by Nicholas P. Snoek
Early summer 1958... near Haa, in Bhutan
There's a haze over the sun. There must be a forest fire somewhere already. What a tragedy, all that promising timber burning away. All the opportunity for jobs and for building, for harvesting God's bounty. All gone in smoke.
A sacrificial offering, from God, to God.
Brother Andre turns to the raven haired woman beside him.
"It looks like a forest fire. Over that way."
"Fire?" she replies.
"Yes. Trees burning, trees on fire."
"Oh. Tree fire. Yes. Much smoke."
Hold on Jack
How are you doing, Jack. It's been eight years
Since you and all the Spiets took off by helicopter
And left us all to wonder what might become
Of you. Eight years. You must have changed, you must
Have grown into a man by now, in body
Anyway. The letter from Marie was filled
With doubts about your psychological health.
She sees you grapple dragons she never knew
Existed. She cannot help you, but she sees
Your struggle. And Siem, he cannot help you either.
And they do not even know the half of it.
Your search for your identity is fraught
With unsuspected intimations, which you
From vague and half remembered revelations
Have tried in vain to comprehend and bring
Into coherent union. Scant hope that you
Might engineer a self that would prevail.
It is not likely that all unassisted
You can bring this off. You must have help.
When next you celebrate your date of birth
You will receive that letter. And you will learn
That you were not conceived in love; that you
Were fathered in a union you could not
Imagine. Your father is not just unknown,
He will forever be so. Not only was it
Rape, the rape was by an apeman. Your father
Is an apeman, Jack. What will that knowledge
Do to you?
Have I done something frightful
Here? Was I mistaken, and misguided
To send that letter to you? Would it be better
Not to know?
Well, with God's help I will
Take Cheoki to visit you before
That time has come. And we will try to find
The best approach. The letter could be stopped.
Her English is coming along nicely. They've been travelling for two weeks now, taking time to stop whole days in several places where there's a chance to rest and talk.
After he used his influence with the king to commission a small band of armed men to help him finally locate and return his lost monks to their monastery, Brother Andre made a determined and at last successful effort to find Jack's mother. He is bringing her now from Laya, where she had gone after the death of her husband, and he is teaching her English.
Cheoki had no other children after Jack, and when Gendun died from the misfired arrow she had little reason to stay on their farm, so she simply left it and went back to her birthplace.
People there welcomed her back, and she was content to take a place in her old mother's home and work for her keep. It was good to be back in her childhood village.
But then she heard about the priest who was looking for a woman who had written a letter about a baby that was left at the gate of a monastery. She asked around and looked for him herself.
He had a Buddhist monk translating for him, and so explained that her son Jack had asked many questions about her and his father. Would she come with him to the monastery, so Jack's enquiries could be answered?
Realizing this was the very man who had received her letter, so he already knew what had actually happened, she decided yes, she would, she would be very happy to do something for this long lost son, as she had often hoped and wondered if she could someday see him.
"Brother! Brother Wilfred! Come quick! Brother Andre is coming, and he has a woman with him."
"Brother Guillaume, that's quite alright. Brother Andre is well able to look after himself. It was Brother Andre who asked me to take charge here, remember? If it seems right to him to bring a woman along, he must have good reason."
Brother Wilfred was one of the lay brothers who was evicted from the monastery when the Chinese soldiers came. He proved to be an emergent leader, and kept the monks together in spirit and body through all their months of trials in captivity. He counselled them, encouraged them, and kept in constant touch with every member of the group. They grew to love and respect him, and thanked God for the providence that prompted this once quiet and timid brother to become their leader.
Soon the whole party is coming through the yard, Brothers Andre and Wilfred in the lead, exchanging the latest news, and Brother Guillaume prancing around Cheoki, carrying her bundle.
Everyone turns and looks, and the poor woman feels quite out of place, although she returns their stares measure for measure, and soon it is the monks who look away in discomfort.
Brother Andre, "Brother Guillaume, since Brother Cyprios will be in England for a long time yet, would you see to it that the lady is made comfortable in his quarters? Thank you. And ask Brother Boniface to come see me in my cell."
"Yes Brother Andre. Right away." With a courtly sweep to Cheoki, brother Guillaume leads her away.
"Brother Wilfred, you remember how Jack came to us, about seventeen years ago? As a baby, left at the gate?"
"Oh, yes. I remember that very well."
"Right. Well, when the soldiers drove you and the others off, Jack escaped and made his way to Paro, where he lived for a time with some Dutch people, merchants. From there he went to Canada with some of their friends. Almost a year ago, I received a letter from his stepmother there. He's been very anxious to know something about his parents.
Now, the lady I brought here is his mother. I've been teaching her English, so she might be able to speak with him when they meet. I will ask Brother Boniface to take over that responsibility and when she is ready, she and I will go to Canada to visit Jack."
"Good. I'm sure Jack will be happy to meet her at last. For our part, we'll do our best to make her feel welcome here."
"Thank you. It'll be quite an adventure. I hope it all turns out for the best."
Brother Andre is sitting in his cell, staring out the window. At Brother Boniface's knock he jumps a bit, startled.
"Come in, Brother Boniface. How are you? The old lumbago getting a bit better now that it's warmer out?"
"It's as bad as it can be, Brother Andre. But I will bear it, and dedicate the pain to the glory of God, as one should."
"Of course, of course. Now, I expect you've heard Jack's mother, Cheoki, is here. She will be in Brother Cyprios' cell. I would like you to teach her English, so she may be able to converse with her son when she meets him. I have started, but only just. She has quite a bit more to learn, and I want to take her to Canada in the fall, so there is a lot to do.
But, I think I should give you some background.
When Jack was about seven I received a letter from her. In the letter she explained that she had been raped by an apeman, and that Jack was born as a result of that incident. So it seems that even though she was married and her husband was alive at the time, Jack's father was not her husband, but an apeman, an Almas. It explains his blond hair and green eyes. You may remember he was quite hairy for a time, as a baby, and he had pointy ears too."
"Yes, you might say so. In any case, there's no doubt that Jack is fully human, himself. He was a quick and bright boy, and he never showed any sign that he lacked any human trait. He was dear to us all, a good and loving child, even though he was a bit trying, at times."
"A little rascal."
"Quite. Anyway, you should be aware of all this, so you'll be prepared to discuss it with her if she raises any questions. And please let her lead you in that. Talk about it if she wants to, but otherwise just let it be. Alright?"
"The son of an Almas. Glory be! Yes, Brother Andre, I will be careful. Shall I start tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow will be fine. Perhaps you could drop around to her cell before supper and introduce yourself as her teacher."