Amira’s neighbour had recently let her know about the forthcoming church fete and festivities which were to commemorate the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Convent. It was a place Amira loved. Inscribed on the heavy, wooden door of the Convent were the words, Built on the hill to be close to God. It wasn’t difficult to find a hill in Waldmeer. They were everywhere. Nevertheless, it was a sweet sentiment.
Inside the Convent was a chapel. It was not the town church. It was the personal chapel of the nuns who once lived there. Originally, the order was an enclosed one which meant that they did not interact with the outside world. Their job was prayer. Amira felt the very air inside still carried the sacred energy of their prayers. She found it quite otherworldly. She didn’t go there too often. Her job was in the world.
In the early days, the nuns had a large and carefully tended garden where they grew most of their food. The priest collected the excess each Friday and sold it at the weekend market along with the candles that the sisters made. It gave them a little money. Their needs were simple.
Whenever Amira visited the Convent, she passed a row of paintings of the founding sisters. The one in the middle was Sister Geraldine. Something about the pictures fascinated Amira. She, often, said hello to them by name as she passed. Even Amira didn’t expect them to answer but, one day, she found that Sister Geraldine was, indeed, talking to her. Sister Geraldine told her that she, like her fellow sisters, came from Ireland.
She said that she travelled overseas to Waldmeer because, “I told God that if I could be of service to anyone in the world then my soul would be happy. He brought me here.” Amira quickly realised that Sister Geraldine was quite saintly.
Although the order started out enclosed, Sister Geraldine said that eventually it was time to educate the children of the logging families. Up until then, the nuns would sit behind a curtain in the town church so that the congregation could not see them. The day came for their unveiling. That Sunday morning, as usual, the sisters walked into the curtained area and sat down. Sister Geraldine stood up and opened the curtains with a touch of drama for good measure. She, apparently, had a sense of humour. The congregation collectively gasped as they witnessed the unveiling of the holy sisters. The sisters got the giggles. And so began their public life of service and serve they certainly did.
One group of children that the sisters were forbidden to educate was the Clinker children who lived in the back hills of Waldmeer, although, their exact location tended to change depending on their parents’ movements. This instruction was from the Bishop and the sisters were duty bound, by their vows, to obey. The Clinkers appeared in Waldmeer about the same time as the forest loggers who built the town. They were a cross between gypsies and monks. They were a deeply spiritual group but it manifested in ways that were foreign to Waldmeerians. Dancing, chanting, magic, healing, living in nature, and free-spiritedness were the Clinker way of life.
The women usually wore veils when in town as a symbol of their spiritual heritage. However, unlike the Convent sisters who wore white veils, the Clinker women wore red ones with lots of jewellery and small, clinking bells. Thus they were nicknamed the Clinkers. No one bothered to ask them if they had a real name. Anyway, the townsfolk liked the Clinker reference as it had a connotation of belonging in jail. They were suspicious of their magic and healing and, unfortunately, some of the errant Clinker boys would, sometimes, steal from the townsfolk. It was never proven. The boys were quick and stealthy; no match for people who live in a town. The elders of the Clinkers were hard on their straying members but every group has its trouble spots.
Sister Geraldine was fond of the Clinkers and, possibly, a little envious of their freedom. How she would love to run barefoot through the forest, singing with the waving trees, and befriending the creatures, but that was not her calling. At one point, six Clinker children were brought to the Convent by their mother. She refused to speak to anyone except Sister Geraldine. The children were fatherless and the mother was ill. She said she was going to go to the city to try the city-medicine way. She did not want the children to be raised by the other Clinkers. She said she wanted them to grow up educated and not be forest people only knowing magic and nature. Sister Geraldine explained that she was not allowed to take the children. The woman who read minds more than she minded words, looked at Geraldine with the determined eyes of a forest creature protecting her young.
“You are their mother now,” said the Clinker woman and left.
