کتاب 03 - فصل 06

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: پسر / فصل 38

کتاب 03 - فصل 06

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  • زمان مطالعه 14 دقیقه
  • سطح ساده

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Six

Trademaster?”

Jonas looked astonished.

He had listened now for a long time. He was sitting with Claire on a bench in a secluded area behind the library. She had thought about how much to tell him, how to tell him, and finally, ten days after the feast, she had approached Jonas and asked if she could talk to him alone. He had brought her here late on a damp morning, carefully wiping the moisture from the bench and helping her to sit comfortably.

She hadn’t known exactly how to begin. Finally she said, “I knew you when you were a boy.”

Jonas smiled. “I didn’t realize you were here then. I thought you came to the village more recently. I would have guessed, oh, five or six years ago. But we lose track of time, don’t we?” “No,” Claire said. “You’re right. I arrived here close to seven years ago. But I had known you long before then. Back in the community where you had grown up.” He looked more closely at her. “I’m sorry not to recognize you,” he said. “I was a child there, of course. I left there after I turned twelve. But I did many of my volunteer hours in the House of the Old. Were you there then? I remember a woman named . . . What was it? Larissa? That was it. Did you know her?” Claire shook her head. “No,” she murmured. This was so hard. How could she describe to him something that would be almost impossible to believe?

She sighed, and kneaded her hands, which ached. It was midmorning. Often her joints ached in the morning. She cleared her throat. Her voice, she knew, was an old person’s voice now, too soft sometimes, too tentative. But she took a deep breath and tried to speak firmly, to make him listen, to make him understand the incomprehensible.

“My ceremony was three years before yours.”

“Your ceremony?”

“The Ceremony of Twelve.”

“But—”

She held up her hand. “Shhh. Just listen.”

Jonas, looking confused, fell silent.

“I received my Assignment when I turned twelve. I was assigned Birthmother.” She paused. “That was a disappointment, of course. But I had not been a good student.” She could see that he was still puzzling over her words. There was nothing to do but go on. “After a while, when I was deemed ready, I moved into the birthing unit.” Around them, the pace of the village continued. Some women were gossiping as they weeded in the community garden. Nearby, small children played with some puppies. From Boys’ Lodge, the usual group emerged and ran down the path, calling laughing insults to one another. Gabe was not among them. He had gone to his place by the river much earlier and was alone there, fitting the last parts of his odd little boat into place.

All of this fell away from their awareness as Jonas and Claire sat together. She talked. He listened attentively. Now and then he interrupted her softly to ask a question. The pills. When did she stop taking the pills?

“I did too. I just threw them away,” he told her. “Did you feel the change?”

“I felt different from the others. But I was already different in so many ways.”

He nodded. She could tell that he was slowly accepting the story she was telling him. But she saw him look carefully at her, at her thin gray hair, her stooped shoulders and gnarled hands, and knew that he could not comprehend yet how she had become what she now was.

She told him of her work at the fish hatchery, after her discharge from the Birthing Center. Of her search for Gabe, and her visits to him.

She described how the infant had begun to say her name. How he laughed at the funny face she made, and tried to imitate it. Claire thrust her tongue into her cheek and made the face for Jonas.

He looked startled. “I remember it!” he told her. “When he and I were together—you know he stayed in my dwelling at night?”

“I know.”

“Sometimes he made that funny face for me. But of course I didn’t know—” He paused, still trying to comprehend.

She continued her story.

The midday bell rang. Villagers began to gather for lunch. Jonas and Claire ignored it.

“Will Kira be wondering where you are?”

He shook his head. “No. She was taking the children on a picnic with some friends. Please—go on. Unless you’re hungry. Would you like to stop for lunch?” Claire said no. “I don’t have much of an appetite anymore.”

“You’re too thin.”

“I eat very little. Herbalist says it’s not unusual for someone my age. It’s part of the natural process.”

“Your age?” Jonas asked. “But you were three years older than I was! What happened?”

“We’ll get to that. Then you’ll understand.”

She went on with the telling. It would take a long time. She felt that in order to understand, he must know every detail.

The day cleared and a pale sun dried the moisture. By late afternoon, the shadows had lengthened and they were sitting in deep shade. The air had turned cool. Jonas had placed his jacket across Claire’s shoulders. She was very tired by now, but felt oddly invigorated by relating the story to someone at last. It had been her secret, her private burden, for years. She told it slowly, and he didn’t hurry her. Now and then she had paused to rest. He had brought her water, and a biscuit. The entire day had belonged to them and to her story.

She described the torturous climb up the cliff at length, feeling the need to relive it inch by inch as Einar had told her he had, remembering each handhold, each precipice and narrow ledge. Talking slowly, she felt the muscles in her arms and legs respond to the memory. Jonas noticed it, how she shifted her body as in her mind she made the climb again. He winced when she told of the attack by the bird. She showed him the scar on her neck.

Finally, as exhausted almost by the telling as she had been when she reached the top of the cliff that long-ago dawn, she described the terrible trade she had made.

Jonas leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and put his face into his hands. “Trademaster,” he said. “I thought he was gone. We banished him from the village a long time ago. I was Leader then.” “Who is he?” Claire asked.

