Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Thirty 


John the Christian


With his bag on his lap and his arms cradling the stone wrapped in red, the taxi moved slowly in contrast to his heartrate. After packing and checking out of his hotel, Thomas found the first tricycle taxi that he saw after leaving his hotel and made it clear he was in a rush to get to the airport for a flight.

"I'm in a hurry. Chop Chop!" The taxi turtled him to the small airport where he briskly walked to the Mandalay Airline counter.

"Hello. I need a plane ticket to Rangoon." The woman shook her head.

"No room on the flight tomorrow or the next day. All our flights are booked," she replied in a lazy drawl. "No seats for ten days." Her English was heavily accented so he wasn't sure if he heard her correctly.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Your accent is very thick."

"Excuse me sir," she said, and disappeared through a door behind the counter. She promptly returned with an overweight Indian man. The woman said a few things to him in Hindi and then sat with a woman at the next counter and listened.

"I understand you want to fly to Rangoon?" he said, his shirt stained with sweat.

"Yes, that's right."

"I'm terribly sorry sir but our planes are fully booked until mid next week." He looked sympathetic, showing his teeth stained with red betel juice. Thomas didn't attempt to hide his anguish.

"May I ask why?"

"Sir, there is a national convention that begins tomorrow in the capital. We have been booked for several weeks in advance." Thomas remembered hearing about the convention that was being held to discuss a roadmap for elections that everyone knew would never happen. The word on the street was that it was a front for the government to decide who in the old intelligence network under the previous general will be put to death and who will be imprisoned. He stroked his moustache and looked at the Indian in the eye, feeling a glimmer of hope.

"Have there been any cancellations? Is there any chance of getting on a flight tomorrow? I need to get back to catch my flight out of the country."

"There are very important people going to this convention. I honestly don't think there will be any cancellations between now and tomorrow morning." They both looked at their watches.

"Isn't there another airline that flies from here?" I ask. The Indian nodded.

"Yes there is but bad luck. They have mechanical difficulties and they have grounded their fleet of planes. They are not operating at the moment sir. I'm sorry." In disbelief, he was becoming angry but the man's empathy diluted his bitter rumblings.

"Bad luck indeed it sounds like," he said. "So, there's no way for me to fly out to Rangoon tomorrow, is that what you're telling me?" With a long face, the Indian nodded again.

"Yes sir. You must wait until next week to get a seat on an airplane." Accepting the bad news, he took out his baggie and offered the man a betel nut. The women spoke to each other as they stared. The Indian man took the betel with a man-to-man nod as Thomas popped one too.

"But I can take your name and number at your hotel and telephone number should there in fact be a last-minute cancellation." The kindness of the man was heartening despite his frustration. As a reflex he gave him the card of the hotel he just checked out of.

"Please call if there's an opening. I'm in room 105."

"Yes, I will sir. I will put your name at the top of the list. I will call your hotel if there's an opening on tomorrow's plane." He shook his hand.

"Thank you sir. I appreciate your help." The women murmurred as he left. Thomas hopped into a waiting tricycle and reluctantly told the driver to go to the train station.

The station was busy with people loitering, taxi drivers sat in groups smoking and chewing betel nut, but no business was being done. He approached the ticket window but there was no one there. After waiting a few minutes he went to the kiosk to buy some cheroots and more betel nut, and then hunkered down on a chair thinking about his options. An elderly man white white hair approached him.

"Hello sir. Can I help you?" His first reaction was to tell him to mind his own business, but something in the man's demeanor was gentle and his English was noticeably crisp and clear.

"I need a ticket to Rangoon but there's no one at the ticket counter."

"The stationmaster is away right now but will be back in 40 minutes. But I'm afraid no tickets are available for tomorrow's train." Letting his head drop, he took a deep breath. The man seemed affected by the reaction and stepped closer as a growing number of people stared at them.

"I need a sleeper on the express to Rangoon, or a first-class soft seat."

"Tomorrow's express to Rangoon is all booked except for ordinary class. But you don't want to take ordinary class. It's very crowded." The voice soft and compassionate, which, in his moment of despair, caused Thomas to look up to him as one would look to a father.

"I need to return to Rangoon to get my flight back to Hong Kong where I live. If I can't get a seat I'll miss my flight and be stranded here. I tried the airline but all the seats are booked because of the convention." For a moment the man was perplexed, but then remembered about the convention.

