by Nicholas P. Snoek
Jack is out for a walk..
My gosh, I'm living in and I'm a member
Of a family. I never dreamt
That this could ever be. I'm right away
A brother and a son; I have four sisters,
Just like that; a father and a mother,
Too. How can this happen overnight?
One day I am a double orphan foundling,
A nothing Jack from nowhere, knowing not
A soul, and here I am the next day, accepted
As a brother and a son, and holding
My own place within the bosom of
A warm and loving family. If anyone
Had told me this might happen I would surely
Just have laughed out loud and passed it off
As being plain impossible.
I am; and now I must take care to be
The sort of brother son who will fulfil
The expectations held of me by all
My newfound kin, my brothers and my sisters
And most of all my father and my mother.
But I remember when I first met Ietje,
She had a problem with my faith; she was not
Pleased that I am Catholic. Her parents too,
Have made remarks which indicate
That Roman Catholic is not the thing to be.
They surely are not Buddhist; they must
Be Protestant of some denomination.
And Jim, he was not happy with the notion
That I might be a Roman Catholic priest.
I'll have to ask the father, how this could be
So critical an issue; what is implied
For me as member of this family.
When I was in the monastery it never
Seemed important that other folks have other
Faiths. What was the chance, that after all
I ever would have much to do with people
Of strange, and much worse yet, intolerant
How can religions be intolerant?
Do they not all teach fatherhood of God
And brotherhood of man? There must be some
Misunderstanding here, or else I missed
The mark when Brother Cyprios explained
The underlying common elements
Of almost all the earth's professing faiths.
It would be good to speak with Brother Andre,
To disentangle some of this. But that,
I cannot do.
He is in Heaven, he's dead.
It takes some time for Jack to get his bearings. He's not used to almost all of what is suddenly both new and normal. At first he tries almost too hard to please, and soon he learns that little sisters can be quick to take advantage. He has to find a middle way between standing back and being walked on.
And what an amazing range of curious ploys four little girls come up with! How straightforward the good old monks were, in comparison. Jack learns a whole new set of skills. He learns to get along with four new sisters. Well, get along more or less. Survive with.
Truusje knows how to twist him round her little finger, it seems instinctively. She has the cutest tiny pouty mouth, and it has an astonishing effect on Jack. Whatever comes out of that mini-mouth has far more impact with him than seems reasonable.
The girls take school by correspondence from Canada. Jack starts to work his way through their lessons from the lowest up, beginning with Mel's. Everyone, including Jack himself, is pleasantly surprised he has covered so much with the monks. Eventually he finds himself at Ietje's level, and the two of them settle down to doing her lessons as a team.
The only available reading is in the form of Dutch books, so he also works his way into those, beginning with simple ones, like `De Avonturen van Pietje Bell.'
Jack spends several hours per day with Mr Schuurman, going along to the office of the Nyerchen, and calling on the King's officials and business associates. Sometimes he helps carry parcels and packages. As the two of them together become a familiar sight, he is sometimes referred to as young Schuurman, and after a while it is assumed quite naturally that he is in fact Jack Schuurman. Mr Schuurman is tolerantly amused at this, and makes no effort to correct anyone on this score. And Jack is pleased to be accepted in this way.
The weeks and months go quietly by until, in early August, there is a letter from Holland. Another Dutch family, named Spiets, longtime friends of the Schuurmans, are coming over for a holiday. They have plans to emigrate from Holland to Canada, and have decided to visit Bhutan this summer, before they leave for B.C. As they have heard about Jack, they will bring their son Viktor, age thirteen. It will be an expensive holiday, as there is virtually no transportation available in Bhutan. They will fly in by helicopter from Calcutta.
Mr Schuurman "Jack, you'll like Viktor. He's about your size, and not much older. You should get along well."
"But will I be able to talk to him? I haven't learned a lot of Dutch yet."
"Not to worry, lad. In Holland they take the same approach your reverend brothers did. They start teaching English, French and German in the primary grades. So whatever language you two want to try on each other should be just fine."
Jack can't help wondering what religion Viktor is, but he's afraid to ask. He assumes the two families probably belong to the same church.
