Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time!

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting Clare Marx -

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

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