A Second Chance -- Chapter 57

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

This chapter was fun. See my note in the comments: Dawn

SUNDAY, June 19, 2016

Rachael went down to the nursery as soon as she got to church to make sure that there were enough staff. There were. Several of the girls had gotten babysitting jobs the prior Friday or Saturday nights, and all were eager to meet more parents, and get to be the favorite of more kids. Rachael headed back up to the church just before service started.

As she took a seat with Maria, she noticed Jane and Mike sitting in the back, with the baker holding the former hooker’s hand. There were a few sneers from other women in the church directed at Jane and her ample bosom, but Mike seemed to be chatting with her and reassuring her she was welcome in the church. Rachael smiled at the young couple as she walked past, and Jane smiled back, glad to be welcomed by at least one person.

Pastor Helen also smiled warmly at Jane from the front of the church, and then made an adlib change to her sermon, starting off with a welcome to ‘new members’ and noting that the church was inclusive to all, and that it was the sin of pride to feel that you are more deserving than others. She continued on that theme for several more minutes, until most of the women who had sneered at Jane became uncomfortable.

After the short sermon, Pastor Helen announced that there were guest speakers: three missionaries from Africa. This is the reason that Rachael was not in the nursery. She felt that as a church board member who would decide on the donations, she had a responsibility to see how the congregation reacted to the various speeches.

The first up was a young missionary of about 25 years old. He was building a church in Angola, and needed money to start construction. Up until this time he was preaching from the local schoolroom, a single room building that was empty on the weekends. He felt that it was important to have a separate building in the community to bring the people closer to God.

The second missionary was a few years older, and he already had a church building. He was now trying to raise money for a manse, a building where he could live. He presently lived in a small hut on the church property, but felt it was necessary for him to have a more western home, rather than the type of building all his parishioners lived in.

The final speaker was a few more years older, perhaps 35, and he immediately spoke with a passion lacking in the others. You could see that he considered his congregation to be ‘his’ people. Joshua Stillwater was married, to a woman about his age who was a nurse, and ran the only clinic for 80 miles around from their home. Even though they had been in Zambia for much longer than the younger men, they weren’t looking for a building. They had already spearheaded the building of a local school, and the missionary taught all grades up to Grade 10 during the week, as well as preaching in the same building on Sundays.

His project was to drill a well for his people in the village. The women of the village had to walk 15 kilometers to a place where the stream through a nearby ravine was accessible. He felt that the stream indicated that there would be water if they drilled, and he wanted a local source. Many women with young children had to take their babies with them on the long walk for water. Families with older children left the young with siblings, but this cut those children out of an education, although the missionary gave night classes in basic education to them in the evenings, as well as to the adults who wanted to learn.

He spoke of another project. The ravine over the stream meant that it took a 30-kilometer detour down to the watering place and back to get to the road to the market town. The only bridge over the ravine was two old ropes strung across. You walked on the lower rope, and held the upper one for balance. Doing this with a full load on your head was precarious, and loads, and occasionally people, dropped into the stream below. Each load lost would represent a week or two of work for the farmer, who generally had a yearly income of less than $60 in Canadian money.

The men of the village were almost all farmers, and the main currency of the village was livestock. There were two small cows owned by the headman, and many of the villagers had goats or sheep. He noted that many of his students left school at age 13 or 14, with the girls being married off, and the boys going to work in the fields. He recounted the story of a girl of 15 who was incredibly bright, and had potential to go to university. But her father had set a bride-price of four goats on her, and as soon as someone came up with the price, she would be married off. It appeared that either the headman, who was over 40, or his son, currently a boy of 10, would be the only ones who could afford the price.

Joshua had gone over the 10-minute time limit by at least 10 minutes, and Pastor Helen had to call an end to the talk so she could end the service in time for the next group to come in. She suggested that any people who wished to talk to the missionaries could do so in the lobby.

Rachel went into the lobby, and saw that only Joshua had a crowd around him. She went to the other two missionaries, and congratulated them on their work, and then moved into the crowd around Joshua. After several minutes listening to the passionate man answer questions, she got hers in: “What does a goat cost in Zambia?”