He still has not mustered the courage to speak to Mr Schuurman about that negative reaction to his Catholicism.
"Well, we've got to figure out where everyone will sleep. Jack, for you and Viktor we should see what we can do in the shed. Let's get to work tomorrow and clean it up. We'll get some lumber and rig up two bedframes. There's some mattresses in the attic. That should do for you two. Okay, Maartje, let's you and I puzzle out how it's going to go in here. What have you got in mind?"
"Bert, we can't put those two boys in the shed! What will the neighbors say! And what about spiders and bugs, and snakes!"
"Oh now, come on, relax. It'll be like camping out for them. Besides, we're high up, here. It's not far to the bush, but I haven't heard of any serious problems with vermin. They'll be alright."
The next day Jack and Mr Schuurman have a good time lugging all the junk out of the shed and getting it ready. It reminds Jack of his secret hideaway at the monastery. There are dusty old strawbales, sacks of musty rags, and all sorts of strange old tools and machinery. He especially enjoys helping make the bedframes. He wonders if he could be a carpenter, like Jesus.
Soon everything is ready, and the whole family is anxiously waiting for the holidayers. The two parents have scheduled some trips, including an excursion to go and see, at least from a distance, the monastery where Jack had lived. That sounds a little dangerous to Jack, but he too would like to see what is happening there now, so he's looking forward to it.
There's some fussing and running around in the fields. And then they hear the sound of a helicopter! The time has come. Mr and Mrs Spiets and their son have arrived, and will be waiting down the valley.
Mr Schuurman quickly makes his way down to meet them. He's delighted to see his old friend.
Siem Spiets is about six feet, with light brown hair combed straight back, pale blue eyes, and large thick capable hands. His wife is a bit shorter, but not a small woman. She is slow moving and also has large hands. Her slow manner belies her intelligence; she is more penetrating than her husband, who tends to sport a facile optimism. Her eyes and her hair are a darker brown, and curly.
Viktor has light sandy hair, and brown eyes like his mom. He's an average size for his age, but solidly built.
"Siem, how the hell are you! So good to see you again. How was your trip? And Marie, how are you. Hello, Viktor. You're getting tall, boy."
"Hi Bertus. It's been a while, hasn't it? The trip was great, but it'll be good to just rest easy for a bit. I'm not really a traveller I guess. Everyone okay at home?"
"Sure, fine. Come on, let's go. These all your bags?"
"Yup. Okay, I'll take these two. Viktor, you take the duffel bags. There, off we go.
It's pretty cool up here, isn't it? Is that snow on those peaks? In late summer?"
"Yes, Bertus. That's part of the Himalaya."
"The Himalaya. Sounds a bit strange. Isn't it the Himalayas? All the mountains in that range?"
"Well, the habit of using the singular probably stems from the meaning of the word. It comes from `hima' which means snow, and `alaya'... that's the word for home. The dwelling place of snow."
"That's interesting. Kind of romantic. You know, when I was getting our tickets for the flight to India, and they asked our final destination I had to explain where Bhutan was, on the southeast of the Himalayas. They'd never even heard of it."
"The name sort of tells you that, for anyone familiar with the terminology. Our word Tibet comes from `Bhot' which is the Tibetan word, and Bhutan means `the end of Tibet, or Bhot'-- it sits on the southern border of Tibet."
Siem and Viktor quiz Bertus about his new son. They're intrigued by the way Jack was simply fit in.
"I'm surprised you can just do that, Bert. It sounds like it should be illegal. Aren't there some procedures to follow here, about adoption?"
"Well, if I go to the authorities and tell them I have an orphan boy from a monastery, they're going to have a hundred questions, and I'm not in a position to answer any of them. And I don't know of any law I'm breaking by just giving him a home. So why look for trouble?"
"What about his name? Migo. He must come from some sort of family. Did you look for other people with that name?"
"No. Apparently it was just picked out of a book by the monk who looked after him. And as a matter of fact, we've almost forgotten about that name. People have been calling him Jack Schuurman. I guess this is what they mean when they talk about de facto adoption."
"Really! Strange. Jack Schuurman, just like that. What an unusual story!"
