Saturday, November 26, 2011

Special treat - a short story set in Kintori...

What follows is a short story written using the same Kintori setting that is used throughout "The Missionary and the Brute". You might recognize the name Vandover from my previous discussions of Frank Norris and his influence on my work. Sharp-sighted readers will also pick up on one character who also appears in my novel... I have slowly come to realize that like Keruoac with Duluoz - I have a singular saga within my creative reach. In the upcoming years, there will be other novels featuring the Ross family - and a few odd compilations of short stories and peripheral matter as well... Enjoy!

The Tanzanian Fortune Cup

By John D. Kenworthy

In the northeastern Tanzanian village of Kintori the pathways sprawled forth in all directions. Like most roads in east Africa, these were single-lane, red-dirt abominations that bore no shoulders and were pockmarked with ugly, meter-deep potholes that scarred the surface like mortal sin upon the blighted soul of humanity itself.

Jansen Vandover struggled to keep up with the ancient man he was following through the dusty labyrinth of these connections - footpaths, trails, and what passed to be otherwise navigable streets of the village. They were walking to the old man's home on the western outskirts of Kintori where Vandover would have his fortune read - to be told of a fate that he desperately longed to know.

“Mzee,” Vandover called, using the traditional Swahili name for any elder, “Polé, Mzee, slow down please. I cannot keep up.”

Without turning, the old man slowed his pace just enough to allow Vandover to catch up, breathless.

“Thank you.” The American said gratefully. “Is it much further?”

The Mzee nodded silently, forming his thoughts in English carefully. “We are almost. The hill. The river. Then we are to there. Not much more, Bwana.”

The old man, who was known by the single name of Adui, turned and met Vandover's gaze with yellowed eyes and a broad, toothless grin. Vandover laughed softly. He knew that distance - like time - was in Tanzania a relative thing. They fell into a steady, reasonable pace together. `Not much more' could mean an hour's trek.

The countryside along the pathway was beautiful, but Vandover did not really see it. He had always loved the landscapes of Africa, but his mind was elsewhere this day. It was already ahead of them on the path. Although they were technically still within the limits of the village, it had been a good thirty minutes since they had last seen any homes - any people at all. The path instead was lined with banana trees and the neatly laid out shambas of subsistence farmers filled with barely-sprouting carrots and shoulder-high shrubs covered with green clumps of coffee berries far from ripening.

No. Vandover did not see it. He was consumed by his own thoughts. By Carolina. And what Adui could tell him of their fate together.

Adui was by profession a fortuneteller - a tribal witchdoctor - what the Tanzanians would call an mganga. He was quite well known throughout the region as having a remarkable facility for seeing accurate futures in the patterns of tea-leaves swirling in the bottom of a special, handle-less chai cup. The fabled fortune cup.

With this cup, Adui had reportedly predicted floods, droughts, and the death of small children and farm animals. He had foretold of romances and marriages and babies to be. He had once seen the location of a stolen cow and predicted accurately the stoning of he who stole it. It was a wicked responsibility that Adui bore, but each tribe seemed to have one of these ancients who somehow tapped into the righteous spirit of the earth.

Legend whispered respectfully that the source of Adui's power, the fortune cup, had been forged in the fearsome heat of a volcano years ago and could not thus be broken. It had been glazed with fresh pigment and renewed with the holy restorative power of human blood through successive generations of time to retain its remarkable power.

Or so the stories went.

Though Vandover was a Christian by catechism, temperament and faith, he did not disbelieve these tales. He had sought out the pagan services of the old man for the singular purpose of learning if the leaves foretold of any hope for him and Carolina. His was a desperate love and deserved a desperate foretelling.

Together the American and the Tanzanian mounted and descended the hill without word. After the hill came the river, which Adui even at his age deftly crossed on a long log bridge, but upon which took Vandover his tentative time to cross.

At the last, the walk evened out. In a short while a small house came into view tucked into the broad leaves of the banana trees. The house of the fortune cup.

