Saturday, June 11, 2011


Wizard of Oz

"You have always had the power, my dear, you have always had the power." Wizard of Oz

One of the most powerful female figures in literature is Dagney Taggart - the heroine of Atlas Shrug. Dagny is a business woman who manages to stand up to the shark of the railroad industry.

Dagney from the movie Atlas Shrug

Her brains and her self-confidence make her formidable and wearing this shirt is a reminder -

Atlas Shrugged Tee Shirt

A very worthwhile charity is HTAC, the initials which stands for Help the Afghan Children. This organization builds school and its mission is educating the young citizens. I would love to start a writing program to empower girls in a newly built school -]

Girls School in Afghanistan

And now for Chapter Two of For Such the Angels Go.

Chapter 2
            Jean bent down, shook out her quivering legs, wiggled her toes and walked to the round thatched roof house. She paused before entering and called her aunt’s name.
            There was no answer.
            She stepped into the small structure. Her hopes sank when she climbed over scattered clothes on the dirt floor and saw some hardened yams piled in the center of the room. She almost slid on spilled porridge. A thin sheet, stained and crusted, rested on top of a sagging mattress, crammed in the corner. Jean collapsed on the dirt beside a pile of rags, her heart still hammering in her chest.
            The hut was a mess and that was the first clue that something was wrong. Jean’s Aunt Therese had always been neat and as clean as she could possibly manage. But it wasn’t the disarray which bothered Jean. It was the smell.
            The smell of death. And Jean knew all about that.
            “What are you doing here?” A woman, who couldn’t be more than twenty but whose eyes were old and defeated and whose mouth was set in an eternal frown, stood at the door, waving a stick at Jean. A young boy clung to the woman’s leg and buried his face in her ripped skirt.
            “My name is Jean Mantuidi. I’m looking for my aunt. Her name is Therese Mantuidi. She lives here.” Jean was still panting. “Maybe she went to fetch water -”
            “She’s dead. She died of the virus on Tuesday. I’m sorry.” The woman shrugged her shoulders, not looking the least bit empathetic.
            Jean wondered why she should be surprised, when the virus had taken her mother and her grandmother. But Jean was shocked and saddened and found herself crying uncontrollably.
            “Did she suffer?” Jean asked between her sobs, because she could not rid herself of the vision of her mother, a mere skeleton, covered with sores, crying in pain, and begging the Blessed Virgin to take her –
            The woman shrugged again and then asked in a totally disinterested tone of voice, “Are you sick too?”
            Jean shook her head.
            “Why are you breathing so hard and heavy then?”
            “I’m running away,” Jean said.
            The woman took a step backward, almost as though Jean were infected with a disease that could spread in the air. “Are you a thief?”
            Again Jean shook her head.
            “What then?”
            The little boy had started to wail. A soft mewl like a cat in pain.
            “I didn’t do it.” Jean sprang up.
            The woman looked at Jean, her eyes squinting with suspicion.
            “I was working for this family,” Jean said, “washing the clothes and cooking the porridge and caring for the baby and the mother, she got sick. Something happened to her heart.”
            “Did you give her food?”
            “No.” Jean would have smiled at the absurdity of it. Her giving the mistress food? She would have smiled. If she didn’t know where the question was leading.
            “I took chocolate from a stranger,” Jean lowered her eyes. “This American, she came into our village, she bought candy -”
            The woman let out a shriek, which startled the small boy, who began to wail.
            “But I didn’t know that the candy had a spell on it. I didn’t know!” Jean was weeping too, she and the boy together, but the boy had his mother to hide behind, while Jean had – no one.
            The woman stepped back again, only this time she had moved so far away, outside the house. Now Jean could not see her. But she could plainly hear the woman screaming, “Witch Child! Witch Child!”
            “I am not a witch child!” Jean insisted, only she wasn’t sure if she were a witch child or not. Would she know if she were a witch child? Would she know if she had caused the mistress’s death just by entering the house? Had she somehow killed her aunt also because her wickedness had blown like a warm breeze through the Congo?
            If Jean could make people sick could she make them well?
            Could she be a good witch child?
            Then Jean heard another voice, the voice of a man. “What’s the problem?” he demanded from outside and then he stepped into the hut.
Suddenly the hut seemed smaller and Jean wanted to run away from this enormous man, who looked like a giant. She had never seen anyone quite so tall. In a country where people were stick thin, this man had flesh on his body. He could scoop her up with his long, lanky arms and bring her back to the city to face the angry mob, who by now would realize that Jean was missing.
            “She’s a witch child, Jospeh,” the woman said. “She’s Therese’s niece and they’re looking for her. She ran away to bring her evil here.”
            The man approached her and Jean shrank back.
            “We can’t help her,” the woman said. “She’ll cast a spell on us. We’ll get sick and starve. She’ll turn our little boy into a witch child and they’ll come for him.”
            Jean looked into Joseph’s eyes and found to her astonishment that they were full of compassion.
            He turned his back to Jean. “Go home!” he shouted to the woman.
            “We can’t keep her, Joseph! She will destroy us!”
            “Go home!” he bellowed.
            Jean hid her wet face in her hands. She was exhausted and confused. She wondered if this man was another devil, trying to tempt her. Maybe he was working for the village. Maybe he would have his own way of ridding evil spirits from Jean.