"What does worry us is his religion. We are Christian Reformed as you know. And it beats me that we can be such good friends with you, you being Catholic. But Jack is Catholic too. And we just don't know what to do about that."
"He's pretty young. Why can't you just raise him in your faith? What would be wrong with that? You know, I was out in Canada for a couple of months to have a look at things there before we decided to emigrate. While I was there I made some friends, and there was an old fellow I worked with named Jake who was a sort of leader in his church. It was some Protestant group, I forget the name of it, but he persuaded me to come to several of their meetings.
I didn't have a lot to do, with no family around and I was kind of lonely, so I went. And it's surprising how similar the actual teachings are between one church and another, if you look for similarities instead of differences. So I can't see much wrong with you raising your new son in your own church. It should work out just fine."
"You would think so, wouldn't you. But Jack is not so young, mentally. He's had a pretty good grounding in his religion from those monks. So much so that the only profession I've ever heard him talk about is being a priest."
"I see what you mean. Have you discussed it with him?"
"No. It's been a couple of months now, and we just go from day to day without ever mentioning religion. I suppose we're all a bit afraid to rock the boat. And being here in this cultural backwash we don't do much about practising our faith either, so that doesn't raise the issue. We just don't talk about it."
"That's a ticklish problem. I don't envy you."
They arrive at the house. After all the hubbub of greeting hugs and kisses have subsided, Jack and Viktor go outside, to walk around and look at their sleeping quarters.
"How old are you, Jack. You're just as big as I am."
"I'm nine, just about ten. You're thirteen, right?"
"Yeah. You're gonna be a giant. They must have fed you pretty good. Are you sure you're not older?"
"Pretty sure. I don't think the monks would have got mixed up about that. I had just been born within one or two days of when they found me at the gate, they said. So they should know."
"Yup. Well Jack, this'll be different. I've never slept in a shed before, have you?"
"No, not all night. At the monastery I had a hiding place in the back of a big toolshed. I fell asleep there a few times."
"Yeah, the monastery. Was it a Catholic monastery?"
"I guess not, really. They called it a Christian lay monastery. The only priest we had there was Roman Catholic. I think the idea was that any Christian lay brothers could come, even if they were not Catholic. But I think they all were. I am too."
"I know. So are we."
"Are you? I was sure you would be, uh..."
"Christian Reformed? No, no, we're not. We're good Catholics. I don't know how we ever got mixed up with the Schuurmans, we mostly don't associate with Christian Reformed. But when you're in business you deal with all kinds of people, and you can get to be friends with just about anybody."
"Your folks are business people too? Like Mr Schuurman?"
"No. He's into international trade, dealing with spices and cloth and rugs, all kinds of things. He's an important man. We're just trades people. Dad is a butcher and sausage maker. I will be too. I'm learning to skin with my left hand already. Dad can skin just as well with either hand; I guess he's ambidextrous."
"Yeah? Doesn't it bother you, all the blood and everything?"
"No, you get used to it. The smell gets bad, especially when your knife slips and you cut the guts. It's a really sour smell."
"I bet. Well, let's go see if supper's ready."
Later that night, in the shed.
"Jack, tell me more about the monastery. Did you have to stay in a room or anything? Did they make you spend a lot of time at prayer? Could you eat snacks? Come on, fill me in, I want to know what it was like."
"Okay, okay. No, I didn't have to stay in any room, except when we worked at my lessons. I guess they expected me to stay in my bedroom alright, but when I couldn't sleep I would go out through the window and go for walks with Borg. I don't know if they ever noticed. Nobody said anything."
"Didn't they punish you?"
"No, why would they punish me?"
"Didn't they lock you in a room for hours, or hit you or anything? When you did something wrong."
"Of course not. What for? If I did something wrong they just told me not to. Sometimes they would explain why I shouldn't do that. Brother Cyprios usually explained pretty good, he was a scholar. And Brother Andre too. It seemed like he understood everything; somehow he even knew how I was feeling. Some of the other ones would get excited and yell, but you could tell they felt bad about it afterwards."
"I remember being locked up in a room when I was very young. For a long, long time. There was a balcony. I could see out."
