Chapter Two


 
 

 

Leaving

They sold the boat and the water buffalo to neighbours who were themselves packing to leave. Gathering their few possessions and tying the chickens together by their feet, they loaded everything they could onto the bicycle, and carrying the rest they said goodbye to their friends and set off slowly up the coast track - Boy, his mother, and his two small brothers. Setting off soon after dawn they walked all day. The track was mostly soft sand, and it was hard to push the laden bicycle,


When they came to streams the bridges were no more than a pair of tree trunks. One river was so wide that they had to pay a man to row them over; at another there was a bamboo raft with ropes attached by which they could pull themselves across. The track was shaded by Coconut palms whose fronds waved in the breeze, while out at sea the sun glittered on the breaking waves, surging over reefs and rocks. They were too weighed down by their possessions and by sadness to get any joy from the scene. It seemed to Boy that his world had broken beyond repair, and the waving palms were waving him goodbye.  


Home

In the evening they reached Grandmother’s village. She was very poor and blind and lived with her son, Boy’s uncle, who was himself a sick man, racked by a persistent cough. They lived in a very small house a kilometre from the village. Next to the house stood a tiny, dark hut with a damp dirt floor, a broken plank wall, and a leaking roof. This was to be their new home. There was no time to repair the thatch roof, and that night it rained heavily. They all woke up soaked and cold and miserable.


The forest behind Grandmother’s village contained no rubber trees; nor was there any flat land to grow rice. Most people earned a living from coconuts or fishing. Boy’s grandmother had long ago sold all her coconut palms, and his uncle’s boat was rotten beyond repair. The only job Boy could find was harvesting other people’s coconuts. All his spare time was spent scooping the mangrove swamps for prawns, and fishing. Most days his mother collected firewood. His two brothers looked after each other, and Boy climbed coconut palms.


Fishing harpoon

In a matter of weeks Boy grew up years. He had to take his father’s place as best he could. It was up to him to find enough for the family to eat. Apart from fishing he scoured the forest for fruits, but it was the wrong season and most of the fruits had already fallen. His uncle was too ill to help - and spent his days sitting outside the village coffee shop, smoking. Fortunately Boy had learned from his father to weave a fish net and td make a harpoon from an umbrella spoke, a hollow bamboo, and a length of rubber cut from an old bicycle tube. Boy worked from dawn to dusk. No sooner had he finished his meagre supper than he fell into an exhausted sleep.


Boy had been working only two months when he fell out of a tree. For a few seconds, and without any warning, the earth shook. Afterwards it seemed as if demons were responsible - with the one intention of tossing him off the palm tree. Boy never remembered falling, only lying on his side in great pain. Later his uncle fetched the local medicine man. He rubbed some oil on Boy’s leg, bound it with some rags, and told Boy to lie down for a day or two.


Chop and drop

Boy’s leg never stopped hurting. It always hurt at night so that he could hardly sleep. When he tried to walk it hurt even more, but he had to work. So, despite the intense pain, Boy continued to climb palm trees and chop down coconuts. A large lump developed below his knee, and another above his ankle, and something sharp seemed to be cutting the lumps from the inside. One morning Boy woke to discover the skin broken and sharp pieces of bone sticking through. Boy finally broke down, sobbing and sobbing in fear and despair.


Boy could no longer walk. He lay all day confined to the dark hut. And every day the wounds festered and stank. There were pains and lumps in his groin, too. He wrapped a rag around his leg to stop the flies settling, and so no one could see or smell how bad it was. The medicine man could only suggest they take Boy to the hospital in the City. Boy heard him tell his mother, “They will probably cut his leg off. But that will cost a lot of money.” Boy didn’t want to lose his leg. He lay day after day thinking. He remembered the Hermit’s words that if his body was crippled he must try to let his spirit fly. But his spirit seemed as broken as his body.


Bicycle made for two


One day his uncle announced that he had heard of a foreigner living in a village two hours away - a doctor who, it was reported, gave away medicines free. “Perhaps he can cure my cough. Perhaps he can cure your leg,” Uncle told Boy. The next morning he sat Boy on the back of the bicycle, and rather unsteadily pedalled along the coast track to the village where the foreign doctor lived.

