well, there's going to be more problems if he's in that bathroom very long."
"Okay. Just a minute."
She calls out to the bathroom "Jack, could you come out here a minute, please?"
As Jack comes out, buttoning his shirt, Ietje pushes her dad towards the doorway "Okay, Daddy, the bathroom is available. Oh. Daddy, this is Jack. Jack, would you help me peel potatoes? I wonder where the others are. They should be doing this."
Mrs Schuurman brings down some clothes and joins her husband in the bathroom. She quickly brings him up to date about their visitor, and they agree it would be a good idea if the gentlemen had a talk in the living room while the ladies make supper.
"Okay, Jack. Let me get this straight. My wife tells me you're an orphan, and a Roman Catholic. You've lost your home and your dog, and the head of the monastery where you were living was killed by some Chinese soldiers, who are using the place for a fort. Is that about right?"
"You have no belongings of any kind. No money, no trust fund. Do you have any relatives anywhere?"
"No, I don't know who my parents are. I was left at the gate of the monastery a couple of days after I was born. There was no note or anything, and none of the monks saw them bringing me. No one knows."
"What about your name. Who gave you your name? Your last name, I mean. What family is behind that name?"
"As far as I know, Brother Cyprios chose the name. I don't know where he got it from. It never really came up so that I could ask him. I never needed to use it."
"I see. So you have no real connection anywhere. It's almost as if you'd been orphaned twice. Interesting idea; how can a person be orphaned twice. Only the first time you were found, and now you're doing the finding."
"Ietje was the only person I knew of in Paro who speaks English, sir. I met her a long time ago."
"Yes, she told me about that. I remember she asked you your religion, and you said Roman Catholic. Well, that's not your fault. What about that horse, Jack? Is it your horse?"
"The horse belongs to the monks, sir. But they're all prisoners now. I don't think the horse should go back to the soldiers. They shot Borg, and Brother Andre! And the soldiers probably don't even know there's a horse missing."
"I see. Well, we've got to think about that. Have you considered what you want to do. Have you made any plans?"
"Not really, sir. I thought of becoming a priest."
"Hmm, yes. Well, there's lots of time for that. Okay, judging by the commotion in the kitchen I would say the other girls have come home, so let's go see what's cooking."
They go to the kitchen, and there Jack meets Ietje's younger sisters: Janthe, 10; Truus, 8; and Mel, 7. All three various shades of blue-eyed blonde, and all three quite tall.
Supper is a lively affair, with the girls quizzing Jack about his life in the monastery, what the monks were like, what he learned from them. And on, and on.
"What time did you have to get up in the morning?"
"How many times a day did you go for prayers?"
"Who washed your clothes, Jack?"; "Jack, can you cook?"
"Are there toilets?"
Blue eyed wonder all around. And not much restraint!
Jack is a little reticent. He's quite overwhelmed with all this female attention and feels flushed, and quite out of place. It's so warm in here!
The parents don't participate very much, but listen closely to what the young interrogators elicit from their hapless guest.
At the end of the meal Mr Schuurman pushes his chair back, "Jack, you and I will go for a walk. There's a place not far from here where they look after horses. Let's see if they have room for one more. They might even want this horse of yours."
The two of them leave quickly. Jack is relieved to get out of the warm kitchen. There was little heating at the monastery, so he is used to cool rooms.
They're in luck. The man at the stable likes the horse, and an arrangement is made for it to stay there. Jack is sorry to see it go, it has become a companion to him these last few days.
"Jack, this will be your horse, but he'll keep it for you. You may need it later, but right now I think it best if it just stays here."
"Yes sir, that's fine."
The bed in the guest room is made up when they get back. Jack sleeps like a log, the sleep of the bone weary, but the others in the house are somewhat on edge. What's going to happen? Will Jack stay here, with them? Permanently? The parents especially, talk for a long time. What should they do about this young visitor.
"Maartje, he's only a kid, we can't just turn him out. We have to let him stay with us. Long term. He's pretty bright, and obviously he's got some initiative. I can teach him to help me with the paperwork, and he can help with the shipments too."
"I know, I know. But he's Catholic, and even though he's young now, one of the girls is going to get attached to him, that's inevitable. What're you going to do then? You have to look ahead. He'll be a young man in a houseful of impressionable girls. I don't like it."
"We could adopt him. What about that? An adopted son can't marry his sister, can he?"
"I don't know if that's true or not. But even if he can't marry one of them that won't stop relationships from forming. You have to consider all that. What's going to be your bleeding heart answer when one of the girls is pregnant? Or maybe two! And he's Catholic!"
"Whoa! Now just hold everything, here. Jack seems like a decent kid. He's a good size, and he tends to think and act like an adult, I suppose from not having been around children, but he's still just nine years old. You're acting as if he's a raving rapist looking for his next victim."
"Bertus, do you think you're about to turn him into Christian Reformed, when he's already so far gone that he's thinking of being a priest?"
"And do you think a boy who's planning to be a priest is going to get two of your daughters pregnant?"
"Oh, I don't know, I don't know."
"For heaven's sake. He's just a kid! Why are we going on like this? We have to keep him here until we think of something else, okay? We have no other choice. Now let's get some sleep before the sun comes up and makes today out of tomorrow!"
"Alright. But don't say I didn't warn you."