“Thirty dollars,” Joshua said. “For most families that is a half year of pay. Some girls have bride-prices of only a sheep or two, which cost $10 each. They tend to marry younger than Lullana, the girl I mentioned.”

“So if I raised $120, I could pay her bride-price, and she could stay in school?” Rachael asked.

“No, I don’t think that would work. If no husband appeared to take her home, then another man with the bride-price would make an offer, and she would have to go with him.”

“What if I brought her here? Like an exchange student? Would that work?” Rachael asked.

The missionary appeared to think for a moment, and then had a big smile. “I never thought about an exchange student. Although it would not be an exchange, since there is nothing for a student from here to gain in Kasaka. But if Lullana could be brought here, and get a Canadian education, she would be able to bring so much back to her people.”

“Don’t be so sure there can’t be an exchange,” Gary said from the spot he was listening in. “Maybe not a teenaged student, but one or two of the Hobo Army have experience in construction and could help you build your well and bridge. And you might want to contact the nursing school in London. Some of their students might want to spend a summer helping your wife.”

“Wow. What great ideas,” a pumped up Joshua said. “Can we talk later? I see that the other missionaries are speaking to the second service, and I should get ready for my spot.”

Rachael stood at the back of the church and watched the three missionaries repeat their presentations. Joshua seemed even more charged up than the first time, and at the end of this service Pastor McNaughton allowed the men to answer questions in the church itself. There was an even bigger crowd around Joshua this time. Finally, a half hour later the Deacon came forward and asked the missionaries to join them in the boardroom, which Gary had hastily recreated from the Sunday school room it had been a half hour earlier.

Rachael accompanied Joshua in and then showed him and the other two missionaries seats just outside of the room. The board took places around the table, and quickly a short discussion ensued.

“I think the way is clear,” the deacon said. “The mission in Zambia is clearly doing more for the community and needs our support. The others, building a church, or worse, a manse, are doing little to make the lives of their people easier. It is more a case of making their own lives easier. But this Joshua fellow seems to be a real firebrand. So the question is: what, if anything, do we give these gents?”

“Well, even the two deserve something, having come out from Toronto to talk to us. I think they should get at least $500 each,” Pastor Helen said.

In the end, two men were called in, and offered $1000 each for their missions. They both left with big smiles on their faces. Most churches were donating a hundred or two.

Then Joshua came in and was invited to sit down. He was grilled about costs for his various projects. He said he was aiming for $15,000 for both the well and the bridge, but noting that he would be doing one per year, and a two-year contribution would be most helpful.

“I think we are prepared to do that, in a single payment,” the Deacon said. “In fact, we would like to make a continuing commitment to Kasaka. Think of it as an unofficial twining of Ingersoll with your village. We will help you now, and we will help you in the future. We can’t be sure of our recent financial luck continuing, but we will support you with what we can spare.”

“And the Hobo Army has some funds of our own,” Gary said. “I haven’t asked, but I suspect we can send two men to help with your projects. When will you return?”

“With this kind of support I can cut short my fundraising,” Joshua said. “I think I will return in two or three weeks. I like the suggestion of talking to the nursing school, and want to make time for that.”

“And I want you to buy four goats for me,” Rachael said. “I want to pay the bride-price for that girl, and bring her to Canada to go to school. I only have half of the $120, but I will get the rest before you leave. I don’t know how we can get her here though.”

“The parish will pay for her flight,” the deacon said. “And a return flight each year she stays here, so she can go home and visit her family.”

“And I will personally pay the other $60 you need,” Gary said. “You were the Angel who saved me. Let me help you be an Angel for this other girl.”

At this point Joshua broke down sobbing. He cried for several minutes before he could apologize for his actions. “It is just so wonderful,” he said. “You don’t know how much you are doing for my people. There are 200 families, 1000 people, and you will transform their lives. When we got to Kasaka 10 years ago, 150 children of 1000 failed to live to their first birthday. With my wife’s help, that number is now down to 40, although she still cries over each one she loses. A pregnant woman walking 80 miles to the clinic is not ideal, but slowly we are making a difference. Now, with your help, we will change that ‘slowly’ into a ‘rapidly.’”

