First Step

Dr. McFerren leaned back in his chair, a look of surprise lifting his dark eyebrows. “Do I what?” Kim cleared his throat and spoke slowly, quietly. “Do you believe in God?”

“Well, I . . .” The man drummed his fingers on the glassy surface of his desk. “Sure, I guess so. I mean, I used to, but . . . ” Dr. McFerren rose to his feet. “We’re not here to discuss me. I’m supposed to ask the questions. Let’s not get off the track, OK?”

Kim watched the doctor brush invisible dust from the back of his large leather chair. “God is not being analyzed here. You are. I prefer we keep it that way. Now,” the man returned to his seat, “where were we? Oh, yes. You were telling me about the medical doctor at the jungle clinic. Go on, please.”

Kim studied Dr. McFerren’s face for a moment. There was a shadow of uncertainty darkening the otherwise friendly countenance. He wasn’t sure of the reason behind the doctor’s sudden agitation. He’d asked a simple question. At least, he thought it was simple. The man had been taken aback by it, and Kim wondered why.

“I just wanted to know, that’s all,” the boy explained, shifting in his chair. “Someone told me about a God who lived many years ago and I . . . ”

“Kim!” The doctor’s face reddened. He looked around the room, then back at his patient. “Kim, please. God has nothing to do with us. We speak of reality in this room, not religion.”

The man seemed suddenly tired. His hands grew limp in his lap. “God lives in old songs and cold, stone buildings. His name belongs on the lips of innocent children, not where men think for themselves.”

“But wasn’t He a man once, a human being like us?”

The doctor’s jaw clenched, “If He was, He would have understood.”

“Understood what?” Kim hesitated. “Dr. McFerren, what do you mean? What are you talking about?”

The man shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. “Our time is up, Kim. I’ll see you next week. Mr. Parks is waiting for you in the lobby.”

With that, Dr. McFerren hurriedly left the room, leaving Kim sitting alone in the big office.

* * *

Tie Li watched leafless branches rush by the bus window. The laughter of classmates blended with the whine of gears, creating a familiar, almost comfortable, background to her thoughts.

Tony sat next to her, lost in the pages of a computer magazine. Every once in a while he’d make a notation in a little notebook, then return to the article.

“Just few more days.”

“What’s that? What’d you say?” Tony looked down at his sister.

“I said, just few more days, then Kim will ride on bus with us.”

“Yep.” Tony closed the magazine and gazed out the window. “I wonder if he’ll like our school.”

“I wonder if our school will like him.” The girl sighed. “It hard to go to a new school.”

Tony smiled. “You and I both know about that, don’t we?”

The girl nodded. “We experienced.”

“Wow, Tie Li, where’d you learn such a big word?”

The girl pointed at the pile of books on her lap. “I read it in here.” She sorted among them until she found a large volume Tony recognized as a dictionary. “I want to learn to speak English very outstanding.”

Tony stifled a laugh. “Well, you’re certainly doing a good job. I’ll bet your teachers think you’re really smart.”

The girl straightened a stack of papers. “Mrs. Alderman says I’m learning words she never heard of.”

“I’m sure she does.”

“It because I’m experienced.”

“I see.”

The bus bounced. along the country road, passing snow-covered fields and farms. Tony and Tie Li listened to the chatter coming from the seats around them. Would Kim learn to feel at home here? Or would the laughter be aimed at him? Time would tell.

* * *

That night at the dinner table, Mr. Parks reported he had some very exciting news. It concerned Grandmother.

Tie Li put down her soup spoon and looked across at her father. News from Grandmother was about the only thing capable of making the little girl stop eating.

Mr. Parks cleared his throat and began. “As you all know, my mother has been ill for some time, but the doctors say she’s getting better.

“I don’t want her to live by herself in the city anymore, so I’ve asked her to come live with us, if that’s OK with all of you.”

Tie Li’s eyes opened wide. “She coming here to live? Here on farm?”

“Well, sort of,” the man continued. “I thought we could fix up the cabin for her. That way, she’d have her independence, and we’d be nearby to keep an eye on her.”

Tie Li almost rose off the chair. “When she come? When she come?”

Mr. Parks looked at Tony. “What do you think son? Can we take care of her all right?”