"Were you scared?"
"No, but I was trying really hard to figure out what was happening. I didn't understand why they were doing that."
"My parents, of course. Anyway, none of the monks ever hit you? What about the Schuurmans?"
"Nobody has ever hit me."
"What! That's crazy! Haven't you been in any fights?"
"No, of course not. Look, I was the only child in the whole place. Do you think I'd be fighting with the monks? They don't fight with each other, let alone a little kid."
"I guess not. Ha, I guess not. I remember one time I was jealous about something that Addie got and I didn't. I don't even know anymore what it was, now. Anyway, we had company and there were so many people we all had to sit in rows of chairs lined up against the walls of the living room and front room. And when she walked by, I put my foot out and tripped her. Dad saw that, and he understood the reason, too. Was he ever mad! He came over to me, and I stood up to get away but he kicked me in the ass! Hard. It hurt like blazes, and I was so embarrassed I could have crawled under the rug."
"What did you do?"
"Mom sent me up to my room. I thought I'd see if I couldn't turn things around a bit, so I lay there crying my heart out for a long long time till they finally heard me. Mom came up and asked me what was the matter. I said I was crying because Dad was mad at me. You know what she said?"
"Don't be stupid!"
"Yup. `Don't be stupid!' and then she just shut the door and went back downstairs. So that didn't work too good either."
"She didn't buy it, huh?"
"Not a bit."
Later, Viktor's voice comes out of the dark.
"You had a dog, right? A dog of your very own?"
"Yeah. I miss him. His name was Borg. He's dead now."
"I know. I've never had a pet completely my own. Unless you count the pigeons."
"You have pigeons?"
"Yah. One of my friends was always talking about his pigeons, and I got to work on my folks. I wanted pigeons. I never dreamed anything would come of it, but lo and behold, soon after that my Dad was building an addition to the chicken pen. And we got some pigeons. And I've been looking after them ever since. They're fun to watch, especially when they're flying. They all dive and swoop and ride the wind together."
"How many do you have?"
"I guess there's about thirty-five now."
"Wow! Don't they eat a lot?"
"No, at least we don't have to feed them much. See, they fly around wherever they want, so they go out to the fields and eat grain and stuff, whatever they can find."
"And they come home by themselves?"
"Yup. It was pretty scary when we first let them out. See, when you get your first birds you keep them locked up in the pen for a long time, and when they're really good and used to the place, then you let them out. And all you can do is hope they come back. Dad was out there for a long time, coaxing them with some grain to come into the pen. They finally did."
"Do you know them all? Do they have names?"
"Of course. I named all of them. And what's really interesting is the colors. There's white ones and red ones, and the ordinary blue and white, some brown, some black. And all in between, too. When the new ones hatch you try to see what colour they're going to be. It's hard to tell till they get feathers.
And sometimes they die. They get sick. Or they eat something that kills them."
"Whew. That must be hard."
"Uhuh. Funny, though. That seems to be when the girls get involved. They seem to like helping me bury them."
"They like being sad?"
"No, I think they want to help me not be sad."
Is that what girls do, Jack wonders, help people not be sad... as he drifts off to sleep.
/// He's in a room. Through a glass door he can see a railing, like a veranda. He goes to the other door. It seems to be locked.
Looking around, he heads for the glass door. It appears to be locked too. What's going on here? Where is he?
He goes back to the glass door, and tries to figure out where he is, but he doesn't recognize anything. There is a large tree with palmate leaves right in front of him, and he can't see much more than that. He is up, in a second storey room, and on the right he can see the upper part of another house. A house built with little square red stones. And there is a fenced in flat part on the roof, where a woman is leaning back, apparently looking at something above him.
Suddenly he sees a dark blob tumbling down in front of him! It lands on the pebbled floor outside the door. It's all feathers... It's a pigeon! And it's hurt, kicking and flapping around uncontrollably.
And then it's gone. It disappeared through an opening between the slats.
Jack looks at the woman again. She's saying something to someone down below, but he can't make it out. She turns and walks away.
He stares out, but he only sees the tree, from there, and hears nothing.
What's going on here? What is he doing here?