After the board meeting ended, Rachael went next door to see Mrs. Winchester. Rachael had not helped her pack as much as she wanted, due to school and her busy schedule, but she had brought Miriam Brown over to help. Miriam was the older woman that ran the house of ill repute that Constable Steve had shut down, and she quickly bonded with Myrtle, helping the older lady pack her goods.

Rachael had promised to help Myrtle move, and spent the next hour getting her to her new house in the nursing home, where Miriam was already busy unpacking boxes. Rachael continued for a while, until her family appeared in a strange vehicle. She hugged Myrtle, and wished her happiness in her new home, with a promise of a regular visit. Miriam stayed to finish the unpacking, and Rachael got into the recent model car, buckling into the back seat next to Bobby.

“Did you buy a new car, Dad?” she asked.

“No, it is just a rental,” Geoff said. “Although we will be needing a second vehicle soon. Now that your Mom drives, the bakery van isn’t going to be enough.”

“Although maybe not for a while,” Maria said. “Mike stopped in as we were getting lunch, and asked if he could get an advance of $10,000 on his salary. He has really fallen for Jane, and wants to help her get her surgery. I have a feeling she might be living above the bakery pretty soon.”

“That’s wonderful,” Rachael said. “I saw them in church and they make such a lovely couple. Although it looked like some people didn’t think so.”

“Mike told me that after the service some of the people who had glared at her came up to apologize. Apparently Pastor Helen’s message hit home for some of them. And the lady who runs the auxiliary came over and invited her to join. She wasn’t sure about that, but did agree to start attending the ‘Learn to Cook’ classes.”

“Moooom,” Bobby whined. “You said when we picked up Rachael, you would tell us where we are going.”

“Yes, and she hasn’t even had lunch,” Maria scolded, handing a wrapped sandwich back to her daughter. “And you haven’t eaten for nearly an hour, so I suppose you want one too?”

“Yes please,” Bobby said, eagerly taking the second sandwich offered.

“Bottomless pit,” Maria quipped.

“Conveyor belt,” Bobby retorted, with a giggle.

Rachael had to explain, and by the time she was done, Bobby had devoured the sandwich.

“This is where we are going,” Maria said, handing an envelope back to Rachael.

Rachael opened the envelope and saw a series of tickets. On top were four tickets to the Toronto Blue Jays game against Baltimore that night. Then inside were tickets to the CN Tower, the adjoining Ripley’s Aquarium and also tickets to the Royal Ontario Museum further uptown.

“Do you know what this is?” Rachael said, holding up a ticket with the Blue Jays logo on it. Bobby stared for a second, and almost whispered the words “Blue Jays.” Then he worked it out. “We’re going to see the Blue Jays? In real life? Yippee,” he shouted, bouncing around in his seat as much as possible with a seat belt on.

“And that’s why we didn’t tell you until we had your sister available to keep you in check,” Maria said. “The seats are in the outfield, just off the first baseline. Not the best seats in the house, but near the ground level, not the nose bleed sections.”

“You are the best mom in the world. And you are the best dad ever. And Rachael is the best sister ever,” an extremely hyper Bobby raved. Rachael pointed out to him the line on the tickets that said the game went to 7:10. It was now almost 3, and Ingersoll is over two hours outside of downtown Toronto, so they should arrive well before 6 and still have an hour to get to the Rogers Center.

“The other tickets are for Monday,” Rachael noted. “Are we staying overnight?”

“Yes. Your Dad got us two rooms in the Sheraton. We can park there, and then take a streetcar to the ballpark. Dad and Bobby will sleep in one room, with us girls in the other,” Maria explained.

“Nope,” Rachael said. “Bobby and I will share a room, won’t we Tiger.” The boy nodded. “He is still young enough that I don’t mind sharing with him. It will give us a chance to catch up on some reading … oh, did you bring any books?”

“Yeah, Momma told me to bring the Harry Potter we are reading,” Bobby said. “We can read till we fall asleep.”

“We always read ‘til you fall asleep,” Rachael laughed. “But I bet you will be worn out after the Jays game.”

“You can read in the morning,” Maria said. “Give your Dad and I a chance to sleep in. We want to go to the CN Tower at 10, and then the Aquarium until 2 or 3. Then we will take the subway to the Museum.”