A big smile spread across the boy’s face. “I think it’s a great idea, Dad. We insulated the cabin last fall. I can install a phone for her and stuff like that.”

“And how about you, Kim?” Mr. Parks looked over at the older boy. “Will you help us too?”

Tie Li waited for her brother’s answer. She had never seen him respond in any way to either Mr. or Mrs. Parks when it came to family affairs. The girl’s breath caught in her throat.

Kim pushed his spoon through his soup without looking up. Then he spoke quietly. “I’ll help.”

Mrs. Parks slipped her hand over her husband’s. He felt her grip tighten. She looked at the boy sitting at the far end of the table. “Thank you, Kim,” she said, almost in a whisper.

Tie Li closed her eyes. A turning point had been reached. It may have been just a small step, but long journeys begin with small steps. In silence she picked up her spoon and began eating again. How good the food tasted!

* * *

For the next couple of days the cabin fell under the attack of hardworking, eager hands. Each afternoon after school, Tony and Tie Li joined the rest of the family in the little clearing, making sure all was ready for the important new tenant.

Floors were scrubbed, windows cleaned, dishes washed and neatly stacked in freshly papered cupboards. Bedding was brought from the big yellow house along with cooking utensils. Dad installed a new refrigerator and stove, and Tony filled the bookcases with old favorites. Grandmother loved to read, so he made sure the most exciting adventure story books found their way onto her shelves. Tie Li understood. Both she and Tony loved to be read too.

True to his word, Kim worked alongside the rest of the family. Though he seldom spoke, they were satisfied just to have him there. Dr. McFerren had said Kim could return to school soon. He encouraged involvement with others, as this would make the transition to the world beyond the farm easier.

“How’s this look?” Mrs. Parks held a picture up against the wall. “Do you think it goes with this room?”

Tie Li glanced up from her cleaning, studied the picture, and nodded. “It extraordinary.”

Mrs. Parks blinked. She looked over at Tony. He shrugged.

“Well, thank you, Tie Li,” Mother said, reaching for a nail. “I’m glad you approve.”

The girl continued her scrubbing.

The big day arrived. Mr. Parks left early for the long drive to the city. The rest of the family stayed behind, adding last minute touches to the cabin. A colorful bouquet of flowers bloomed in the vase centered on the kitchen table.

Tony tested the phone system while his brother stacked wood in the large fireplace. As Kim watched Tony check the wiring on the wall phone, he remembered the night they’d spent sitting in front of the cabin’s warm fire several weeks before. That was the night Tony had told him about a God who had become a man. And later he’d taken him in Voyager to the little town on the dusty hillside. Everything was so new and confusing. Even Dr. McFerren wouldn’t give him a straight answer about this strange God-man.

The boy sighed. In his mind, he could see his old home beside the jungle, his father bending in the hot sun, harvesting rice plants. If only he could talk to his father again. He’d know what to do. He’d have the answers.

“We’re here!” The front door of the cabin burst open as Mr. Parks entered the room. Behind him stood Grandmother wrapped in brightly colored scarves, her hat pulled low over her face to keep out the brisk winter air.

“Grandmother!” Tie Li ran across the room and threw herself into waiting arms.

Tony placed the phone on its cradle and stood in line for his hug.

Mrs. Parks took the woman’s coat and hung it on a hook by the door. “We’re glad to see you, Mother Parks,” she said warmly. “Welcome to your new home.”

Grandmother smiled at her family and looked about the room. “How lovely you’ve made everything! It’s–it’s–”

“Monumental?” Tie Li encouraged.

Grandmother drew in a breath. “Why, that’s exactly the word I was searching for. It’s monumental.”

Tie Li beamed up at Tony. Her lips moved silently. “Experience.”

Tony winked and nodded. “Very experienced.”

“And this must be Kim.” Grandmother walked across the room, her hand outstretched. “How do you do, Kim? I’m glad to meet you.”

The boy slowly reached out his hand. Grandmother held his gaze with hers. “I’ve heard a lot about you. I think we’re going to be good friends.”

Kim looked into the eyes that were soft with understanding, filled with wonderful secrets.

“Yes, I’d like that,” he said.

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First Step

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