Sister Geraldine told the other sisters that the children were orphaned from a Waldmeer farming family. Everyone knew that it wasn’t true but Geraldine wanted to save the sisters the burden of going against their vow of obedience to the Bishop. She felt she had a duty to obey a higher order than the church one. The other sisters were thrilled to have children living with them. After all, they would have all been mothers if not for their religious decision.
The sisters immediately got to work and enclosed the long verandah. They scraped together six makeshift beds for the children. In fact, the children slept in those beds for three years. Then their mother returned and, of course, the children needed to go back to their original family. The youngest child was only a toddler when she first came to the Convent. She did not recognize her Clinker mother and refused to leave Sister Geraldine who she considered as her rightful mother.
Sister Geraldine kept taking the child to her real mother in the back hills and, gradually, got her used to her biological family. Each time Sister Geraldine returned to the Convent childless, the other sisters knew not to ask her about it. They all missed the baby. They were women. The little girl spent most of her growing up years returning to the Convent. When she was an adult, she emigrated to Sister Geraldine’s homeland of Ireland. There she married and had children of her own. Eventually, she ended up with ten grandchildren. The youngest of them was Ide.
Ide had no idea of her connection to the Convent or to Sister Geraldine as her adoptive great-grandmother. Certainly, she never dreamed she had Clinker blood in her. All of this was told to Amira, piece by piece, whenever she passed Sister Geraldine’s painting in the Convent hallway.
Amira had to think of a way of telling Ide without saying, “Oh, by the way, I’ve been talking to your dead, adoptive great-grandmother and she wants you to know who you are. Apparently, someone in your Irish family decided it was best to forget about this part of your history.”
Like Sister Geraldine, Amira decided that a white lie was preferable to a fatal truth so she told Ide she found the Convent records and read about Ide’s ancestry there. Anyway, Amira thought, if I searched enough, I’m sure I could find records somewhere in the Convent. Thus began Amira and Ide’s frequent visits to the Clinkers. They would, usually, visit on ceremony nights and couldn’t have had more fun with all the dancing, singing, laughing, magic, and healing. It was very theatrical but most religions have a great deal of drama and theatre. The Clinker blood in Ide was thickening with remarkable speed.
Ide mentioned the Clinkers to Farkas expecting him to have little, if any, interest. To her surprise, Farkas told her that he had, also, been spending time with some of the Clinkers. She had never seen him there and she didn’t understand why he would be there because he was not religiously or spiritually minded. Nor would he go looking for friends and, even if he did, the Clinkers were not an obvious choice. Ide never questioned Farkas about anything. Whatever he wanted to tell her was his choice.
All in all, having Farkas in the bungalow was working well and Ide did not want to sabotage it, not least, because her son, Christopher, was becoming increasingly attached to Farkas. Christopher would stride down the driveway to the bungalow with legs that seemed to grow an inch every week as, often, happens with boys that age. Ide, sometimes, worried that Christopher would be broken hearted when Farkas decided it was time to go but she had already had enough loss in life to know that if one holds back from life’s joys for fear of their ending, one will miss out on the best parts of life.
Although Ide never questioned Farkas about his association with the Clinkers, she did ask one of her Clinker girlfriends. “Oh, yeah,” said the friend, “He’s been hangin’ out with the lost ones.”
“The lost ones?” queried Ide.
“You know, Tom and Himach and that lot. Those weed-guys. The elders call them the lost ones because they say that they have taken the freedom of the Clinkers and turned it into trouble with their drug taking and irresponsible ways. They are the ones giving the Clinkers a bad name.” Ide’s friend looked at her and said, “Farkas is an adult. He is free to make his own choices but, if I was you, I’d make sure that they don’t get their hands on Christopher. A number of our young teenage boys have lost their way through them. At worst, they have ended up in jail and a few of them dead. Mostly suicide. At best, they waste years of their life telling themselves that the drugs have no effect on them when, all along, they have been sedating themselves for large parts of their waking consciousness. The elders say they are wasting the gift of life and that it is an insult to the Great Life Energy.” Ide’s friend remembered the Clinker code of love and said with more than a touch of sadness in her eyes, “I get angry with them, Ide, but it is because they are my brothers. I’ve seen too many of them destroy themselves.”