For the next hour and a half Rachael kept Bobby enthralled in the back seats with a description of what they would do. After the ball game, he was most interested in seeing dinosaur bones at the museum, seeing whales at the aquarium, riding a train that went underground, and being in the tallest freestanding building in Canada (once in the world).

“You know,” Geoff said from the front. “Whenever I drive to Toronto I always play a little game, to see who can see the CN Tower first. We are getting close enough that someone might be able to see it.”

About 15 minutes later the tower was in view. Both Maria and Geoff saw it from the front seats but said nothing, and a few minutes later Rachael saw the tower, and pointed it out to Bobby.

“I saw that a minute ago, but didn’t know what it was,” the hyper little boy said.

“Well then you win the contest,” Rachael said, not wanting to take any glory from her bother.

“What do I win?” Bobby asked excitedly.

“You mean other than tickets to the Blue Jays, Aquarium, CN Tower, museum and rides on streetcars and subways?” Rachael laughed.

“How about a Blue Jays cap from SkyDome,” Geoff said.

“What is SkyDome,” Bobby asked.

“Oh, that is the old name for the Rogers Centre, where the team plays. I keep forgetting the new name,” Geoff said.

“A really, truly Blue Jays cap, just like the players wear?” Bobby said. “The boys at school will be so jealous when I wear it to play at recess.”

The family watched the CN Tower get bigger and closer as they neared the city. Soon they were on six and eight lane expressways, and the kids kept quiet to allow their parents to drive and navigate the big city.

Bobby had never seen so many cars at once, and Rachael felt an odd sensation. The shrinking Ron part of her had driven in Toronto many times, but those feelings were fading. Now she had a large dose of Rachael memories also finding everything new and different.

Finally they found the hotel and pulled in. They all carried luggage up from the parking garage, and Maria got them checked in. Then Geoff led them up to their adjoining rooms, which had a connecting doorway between, which the Bellhop unlocked. Bags we just tossed on the beds, as they needed to rush off to the ball park.

------- ----- --

Back in Ingersoll Pastor Helen and Steve were just finishing their evening prayer at the painting. They stood up to find Gary in the lobby, looking concerned.

“Let’s talk downstairs,” he said. A few members of the Hobo Army were having their supper, but they found a quiet table away from them. Gary pulled out his phone, scrolled to a photo, and handed it to Steve. “We had men out cutting lawns after the church services ended. With only four working lawnmowers, we like to keep them going as much as possible. Normally the men cut the city-owned strip of land between the road and the sidewalk, and then go ask the owner if they want the rest cut. Most do.”

“The men found a house that was a real mess: grass nearly a foot high,” he continued. “They couldn’t get an answer at the door, and noticed that all the windows were covered in aluminum foil. They walked around the house, and when they came to the power service at the back, they saw that.” He pointed to the photo.

The picture showed the electric meter, but a hand pulling back a leafy vine clearly showed that the meter was being bypassed with a crude handmade connection.

“Was the meter moving at all?” Steve asked.

“Not a bit. And every window in the place was covered with foil. But in a few places there were tears, and you could see bright lights inside,” Steve said.

“A grow op,” Steve said. “Don’t let any men near that place. And please send that picture to my phone. I want to show it to the chief first thing Monday morning.”

“I think the guys have finished up that street,” Gary said. “Let me know if there is anything we can do.”

----- - - ------- --- -

Rachael and her family waited less than five minutes at the streetcar stop outside the hotel. On a game day, service was good.

The streetcar went direct to the park, and was filled with people, so the family had to stand. Soon they were at the massive domed stadium and had to walk almost half way around to find the gate they were to enter at. A few minutes later they were inside, and found their way to their seats.

“I have to pee,” Bobby said.

“So do I,” Rachael said. “I’ll take Bobby.”

She did so, telling him to wait outside the ladies washroom for her when he was done. She knew that boys don’t take as long as women, and had heard horror stories of lineups in the ladies rooms in stadiums. But they were early enough that there were no lineups, and Rachael was out in only a few minutes. As predicted, Bobby was already done, and was waiting, a little scared at seeing more people then he had ever seen in his life, all streaming this way and that through the hall of the park. He held Rachael’s hand tightly as she led them back to the seats, where Maria was waiting.