They reached the village by nine o’clock. At the shop they were directed to a house by the river. “Who is he?” Boy’s uncle enquired. The villagers shrugged. “He arrived a few months ago. Doc-Mister is a strange man. He gets angry and he walks alone on the shore.” “Do we have to pay?” Boy’s uncle asked. “No,” they said. “But remember to say ‘Thank you’.” “He must. be very rich or very stupid to give away medicines,” Boy’s uncle suggested. “Is he a good doctor?” “Yes,” they replied, “people get better. He hasn’t killed anyone except old Niasuni, who wanted to die anyway.”

 

next

Boy’s uncle parked the bicycle outside the foreigner’s gate, and after a fit of coughing carried Boy into the house. There were people sitting on the floor waiting while the man dealt with each in turn. He spoke their language in sharp broken-up phrases. He gave sweets to the children, but when he saw Boy’s uncle smoking he ordered him rudely to put his cigarette out. Boy didn’t like this foreign doctor. He didn’t like his ugly face or the way he peered at them over the


broken spectacles perched on the tip of his nose. When Boy’s turn finally came and the foreigner unwrapped his rags and saw the festering wounds on his leg he seemed to get angrier than ever.

“Why didn’t you bring him before?” he shouted at the uncle. “Why didn’t you take him to the hospital? How did it happen? When did it happen?” Poor Uncle couldn’t cope with the flood of questions. He sat down embarrassed and had another coughing fit. It was Boy who explained. “I fell out of a palm tree a year ago.” “But didn’t you know your leg was broken?” “We went to the medicine man,’ Boy’s uncle finally explained. “Bah!” snorted the foreigner. “Medicine man! Bah! Why didn’t he splint the leg? I suppose you kept walking on it.” Boy looked at his uncle. Both felt embarrassed. How could they explain? Why didn’t the man realise that they had no money to go to the hospital, that Boy had to go on working or they would starve? Foreigners just didn’t understand.


 

Ask your leg

By now this strange doctor was concentrating on Boy’s wounds. He used a magnifying glass. He sniffed, he tested. The fetid festering mess didn’t seem to offend him, and his hands were gentle. For all his outer anger he seemed to possess an inner calm and decisiveness. Muttering to himself in a strange language as he worked, he poured medicines over the wounds, making them froth. Then he pasted them with powders from capsules, and covered them with clean dressings. He gave Boy an injection in his backside. “You must be tough,” he finally declared, taking off his spectacles and mopping his brow. “Anyone else would have died of tetanus or gangrene months ago.”


He spoke to Boy’s uncle. “He’ll have to stay here a day or two. I want to get the infection under control and make him some crutches. Didn’t anyone think of crutches? No, I suppose not. I’ll bring him back, don’t worry.” Boy objected strongly. “I don’t want to stay here. My little brother will cry if I’m not at home to look after him.” The doctor faced him sternly. “Ask your leg if it wants to get better.” “Ask my leg?” Boy queried. “Then I’ll ask it,” said the doctor, putting his ear close to Boy’s knee. He announced, “Your leg says it wants to get better even if you don’t want it to.”


Scrub and run

Before his uncle left he asked if the doctor could cure his cough. “Give up smoking” he replied. “No, no,” insisted the uncle, “just give me some pills.” “Pills won’t cure the cough,” the doctor went on. “Your lungs are like the kitchen roof - black with smoke. You need to scrub them out. Because you can’t do that, take deep breaths of fresh air every morning and try to stop smoking. And it’s not just your lungs that suffer. Your heart is tired, your blood vessels are thin and worn, If you gave up smoking, in three months you’d be a new man, running up the mountain.”


Boy was quite worried about being left alone with this strange doctor, but the house was never empty. People kept coming in, some to chat, some to cadge money. After school a village boy arrived to cook lunch, and afterwards the doctor announced that they would all go up river in the outrigger canoe. He looked at Boy. “We’ll carry you to the boat. Don’t worry if you fall in. The water won’t hurt you.” For someone who had been cooped up in a dark hut for a year it was a wonderful tonic to lie back in a canoe and watch the river unfold. Boy remembered his father’s canoe - especially when they raised the sail and glided upstream.