That evening Ide saw Farkas in the back garden. All she said was, “I don’t want Christopher near any of those Clinker weed-boys.” There was a determination in her voice that surprised Farkas. It was the same determined voice as the mother who long ago insisted on leaving her children with Sister Geraldine; Ide’s biological great-grandmother.
“Relax, it’s only marijuana,” said Farkas. “It’s not like a real drug.”
Ide cut him off. “I don’t want Christopher in the bungalow when it’s there.” Farkas shrugged and walked off as if it was a fuss about nothing but he knew she was right. At that moment, Farkas let a little light of love for Ide grow in his heart.
“I’m sorry, Amira, but unless you have a seconder the matter cannot be put before the assembly,” said the Convenor knowing full well that no one was going to second it. Amira was at the meeting for the upcoming one-hundred-year anniversary of the Convent. This was going to be the social highlight of the year for Waldmeer and so it was not just church people who were present. Business owners, council members, townsfolk, and those associated with the Convent were all there. Everyone was represented except the Clinkers. One had to have an invitation to attend and they were not invited. Amira knew that they wanted to be involved and decided it was the right time to press the town on this divisive issue. However, she couldn’t find a suitable seconder for the motion which meant it could not even be tabled for voting.
“I will second it,” said a low, strong, female voice up the back. Amira couldn’t see who it was but the voice sounded familiar. The Convenor looked stunned but composed himself and said, “Alright, your name please?”
“Verloren Reisenden. My husband and I have a holiday house here in Waldmeer. I will second Amira’s motion.” No one was more shocked than Amira. As it unfolded, it was due to Verloren that there was a positive outcome for the Clinkers. It was not just that she had made it possible for the motion to be put before the assembly. That was the first step but it was still unlikely to pass. Verloren was no fool when it came to people-politics and casually mentioned, “You may be aware of the successful business my husband and I run in the city. As is appropriate these days, we always have a policy of inclusion when it comes to such matters.”
Whether the townsfolk knew of her business or not, they could tell that Verloren was a woman of means and business standing. Whatever she said, they were willing to accept in acknowledgement of her superior judgment in the situation. If it was only Amira supporting the case for the Clinkers, the people would have dismissed it as the peculiarities of a well-meaning but incomprehensible person with a questionable profession. In fact, if Amira wasn’t a local – born and bred from good ol’ Lenny the fisherman – she would have probably been lumped in with the Clinkers themselves. Verloren gave the townsfolk the confidence to vote in favour of including the Clinkers.
“Thank you, Verloren,” said Amira after the meeting. Amira knew it was a fragile situation and that Verloren could easily return to her previous hostile position and so it seemed best to say little.
Verloren dismissed Amira saying, “I don’t like nastiness. Besides, the clinkers are known to me personally.” None of that had much truth in it. Verloren didn’t like nastiness towards herself but she could be as nasty as the best of them. Nor did she know the Clinkers personally. She may have had a vague knowledge that the Clinkers were somewhere in the hills but she would neither have understood nor had any alignment with their type of spirituality. However, it didn’t matter. What did matter was that Verloren had decided to use her considerable personal magnetism and force-to-be-reckoned-with nature for a good cause. It was, indeed, a surprise that the good cause was Amira.
“I heard Farkas is living at the bottom of my street,” said Verloren tentatively. She bought her house off Farkas.
“Yes, he is,” said Amira. “For now. At Ide’s.” She wanted to add, But don’t go there. It can only lead nowhere good. Instead, she touched Verloren’s arm lightly knowing that it was not particularly welcome and said, “You look like you are doing really well, so, whatever you are doing, keep doing it.”
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