Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time!
The children always write a lot about the time down at Nethercott, paint pictures of it, make plays of it, and I know they dream about it too, as I do. I am quite sure they never forget it. But one year, and this was a long time ago now, something so extraordinary happened on one of these visits that I felt I had to write it down, just as it happened, so that I should never forget it, and because I know that in years to come, as memory fades, it is going to be difficult to believe. I’ve always found miracles hard to believe, and this really was a kind of miracle.
The boys and girls at our school come from every corner of the earth, so we are quite used to children who can speak little or no english. But until ho joined us, we never had a child who didn’t speak at all. he was about seven then; 10 now. In the three years he’d been with us, he had never uttered a word. As a result he had very few friends, and spent much of the time on his own. We would see him sitting by himself, reading. he read and he wrote in correct and fluent english, more fluently than many in his class who’d been born just down the street. he excelled in maths too, but never put his hand up in class, was never able to volunteer an answer or a question. he just put it all down on paper, and it was usually right.
None of us ever saw him smile at school, not once. his expression seemed set in stone, fixed in a permanent frown.
By the time of our Nethercott trip, we had all given up trying to get him to talk. Any effort to do so had only one effect—he’d simply run off, out into the playground, or all the way home if he could. Neither the child psychologist nor the speech therapist could ever get a word out of him either. They told us it was best simply to let him be—to do whatever we could to encourage him and give him confidence, without making demands on him to speak. They weren’t sure whether ho was choosing not to speak, or whether he simply couldn’t. It was a mystery.
All we knew about ho was that he was an orphan boy. ever since he’d arrived in england he’d been living with his adoptive parents and in all that time he hadn’t spoken to them either, not a word. We knew from them that ho was one of the Boat People, that as the long and terrible war in Vietnam was coming to an end he had managed to escape, somehow. We could only imagine what dreadful suffering he must have lived through, the things he had witnessed, how it must have been for him to find himself alone in the world, and in a strange country. There were a lot of Boat People coming to england in those days, mostly via refugee camps in hong Kong, which was still British then.
That first evening we arrived at the farm I asked Michael—he was the farm school manager at Nethercott, and, after all these years, an old friend—to be a little bit careful about how he treated ho, to go easy on him. Michael could be blunt with the children, pointing at them, firing direct questions in a way that demanded answers. Michael understood. The truth was that everyone down there on the farm was fascinated by this silent little boy from Vietnam, mostly because they’d all heard about the suffering of the Vietnamese Boat People, but this was the first time they’d ever met one of them.
ho had an aura of stillness about him that set him apart. even sweeping down the parlour after milking, he would be alone