Up river

On either side of the river lay lush, green paddy fields. Water buffaloes grazed along the banks. Boys balanced in dugout canoes threw circular fishing nets, canoes coming down river passed them piled high with thatch palm, planks of timber, sacks of rice. Everyone greeted the Doctor cheerily. “Hullo, Doc-Mister.” “Hullo to you,” he called back. The little children by the farm huts waved, and gradually Boy realised that for all his outer sternness Doc was different inside. Soon Boy was calling him ‘Doc’ too. Upriver they lowered the mast to pass below a bamboo bridge, raised it again, and sailed around a few more bends until Doc announced, “Amir’s house”. “Okay,” said Toni, the boy who was steering. He guided the canoe into the mouth of a shallow creek where they all got out.


Doc carried Boy on his back to Amir’s house, where a gaunt man sat waiting, his foot wrapped up. “Hullo, Mister,” greeted Amir. “How’s the foot?” asked Doc, as he inspected it. Boy was shocked to see several toes had been severed. “We had to cut them off,” Doc explained, “otherwise Amir would have lost his foot. As it is he’ll be walking in a while.” When they said goodbye Boy noticed Doc nod to Toni who left behind a small bag of biscuits, sugar, coffee, and even cigarettes! It was much the same procedure wherever they went. Doc bullied them all - the paralysed were told to do exercises, children ordered to eat vegetables, and everyone was lectured about the evils of smoking. Doc handed out sweets and pills, dressed wounds, tested chests, examined urine, and then it was back to the canoe for the next house call.


Eating irons

Twilight had fallen before they got home. The wind had died and it was a laborious paddle. Doc handed Boy an oar and invited him to sing. “When I sing,” said Boy, “everyone puts their fingers in their ears.”


“That’s all right,” said Doc. “You sing away - I’m half deaf.” When they arrived back at the house some boys were already baking fish for supper and cooking rice and vegetables. Boy was astonished at the number of people. “Can anyone eat here?” he asked. Doc chuckled. “The table can seat nine. Then we are full up.” For the first time in his life Boy ate sitting up at a table, and trying to manage with a spoon and fork instead of his fingers. Supper was a jolly affair, and afterwards Boy was carried out to help wash up.

Doc had disappeared, but later he returned rather muddy, carrying two long forked branches. “Your crutches,” he informed Boy. And late into the night, as Boy lay awake, not for once in pain but out of surprise for all that had happened that day, he could hear Doc working on the forked sticks, sawing and chopping and nailing, and grunting and singing softly - much as once, so long ago it seemed, Boy’s mother had sung to him.


 D . I . Y

 Next morning, when Boy woke up, the first thing he saw was a pair of home-made crutches beside his sleeping mat. He struggled up into them, and to his delight found he could hop about the room. The forked branches had been forced together, rungs inserted for his armpits and handgrips. “They’ll be a bit heavy to start with,” advised Doc, who had emerged from his room on hearing Boy’s whoops of joy. “Until they dry out. But they should get you around.” Boy was overjoyed. “I can walk!” he cried, as he hopped out of the house and down the path to the river.


Two days later Doc took Boy home, on the back of a bicycle every bit as old as his father’s. He had already sawn off protruding bone, and shown Boy how to clean and dress the wound himself. “Don’t put any weight on that leg,” he called as Boy hopped away on his crutches to his grandmother. That afternoon Boy proudly hopped all the way to the village, and with the money Doc had given him bought biscuits and eggs, tea, coffee, sugar and milk - all to take home to his mother and surprise her.


fractured

The next time boy went to stay with Doc, Doc explained with a drawing what had happened to his leg. “It snapped in two places - here and here,” he pointed. ‘Because you didn’t know and walked on it, instead of the bones joining normally, the broken ends slipped over and jagged bits cut through the skin.” “Will it get better?” Boy begged him. Doc went on, “You have two long bones in your leg. The thick one snapped. Now it has stuck together, even if the ends overlap a bit. Soon you’ll be able to walk again, but we’ll have to make one sandal thicker, then no one will notice that this leg’s a bit shorter than your other one. Just don’t try to run too soon!”


Boy helped Doc with his morning surgery. For tooth cavities Doc used an old battery drill that looked as if it had been repaired many times. For the fillings Boy mixed up zinc oxide powder with clove oil. All the children had rotten teeth, and Doc cursed all ice- cream and sweets. There were lotions for itchy rashes, and pills for fevers and diarrhoea; but one thing Doc insisted on: no matter how important the patients were

- or thought they were! - they had to wait their turn. ‘One by one,” Doc called out. “Even the President waits his turn here. No favourites, no cronyism.” Another of his declarations was, “Only God can cure; and God is no respecter of persons. God,” he added, peering over his spectacles, “doesn’t take bribes - unlike our village headman.”