"Yes, the convention. Well, you could get an ordinary class seat if you arrived tomorrow morning at 5:30. I could meet you here if you like to help you because of my English. It will be crowded and the line up will be long." Thomas removed his eyeglasses to look into the man's eyes, the bags under his eyes making the man warm to him. Thomas knew he could not survive another stint in steerage for 40 hours back to Rangoon. He had barely made one quarter of that distance with the General.

"Your English is very good," he said, giving credit where credit was due.

"I am a Christian. I help out at the Methodist Church here for many years. I collect alms."

"Well, that's great. My name is Thomas. Very pleased to meet you." Extending his hand as he stood up, the man was surprised at his candor.

"I am John. I am the retired stationmaster here. I help out because of my English. No one speaks English here, not since the British left." Under his white hair the lenses in his glasses were twice as thick as Thomas's. He put his hand on John's right shoulder while more Burmese stood around watching them speak to each other.

"There is only one express train tomorrow?"

"Yes. It leaves at seven in the morning. The milk run departure leaves at eleven in the morning. But if you need to get to Rangoon by Monday, you won't make it. You need to get the express tomorrow morning. That's the only way." Taking his hand away from his shoulder, he let his posture sag.

"I agree with you that Ordinary Class seats are crowded. I was in steerage on a milk run from Naba to here yesterday and I'm still stiff." John smiled.

"I can speak to the stationmaster for you. I will go to his house and then I can meet you here at 7:15. Is that all right?" Fatigue and frustration mix but it didn't take hold because of the kindness of this man John.

"That would be awfully kind of you, sir." It was the word sir that brought a determined look into his eye.

"If I can help, I will. I will ask if there are any sleepers or first-class seats available, and then meet you here."

"Thank you for that John. I'll meet you right here in 40 minutes." Shaking hands again, John walked towards the train office and the Burmese who were gawking slowly dispersed. Relaxing with a beer to wait it out, when John returned he said the stationmaster told him there were only Ordinary-class seats left.

"To get those seats it is first-come-first-serve at 5:30 in the morning." Thomas was aware that most people slept over in the train station to be the first in line, and he knew first-hand how cold it became at night up here in the north.

"I'll try to get to the station early," he said, but it was obvious to them both he was doubtful he'd be able to get a ticket. Thanking him he decided to have a few more beers and splurge for a big dinner. He mulled over the steerage option but the more he thought of it, the more he thought of the wooden seats and the endless scrum in the swaggering dance of the archaic colonial train.

That night he dreamed that he and Josh built a church and painted a large section of a wall the color of forest green with scripture written in white that one would usually find on a foundation stone. Then, as if he and Josh had suddenly gone forward in time, they hovered above the church and witnessed how subsequent generations had built on their original church foundation and had chosen to retain the one painted wall they had made. Much bigger and with many more people, the church looked as if it had become a Mecca for the spiritually devoted and that their teachings had been before their time.


Part One - Canada
1.      The Twin From the East Returns  
2.      The Sundancer  
3.      Waxing Gibbous 
4.      The Second Coming of the Messiah 
5.      The Sacred Twin Story 
6.      The Sign of the Pahana 
7.      Palongawhoya and Poqanghoya 
8.      Rainbow Thunderbird and Red Phoenix 
9.      The True White Brother 
10.    The Lost Louis Riel Notebooks 
Part Two - Hong Kong
11.    A Mixture of Revulsion and Pity 
12.    A Classroom of Scallywags 
13.    Illegitimati non Carborundum 
14.    The Distant Fire of Empyrean
Part Three - Burma
15.    The Monastery of Sacred Tablets 
16.    The Outpost of Tyranny 
17.    When the 12th Moon Comes 
18.    The Pigeon Left & the Crow Took His Place 
19.    Go North and Find Your People 
20.    Finding Orwell 
21.    Though the Monkey is in a Hurry, the Tree Branch is Not 
22.    The Castle at God's Toes 
23.    The General and Sergeant Betel Nut 
24.    The Tattooed Station Master 
25.    Reverend Crow's Life's Work 
26.    Yield Not to Adversity, But Press on More Bravely 
27.    A Bitter Cuppa Tea 
28.    The Thirteenth Tribe 
29.    When a Lamp is Lit You Must Expect Insects 
30.    John the Christian 
31.    A Guardian Angel Named Hanna 
32.    The Bar Car & Betel Nut 
33.    The Son of Light 
34.    Slipping the Karmic Knot
Part Four - Hong Kong
35.    The Tonsure Warning 
36.    The Phoenix Reborn 
37.    Touching the Empyrean 
38.    Joshua the Gatekeeper 
Part Five - Canada
39.    Lapsit Exillis 
40.    Thunderstones 
41.    The Time of Great Purification  


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