“I have to go too,” she said. “Your Dad went for food. He shouldn’t be long.”

It was more than a half hour before game time, and the Jays were on the field warming up. Just as Geoff was approaching with a platter of food, one of the sluggers on the team hit a foul ball that Rachael saw tracking towards them. In fact, it was coming right at them. She stood up in front of Bobby to protect him, and then put out her hands. The ball hit them, and she felt a sting of pain, but held on to the ball.

“Wow, Rachael, you caught it,” Bobby enthused. “You have a real Blue Jay’s baseball.”

“No Tiger, you have a baseball,” Rachael said, handing the ball to her brother. She put her hands under her arms to try and reduce the stinging.

“Good catch, honey,” Geoff said as he started dishing out hotdogs and tacos to the kids. Maria was back a few minutes later, and she presented Bobby with his official Blue Jays hat, which the young fan promptly put onto his head. He then told her about the miraculous (to him) catch that his sister had made, showing her the ball.

“Look Bobby. There is Jose Bautista, the player who hit your ball to us,” Rachael noted when the Jays took to the field for fielding practice. Go down to the bottom of the steps and see if you can get him to sign your ball.” She handed him a Sharpie.

Bobby stood at the base of the seats for about 15 minutes, calling out to Jose whenever the player got close to the foul line. Finally, when fielding practice was over, the ball player trotted over.

“Are you the boy with that cute blonde who caught my foul ball?” the right fielder asked as he took the ball and pen from Bobby.

“Yes, that is my sister Rachael,” Bobby said. “She is the best sister in the world.”

“One of the prettiest too,” Jose said. “Too bad I already have a girlfriend.”

“She has a boyfriend too,” Bobby said. “Thanks for signing this.”

He ran up the steps to the seats after the ballplayer had run towards the clubhouse to get ready for the game. Rachael turned red as the boy repeated their conversation word-for-word. She then looked at the ball, and saw that Jose had written ‘For Bobby, best brother in the world: Jose Bautista.’

“Well he got that right,” Rachael said. He had also made a fan for life with the young 10-year-old. Bobby was on his feet cheering every time Jose came to bat and then when he struck out (twice) and grounded out (twice) Bobby would shout “That’s okay Jose. You’ll get it next time,” as though the player could hear him. Jose had a bad game, going 0-5 (the other out was a fly to deep centerfield that looked like a home run until the last minute). The Jays lost as well, with Baltimore scoring three runs in the top of the seventh after the Jays had made it 8-6 in the bottom of the sixth. That was when fans started to leave the park. Not the Barrons though. They remained until the last out, and then wandered out through the stadium, stopping to buy Bobby souvenirs, including a program (now at a discount that made it affordable) and a pennant.

Rachael noticed that one of the kiosks had Jose Bautista bobble-head dolls, and convinced Maria to buy one, in what turned out to be Bobby’s most prized possession for years to come. It would be displayed in his room, next to the signed baseball, until he went to college years later.

The leisurely exit worked out well for the family. With most fans leaving early, and then rushing to the streetcars, when the Barrons got to the stop, there were only a few dozen waiting, and the family got a seat easily. Bobby rode all the way to the hotel, and had his nose stuck to the glass of the window the entire trip.

Geoff got his little family off one stop short of the hotel, where there was a McDonald’s, and they went in for a cheap dinner after all the expensive food from the ballpark. They then walked to the hotel, and got to their rooms well after 10 p.m. As predicted, Bobby was sleepwalking down the hall to their suite, and Maria barely was able to get him undressed before he was sound asleep.

After Geoff and Maria went into the other room, Rachael kneeled down to pray.

Dear Lord

Thank you for the best day ever. My family is so important to me. I am forgetting how it was before I met them. That is a good forgetting. Bobby will remember today for the rest of his life. So will I.

And I had to work hard to not spend any of my money today. I need to save it to buy goats for Lullana. I hope she can come to Canada. Joshua made her sound like a special girl. Can you make that happen for me? I would really appreciate it.

I am so happy that our church can help all those people in Africa. Joshua is not giving them handouts, but a hand up. Doing things that will enable them to enrich their lives. Hopefully they will know that all good things come from you, Lord, and will honor you as I do.

Amen



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