For us or for them?

This was meant as a joke, but the villagers looked embarrassed, and Boy warned Doe, “You shouldn’t say things like that. You’ll get into trouble.” But Doe wouldn’t listen. “It’s the fault of the Government,” he grumbled, as they tidied up after surgery. “They encourage corruption.” Later, while Boy chopped vegetables for lunch and Doe sat back sipping a clear liquid from a bottle labelled “Gin”, Boy asked him, “Doe, what is ‘government’?”” ‘Government’ is the people who rule us,” Doe explained. “Government may be good or bad. A good government cares for its people, providing schools and free hospitals. It taxes the richer to help the poorer.” “And a bad government?” “The bad ones care only about themselves. With a bad government we all have to get on as best we can, and not expect any help.”


Doc peered at Boy over his glasses. “There’s a system called ‘Democracy’ - it’s supposed to mean you get a say in how things are run. In reality you get the chance of voting one bunch of cronies or another into power, and afterwards they just do what they want anyway.” “Is that why you get angry?” Boy asked. “Because of politics?” Doc shook his head. “I get angry at unnecessary suffering; for fathers who cough themselves to death before they’re forty because no one insists they quit smoking; for kids dying of malaria when pills the price of a packet of cigarettes would save them; for women who cut themselves chopping firewood, and die of gangrene because someone smothers the wound with buffalo dung.”


 

 

Cut and run

Doc stared into space. “I get angry with the injustice of a system where the poor people who work their guts out each day in the fields or the forest or at sea earn a pittance, while the tat cats who sit on their backsides outside their trading stores, or speculate with other people’s money on the stock market, drive their fast cars and demand the best of everything. They don’t have to worry about whether they can afford to go to hospital.” Doc stared gloomily at his hands. “And I get angry with myself at my own uselessness, at my failure to do anything that matters. And what I do, I do grudgingly.”


He looked at Boy. “Why, if you only knew it, there are mornings when I peep out of the window and see a mob of people waiting outside for cures - when all I want is to sneak out the back, run away into the forest, and hide.” He smiled at his own admission. “And I got angry with your uncle because he had no money to pay for an X-ray of your leg and save you a year of agony. I get angry watching some poor fellow’s suffering, and no one doing anything to help him.”


Butter by bus

“It’s not their fault,” Boy protested. “They don’t knoi how to help. Anyway, why do you tell people that only God can cure? It doesn’t make you sound much good!” Doc chuckled. “I only wish I could point my hands, utter a magic word, and everyone would be healed. Instead I fuss about.” He gazed into his glass. “A hundred years ago, if someone was sick they drained blood out of him. Nowadays they pump it back in, but the result is much the same; the weak perish, the strong survive.” He looked at Boy. “I’m sure if the soul is healthy the body would be, too.” “You’re healthy,” said Boy. “But my soul is a mess, you mean?” Doc laughed. “You’re right. I’m scared that when the moment comes for it to leave my body and fly away on its own, it won’t have the courage to take off.” He gave a ghoulish grin. “It’ll be my privilege to haunt you forever.”


“Why a privilege?” Boy asked. “Rights and privileges,” mused Doc. “That’s a tricky area. You have the right to laugh and sleep, but not to hit someone you don’t agree with, or to take money from anyone you want to - that’s a privilege of the police or the government,” he joked. “I don’t understand,” said Boy. Doc explained. “There are rights of individuals and rights of society. You may like riding a water buffalo, but if everyone rode a water buffalo into town there’d be no room. So for the good of society water buffaloes are banned and everyone has to climb on board an elephant instead, as it makes more room - ‘the elephant bus’. In that case, if you were allowed to go on riding the buffalo it would be a privilege. Though whether the ‘elephant bus’ makes more pollution than water buffaloes, who knows.”