He didn’t respond. He stayed silent, looking now into a distant place, a place that Claire couldn’t see.

“I should have known,” he said, after a moment. “I felt something out there, something related to Gabe, but I didn’t realize what it was. I think I was feeling your presence,” he mused, “and that was puzzling, but benign. But there is something else. Something malignant. It must be him.” “Who is he?” Claire asked again.

“He is Evil. I don’t know how else to describe it. He is Evil, and like all evil, he has enormous power. He tempts. He taunts. And he takes.

“Gabe has your same eyes,” Claire said suddenly. “You and Gabe have the same pale eyes.”

“My eyes?” he said, answering her. “They see beyond the places most people can see. I’m told it’s my gift, that there are others with different gifts. And yes, Gabe has the same eyes. Sometimes I wonder—” From the top of a pine tree near the river, a large bird suddenly lifted itself and swooped past them in the late golden light.

“Were you scared of birds at first?” Claire asked him suddenly.

“What?”

“When you ran away from the community. When you first saw birds. Were you scared?”

Jonas nodded. “Just at first. And other things too. I remember the first time I saw a fox. Gabe was so little; he wasn’t afraid of anything. It was all new and exciting to him.” Claire realized suddenly that he was talking to her in a different way. He had known her since she had arrived in the community and he had always spoken to her in a kindly fashion. He had been helpful and patient: a young man to an old woman. But they had never been more than acquaintances. Now they were reminiscing together as old friends who had just reunited.

“I thought of taking him,” she confessed. “But I didn’t know how to hide him, or where I could go. And then your father showed me that he wore a special bracelet on his ankle, so I realized that I’d be caught if I tried to take him.” “Yes. An electronic bracelet.”

Claire frowned. “I don’t remember what that means. What it was.”

“There was so much in the community that isn’t part of our lives anymore. But that’s what our memories consist of: small things,” Jonas said.

“My bicycle. I haven’t seen a bicycle since then. Except the one in the museum. That was—”

“My father’s bike. I stole it. It had a seat for Gabe.”

Claire nodded. “Yes. In my memory I can see him riding in it. He held a toy.”

Jonas laughed. “His hippo.”

“He called it Po, didn’t he? It’s coming back now.”

“Yes. Po.”

Now she could almost hear and see it: the dimpled hands clutching the stuffed toy; the high, happy voice. “Did you take the hippo with you when you escaped?” Jonas shook his head. “I couldn’t. It all happened so fast. I discovered they were going to release . . . No. Not release. They were going to kill Gabe. I took him and fled. And I had to take food. There was no room for anything else.” “I would have gone with you, if I’d known. Things would be different now if I had.” She shifted on the bench and rubbed her sore hip. “I wish—” But then she fell silent.

Jonas was quiet. He didn’t reply.

“I was so frightened of birds,” she said suddenly. “Of their feathers and beaks. Then Einar brought me one, in a cage, as a pet. I named it Yellow-wing.” “Einar? He was the one who—”

“Yes, the one who prepared me for the climb out.” Her eyes went to her feet, thick and bunioned in primitive sandals. She pulled them back beneath the bench to hide them. He knew she was remembering how limber she had been then, how balanced and sure.

“I loved Einar,” she told him.

“Do you wish you had stayed?” Jonas asked her after a moment.

“No,” she said firmly. “But I wish it had not been Evil that brought me here.”

Jonas helped her up from the bench, his hand under her arm. They had been sitting together for a long time, and Claire was stiff. She stretched slowly and took a deep breath.

“Are you all right?” he asked, looking at her with concern.

She nodded. “I’ll be all right in a minute. My heart’s fluttery sometimes. And I’m just a little slow to get moving.”

Jonas continued looking at her. “I remember you,” he said, after a moment.

“We never spoke to each other,” Claire pointed out.

They began to walk slowly. He was seeing her home.

“No. But I saw you. My father mentioned you—the girl who came now and then to the nurturing center, and played with Gabe. He pointed you out to me one time. I think you rode past on your bike, and he said, ‘That’s the one.’” “It seems so strange, to realize who you are. He pointed you out to me: ‘That’s my son,’ he said. He told me your name. It brings it all back, those days in the community.” “I don’t think about it anymore. I’ve made a life here, where it’s so different.”

“So has Gabe.”

Jonas nodded. “He doesn’t remember the community.”

“It’s just as well.”

“I’m not certain. It frustrates him, not having a past, or a family.”

“So he’s wondered?”

“More than wondered,” Jonas told her. “He has a passionate need to figure out his past. I try to tell him what he wants to know, but it’s never been enough. That’s why he’s building the boat. I told him we had lived by a river, perhaps this same river. He’s determined to find his way back.” They both fell silent.

“Then we must—”

“Maybe together we—”

They had both spoken at the same time, and they were both saying the same thing: We must try to tell all of this to Gabe. Together we can help him understand. But there was not time to discuss it. They were interrupted by the shouts of boys, excited, perhaps alarmed. The noise was coming from the riverside, the place where Gabe had been working for weeks on the little boat.

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