            A fight had broken out in a French dialect that Jean didn’t understand. She wished that she could sneak by the man and the woman and the terrified child (although it was unclear to her what the boy had to be frightened of, except of course, Jean) and keep on running. Except where would she go now?
            The man must have won the argument because the woman stepped into the hut, glared at Jean, hoisted the little boy into her arms, and hurried away.
            “You have to forgive my wife,” the man spoke softly. “She doesn’t mean you any harm.”
            “I suppose she’s scared,” Jean said, “because she thinks I’m a witch child. I don’t remember becoming a witch child.” Jean sniffled. “Wouldn’t I remember something like that? Although once I had this bad dream about Lucifer. Do you think that’s when he came to me?”
            “I am a Roman Catholic,” the man said. “We do not believe in witches.”
            Jean was Catholic also. At least that’s what her mother had always told her, although Jean wasn’t sure what it meant to be a Catholic. She had never been inside of a church, nor had she ever been blessed by a Catholic priest. But she knew some prayers and her mother had told her stories about Jesus and how he loved children and all about saints who had suffered and died horrible and bloody deaths.
            Had a saint sent this kind man?
            “I can’t keep you here,” he said simply. “My wife, she wouldn’t allow it. She’s superstitious and she talks. She will tell one neighbor, who will tell another. Someone from the city will come for you.”
            Jean rose, feeling rather unsteady. She was so thirsty she found it difficult to speak. She wondered if the man would give her some water.
            “Do you have someplace else to go?” he asked
            Jean wiped her tears with the back of her hand and wished that she had a rag so she could blow her nose.
            “Your father?”
            “I never met him. My mother said that he made a lot of babies and he couldn’t care for them all. They call me a cibalabala. I can’t go back there,” Jean whispered. “Please don’t send me back there. They’ll kill me. I saw once,” Jean gulped, “a little boy who limped. Mama said that he was born that way, but just because he was different they thought the devil got to him. They threw stones at him until he died. He was only six.”
            “I said I don’t believe in witches,” the man said. “That’s true. But I do believe in evil. And those people, they’re bad. They’re evil and they’re stupid, which is a dangerous combination.” He shook his head. “I won’t send you back.”
            “But where will I go?” It was beginning to get dark and Jean had never been alone in the dark. In the city there were other street children to bond with, street children living in the central market, the post office or the railway station. Here she was in the middle of the woods. Jean didn’t like the forest. All kinds of unspeakable things could happen in the woods.
            “There’s a refuge for children like yourself, children accused of sorcery. Sister Mary Jude runs it. She’ll take care of you, at least temporarily.”
            A glimmer of hope flashed through her. No one had taken care of Jean since her mother died.
And that was months ago.
            “Will I be able to go to school?” she asked. “Will I get a uniform and books and some paper and pens?”
            The man gave a half-hearted shrug. “You’ll be safe,” he said simply. “That’s all I can promise. But -”
            It was the but that made Jean’s stomach leap. “But?” She swallowed hard, her throat dry and sore.
            “But the refuge is far away. And I don’t know how you can get there, except by foot. It will take a few days, and you’ll have to go through the woods. If you stay on the main roads, you’ll run into road blocks. And while the soldiers aren’t looking for you,” the man paused, “sometimes it doesn’t matter who they’re looking for.”
            “How far is this refuge?”
            “About forty-two kilometers.”
            “Forty-two kilometers?” Jean repeated. “That’s not far at all. That’s less than a marathon.”
            The man smiled and Jean noticed that he had perfect teeth, so white, they were dazzling. Most people in her country had lost them from malnutrition or chewing on hard, inedible food.
            “There are Africans who can run a marathon in less than four hours. Did you know that?” Jean questioned proudly.
            “I’ve heard of such things,” the man said.
            “In America.”
            The man drew a deep breath. “In America things are different. There is enough food and the runners wear shoes,” he looked down at her dirty, ripped sneakers, not even noticing the whole in the bottom of the right foot, “and they are not escaping wild animals and superstitious people. Everyone has water and water is free, in stores and in the streets. They don’t have to worry about land mines.” He shook his shaven head sadly. “This is not America.”
            “But someday I’m going to go there,” Jean said.
            “Maybe. But right now, we have to get you to the refuge.” The man walked to the front of the hut and gazed into the fading light. He turned around. “You can’t go in the dark, that’s for sure. There is an abandoned shack about a half mile up the road. You can spend the night there. But you have to be gone by daylight. If my wife should find out, I’m helping you -”
            “I’ll leave. I promise.”
            The man nodded. “Go now and later on when things are quiet, I’ll come and bring you some food and some water.” He dug into his pocket and took out five francs. “Here, take it.”
            Jean shook her head. “I can’t accept money from a stranger.”
            “Don’t be silly. It might buy your freedom.” He put the coin into Jean’s sweaty hands. Then he walked to the door of the hut and pointed the direction to Jean.
            She left the hut, thankful that the night air bought with it a little coolness.
Only forty-two kilometers, she thought, I can do that. But Joseph who had been good and kind was not optimistic.
            Devil or no devil, Jean thought as she walked slowly toward the deserted shack, I’m going to survive.

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