The lawmakers


Doc continued, “Every country has its laws. Some permit this or that, some don’t. But couldn’t there be, beyond our often silly and irrational rules; a Universal Law,” “Written in the clouds?” teased Boy. Doc shrugged, “A law based on sense, not prejudice. Based on wisdom and compassion, not on public hysteria, bigotry, retribution. Laws should lead, not follow. After all, virtue, like deceit, is the same the world over. It’s not the property of a few self-proclaimed and often self-seeking, so-called ‘law makers’.”

“And who would write it?” Boy asked. “It is written already,” Doc solemnly replied. “In our hearts. It has been there for all to see since the beginning of time, but few are prepared to read or to accept it. Most of us are too set in our opinions, or too worried about los- ing the acclaim of others, to dare. What we need is not man’s petty and often self-centred judgment, but the judgment of some all-knowing, unbiased immortal.” “Immortal?” queried Boy. “God, then,” replied Doc uncertainly.


Creatures great and small

‘But who is God, and where is he?” Boy persisted, squatting in front of the fire, watching and stirring the simmering pots. Doc nodded sagely. “God is a mystery, a sacred mystery, the sacred mystery,” he emphasised. “What does that mean?” Boy asked. Doc replied, “God is the source - just as the spring becomes the stream, which becomes a river and finally flows into the ocean.” He spread his arms wide. “So God is the source of everything: creation, knowledge, instinct, everything. But God is personal, too. God is in us. In all creation.” “Even in scorpions and spiders?” Boy inquired. “I can’t see they are much use.” “Not to you. And you’re no use to them from their point of view. You interfere with their world, just as they do with yours.” Doc sat back with his drink while Boy ladled their lunch onto two plates. For a while they ate in silence.


“My father said God is in us,” Boy reflected. “But how can you be so sure?” “Because there is something incomplete about us, something missing that only God can fill.” “Then what happens when we suffer?” Boy asked. “Where is God then?” “God suffers with us,” Doc replied slowly. He went on, “There are two people in me: there’s the person I am, and the person I wish I were. If God is in me, then he’s the person I wish I were.” Doc leaned forward. “I’ll tell you another reason why I think God is in us. It’s because everyone is ninety-nine percent the same. We all laugh and cry for the same reasons. Only we don’t always do so at the same time. We are like a house full of clocks. We all tick, but not together, so if often sounds terrible.” Boy laughed.


 

Tempting fate


“I don’t understand how the same people who can be good, can be also bad,” he said. Or those you know love someone, can hate another. Why are there such opposite natures inside us? Doc nodded thoughtfully. “I have often wondered the same. I have no answer, except I recognise within me - as I am sure you do - the same dilemma. Are we orated imperfect? Or is it a challenge so we can opt for one and discard the other? Two opposites - but the same coin”

“It would be nice to know if we tossed it, that it would fall on the good side,” suggested Boy. Doc chuckled, “Tempting fate. Perhaps the one thing we all have is hope. We can’t see it, and no gambler would put a stake on it - yet it’s there unseen, whoever way the coin falls.” “What do you hope for, Doc?” Doc shook his head. “For one thing I’m not sure, and another, I’m not sure I have the confidence to tell you. Nor would you probably tall me. Yet I suppose in all our hearts we hope for something sublime.”


Survival of the fittest

“I’ve never seen you pray, Doc?” Boy said. Doc replied, “You never will. If I pray I pray inside.”


 “Do you pray everything will get better?” Doc shook his head. “Things are bound to go wrong in life. That’s the nature of things. I pray when they do, we’ll be able to manage.” He added, “Often when someone sick shows up, I’m not sure. So I pray for guidance.”

He continued. “There’s a theory called the ‘survival of the fittest’, which is fine for the fittest. But what about the weak or the poor or the starving - it’s not their fault how they were born. But despite all that, I think there’s a hidden force for Good beyond every- ‘thing, beyond existence even. Often we ignore it, but we can tap into that force, of that I’m sure. When you see someone,” he added, “don’t think how different you are, because what unites us is so much more than what divides us. And try to resist the temptation to condemn. Feelings like revenge, bitterness, jealousy, rage usually hurt the sender much more than they do the receiver. Surely we should send out the sort of signals we would like to receive.”


 

The storm and the streem

“Everybody has a beautiful soul,” Doc added, “that dazzles from time to time, but with a lot of us it stays for the most part - like the sun in the rainy season - behind the clouds.” “You talk about God,” insisted Boy, “but you don’t go to the Holy Place.”


“Oh, I need God,” said Doc. “I’m just not sure about religion.” “What is religion?” Boy asked. “Religion is how we worship God,” Doc said slowly. “There is the religion of the river and the religion of the desert; the one is gradual and flowing, and the other is fierce and harsh and full of ardour.”

Doc gazed out of the window to where the ocean broke on the reef. “There is a wild romance about the desert that can be deceptive. So be careful. Don’t be trapped by desert storms.” “Who would want to be .caught in a storm?” asked Boy. “Many,” said Doc. “The excitement traps them. They lose themselves, they become convinced only of the purity of their cause. They can do great destruction. But however intensely they rage, the fury of desert storms eventually blows itself out. The river runs on forever, changing course a little here and there, but never losing sight of its goal; to reach the great ocean and bear us in its flow.”


Somewhere out there

In the afternoons when Doc was not going upriver in the canoe, he liked to cycle along the deserted shore. Boy went with him, on the back of the bicycle. Doc encouraged him to swim, to get his leg muscles stronger. “Swim in it, drink it - it’s full of minerals,” Doc urged. He had made goggles, and breathing tubes from bamboo, so they could stay underwater. Boy was amazed at the variety of small fish and how local each one’s terntory was. After swimming Doc sat under a palm tree and looked out to sea. “What do you see there?” Boy asked. “Nothing,” Doc answered. “Then why do you look?”


“Because it seems to me that where the sky meets the sea is like life meeting the afterlife - they seem to overlap and only the finest veil separates them. Sometimes I feel tempted just to set sail out over the horizon, on and on. Like passing through an open door and never coming back.”

That evening Doc sat outside watching the setting sun light up the inland mountains. “I like to see them glow,” he said, as he sipped his drink. Watching him, Boy seemed to see him in another light. Behind the angry, ugly, grizzled exterior Doc too seemed to shine. “Why aren’t you helping the others?” Doc said. “Everyone else is busy - I want to talk to you.” “Then talk,” commanded Doc. “You say I’ll be better soon,” said Boy, “and I’ll be able to live normally - but how should we try to live?’ “There are two ways to live,” Doc replied. “Either live for yourself and struggle to get to the top of the heap, or live for and with others - which may mean you’ll stay at the bottom, but perhaps be happier.” He smiled.


 

The source of the river

“When I try to look into the future,” Boy confessed to Doc, “I get confused. I worry how I’ll turn out, how life will turn out.” Doc nodded sympathetically; ‘One summer holiday when I was 12 years old I set out to find the source of the big river in the country where I was born. I saved my coins, bought a cheap tent that let in the rain, and a map I could never read, cut a long stick and set out walking. The footpaths never went where they should, the fields were blocked by angry cows or chest-high corn, the river wandered a lot. And so did I,” Doc mused.


“And did you get there?” “No,” Doc admitted wistfully. “I was defeated by blisters and loneliness and losing my way. No, I never reached the source of the river.” After a pause he went on, “We all have to follow our river. You see, Boy, the world is like a big family. Each of us, no matter who we are or where we come from, can help, for we all have some talent to offer. And when we do, the whole family gains. And if we just take, take, take - the family loses.” He added guiltily, “Perhaps the more privileged we are born, the more we have to give back.”


The of God

Boy shrugged impatiently, “But the river?” “The river is our voyage of enlightenment,” Doc declared solemnly. “We may never find its source. We may often turn back and have to start again and again.” “So where is the source?” Boy insisted.

Doc looked away, “Sometimes when an old lady crippled with arthritis smiles at me when all I offer are a few useless pills, or in the pleading gaze of a sick child - I feel the eye of God watching me. Squatting there in some dim hut in the forest the flickering candle flame reminds me of the spirit of compassion.” He nodded at Boy. “That is the source of the river, the source of Enlightenment. We’ll probably never reach it. We may sometimes just come close. Compassion is like the candle flame. We hope it will grow and glow in each of us until like the sun it grows so vast it heals the whole world.”


 

Remember or forget

“That’s all very well for you!” Boy protested hotly. “You’re rich - you must be, to give things away. What do you know of poverty or suffering?” Doc nodded humbly. “You’re right. But foreigners are misfits wherever they go, and I’ve had my fair share of knocks;


hauled off trucks at gunpoint, spat at, beaten up, houses looted, kidnapped in the desert, even a boat sink under me - but those were just emergencies. You don’t have to suffer. You just react fast, and fate, luck, circumstances help you survive or not. No,” he repeated, looking more embarrassed than Boy had ever seen him, “I’ve never suffered. Not like you. If I had to, I don’t think I’d have your courage to bear it.”

Then he went on, ‘But how do you repay suffering? Revenge, official tribunals, ‘an eye for an eye’? Or do you try to forget?” “I don’t know,” said Boy, thinking of his father’s death. “I feel guilty if I forget, but when I remember it makes me terribly sad.”

‘It’s like a wound,” Doc suggested. “The less you prod and probe, the quicker it heals. And yesterday’s murderer may be today’s loving father cradling his baby. There is a saying ‘Forgive and forget’. But even if you cannot forgive, try not to hate, because the more you hate, the harder it will be for the hurt ever to heal.”


As if by an enchanter’s want


One morning Boy asked Doe, “If you leave here, where will you go?” Doe shook his head, “Nowhere

I’ve been everywhere. At least I feel I have.”

“But you can’t have seen all the places we hear about,” Boy persisted. “There must be somewhere.” Doe reflected, “There was one city that seemed to grow out of the sea - as if by an enchanter’s wand, all spires and towers. But when I lived there, all I saw from my window were drab rooftops. Most places are best viewed from afar or in our dreams.”

He continued, “And what do people go to see? Palaces of dead kings, sites venerated by massacre or by devotion - some so recent the blood still stains the walls or the sacred chants still echo. If I go to another city I still carry the other one within me, the mistakes I made, the suffering I caused.”

“Have you ever destroyed anything?” asked Boy, watching Doe carefully. Doe delayed his reply. “Yes,” he admitted finally, “I am guilty. And I expect to pay for it one way or another. And I shall deserve that.”


God is peace

“But why do we try, then?” Boy persisted. Doc grimaced. “From the moment we are born we have this instinct to compete. A plant competes for light and space. A child competes for its mother’s food and affection, for its father’s attention. At school we are taught to compete in class and in sports. Nations compete with one another and go to war.” “So why don’t we stop?” ‘Oh, there have been preachers and teachers over the centuries who try to persuade us, but although people listen and applaud, they even compete with their religions, which is the last thing that was ever intended. People emerge from Holy Places praising their God and praying for mercy, and then set about hacking one another to death.”


“Perhaps there’s some little defect in each of us that prevents us living in harmony,” Boy suggested. “Or is it where we live? Is there a perfect country where everyone gets on together?” “It’s called Utopia,” Doc mused. “But the trouble is that it means something different to everyone.”

“What does it mean to you?” Boy asked.

“To me it’s a wild-natured garden where everyone and everything lives together in harmony.”

“That’s not Utopia,” replied Boy. That’s paradise!”


Going nowhere

“Perhaps we all try too much,” remarked Doc, mopping his face after the last patient had gone. He sat down wearily and winked at Boy, who was cleaning up. “I mean trying to be a success. Not just making money. Could be anything.” ‘Trying to be a good doctor,” quipped Boy. “Trying to be a good anything or a bad anything,” Doc suggested. “But surely that’s the whole purpose of living - trying?” said Boy. I wonder,” said Doc. “Perhaps trying too hard can become an obsession.” He looked nonplussed. And then getting up he put his arms around the chair and starting dancing with it in slow stately steps around the room, humming a waltz.

After Boy stopped laughing he said, “What’s that supposed to mean? Where were you going?” “Nowhere,” said Doc. “And the chair didn’t mind either - did you, chair?” “I don’t understand,” laughed Boy. “Once I was in a busy tourist resort,” Doc reflected. “There were all these seriously busy tourists getting on and off tourist buses, when along came this young man dressed in rags, smiling at everyone. He wasn’t begging - just saying ‘Hello’ and everyone frowned at him or indicated he was crazy. You see, we were all busy going somewhere, and he was going nowhere - but I wonder if he wasn’t the happiest of us all.”


Weath

“Anyway,” concluded Doc, “what is wealth? If you are a small boy it’s a handful of rubber bands, or a fistful of marbles. If you are an adult here, it’s how many buffaloes you own.” He peered at Boy over his spectacles. “You may be a lot more wealthy if you are poor but happy.” Boy nodded. “That’s what the Green Man told me.” “And he owned the whole world, I expect - earth, sea and sky.” “He thought he did,”


Boy agreed. “I’d like to meet your Green Man,” said Doc. “I think he’d have a lot to teach me.” “Yes,” teased Boy, “how not to be angry or impatient.” “Mmm.” Doc looked embarrassed. “There are two ways of looking at that.”

Boy laughed. You divide everything in twos.” Doc agreed. “Perhaps it’s easier that way. There always seem to be two opinions about everything, though there are probably dozens. Only remember, however firmly you believe in yours, the other fellow ‘is equally convinced of his. You have to try to get behind his shoulder and see things from his point of view.” Doc grinned. Boy pointed at him. “Even your smile: there are two smiles.” Doc reddened. “Sure there are two smiles. The smile that seeks to impress, and the smile that wishes to express. One lies on the outside only; the other glows from within.” “You do so much good, Doc,” Boy said. “Don’t you feel proud?” Doc frowned, “I’m nothing. Don’t tempt me to pretend I’m something.”


I swear at all times…

One day the village headman sent for Boy. “You must be careful not to be too honest,” he told him. “Don’t announce too quickly what you think is right.


Try to look at the whole picture. Just be honest enough. Otherwise it may cause you problems.”

“How is that?” Boy asked. “My father told me to tell the truth at all times.” The headman frowned. “In this life we aren’t sworn to say where justice lies. Our duty is to choose the lesser of two evils. A judge,” he continued, “may know the person on trial to be honest and virtuous - but what if his honesty, his condemnation of others, threatens the stability of the community? Better we declare him an infamous liar and lock him up for a long time. Prudence may be the lesser of two evils.”

Boy went straight back and told Doc what the headman had said. Doc only nodded grimly. “When fear and hate and envy get together they breed only more fear, more hate, more envy.” He looked at Boy. “Truth will always triumph in the end. Of that you may be sure. Only it may be a long battle. And many will fall in the fight.”


Hop, skip and home


Boy returned home on the bicycle that Doc had fixed up for him. His leg wound had healed over, though there was still a lump. Doc had not wanted to cut away the splinters, but to wait until they came out on their own. But now he pronounced the leg as good as healed, and Boy finally put aside his crutches and walked on two legs, even if with a slight limp.

The money Doc gave them helped Boy’s mother to repair their hut and buy clothes and decent food. Every week or so Doc cycled over to see them, or Boy cycled to Doc’s village. One day he went as usual, but when he arrived he found Doc’s house empty and abandoned. The door was open. People had been inside, helping themselves to whatever they wanted. There was no sign of Doc.


Never be a success?

In a panic Boy ran to the schoolmaster. He noticed most of Docs furniture was now in the schoolmaster’s house. The teacher was very vague. The police came to question him. They said it had been reported that he was spreading rumours about politics and religion.” The teacher looked hard at Boy. “Those are two things you must never talk about!” “But where is he?” pleaded Boy desperately. “I have to see him. I have to find him.” The teacher gazed fondly at his newly acquired furniture. “Oh, he can’t come back here, I hope.”


‘But didn’t he do a lot of good?” Boy insisted. “Didn’t he cure people?” The teacher pursed his lips. “He said the village headman was corrupt, and people shouldn’t pay bribes.” “But everyone knows he is corrupt,” protested Boy. The teacher looked stern. “You don’t go about saying so - especially if you are a foreigner. And he upset the medicine man. He made him look stupid. Nobody went to him any more. And he advised people about their rights - a very dangerous thing to do’.” He patted Boy on the back. “Never be too successful,” he advised in parting. “It makes people jealous. It’s better by far to be a noble failure. Then everyone is sympathetic.”


Where to?


“Where is he? Please tell me?” Boy begged. “Is he in prison?” “Deported,” said the teacher crisply. “Sent packing. Gone home where he belongs. Where all foreigners belong.” Boy was too heartbroken to know what to say. He fled out of the house, and cycled blindly home along the track. What really upset him was that no one at all seemed to care.

Boy’s mother was more practical. “We’ll go to the capital,” she .said. “We have a little money. We’ll go to the city and I’ll start a food stall, and you can go ‘to school - if you want to,” she told Boy.

Part One - Part Two - Part Three

 
     
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