Adui's home was of typical Tanzanian mountain-region construction. It was built entirely of sticks woven together to form a loose structure over which a thick layer of cow dung was plastered both inside and out. `Tanzanian stucco', Vandover called it. Despite its crude construction, these buildings were remarkably robust and seemed to weather any manner of natural storm with ease. Like many of these homes, Adui's had no door - just a dirty blanket hanging down which he pulled roughly aside and looped over a rusty nail jammed into the exterior wall.

Vandover followed the old man into the room. It took him a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, but when they did he could see it was in fact a two-roomed building. The room in which he was standing served as the living area, and the back room - as he could see from the door - was filled almost entirely by bed.

On the walls - used as insulation - were anachronistic U.S. tabloid newspapers. It was jarring to see the scourge of the paparazzi upon these uncomprehending walls. A photo of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the founder and first president of Tanzania, hung over the disconcerting images of young American actresses defiling themselves in public. It was quite certain that most Tanzanians would thankfully miss the irony of the crass juxtaposition entirely.

Adui motioned for Vandover to sit on one of two stumps arranged on either side of a small table in the center of the room. Vandover sat.

Dramatically, the mganga brushed his fingers over the table surface as if making it worthy for what was to be placed there. He then went to the back room and came back with that object. The cup.

Vandover thought it to be unremarkable in appearance. Dirty, old, caked with glaze after hard-fired glaze. It was merely a cup to him, but it was obvious that Adui treated it with deep reverence. The old man's manner somehow chilled Vandover to the core of his being. Despite the heat of the oppressive Tanzanian summer, a chill found its way up the American's spine and settled in the back of his head.

“That is it, Adui?” Vandover asked at last. “The cup?”

Adui nodded, but did not speak. He seemed to hum a mysterious melody to himself as he sprinkled tea leaves into the bottom of the cup and dripped a few brown drops of water from an oddly cheerful-looking, bright red Tupperware thermos.

In slow circles, Adui swirled the cup over the table as he stared deep inside. Vandover thought the old man seemed to become smaller and to disappear within the cup itself.

“Do you want to know what it is I seek?” Vandover asked him, his voice barely above a whisper in deference to the assumed solemnity of the moment.

Adui simply waved his hand dismissively. Something in the gesture chilled the American to his core, but he wanted the old man to know what he wanted.

“Can she love me? Will she? Will Carolina love me?”

The mganga ignored the interruption. At that moment, the cup alone had a voice of which he seemed capable of hearing.

In his heart, Vandover feared the worst, that Carolina would never love him - in fact, could never love him - not as he loved her. No. But he had to know for certain. She haunted his every waking thought. He knew with unrelenting certainty that regardless of the results of the reading, he would always love her, even if he could not have her as his own. It was chemical. It was spiritual. It was as if a confluence of attractions made her irresistible to him in every way.

He looked to Adui to give the hope he so desperately craved for himself.

The mganga suddenly tensed. His body jerked violently. Adui rose to his full height and began muttering to himself in a tribal language that Vandover had not heard. He was decidedly agitated and upset.

“Adui? What is it? What does it say?”

The old man only grimaced and stared into the cup, gently rotating it in his hand. “This cup say something very bad.”

Vandover thought he understood. “I see. There is no hope then - with Carolina?”

“No, Bwana. I do not see this. This cup say something other - something more bad.”

In his mind, Vandover could not imagine what that could be.”What? What does it say, Mzee? I need to know.”

“This - is not good to know.” Adui frowned at the leaves again. “I do not wish to say.”

“Then I will tell everyone that you are a faker. That your cup is a fraud and that it does not speak the truth.”

“This cup always say truth.” Adui paused. “It say that you are to die.”

“Everyone dies.”

“Yes. But it say you will die with - horror and pain - very much pain. I am sorry.”

Vandover looked down at his hands on the table. “When, Adui?” He quietly asked. “Does it say when this will occur?”

“Soon, Bwana. It say nothing more.”

“I see.” Vandover exhaled long and slow. The tiny room suddenly seemed oppressive, devoid of air. “Is there nothing that can be done then? You are a mganga, many people say that you can change fate with this cup. Is there nothing you can do?”

“Yes, of course, but the cost is too much for this.”

“I have money, Adui. You know that. How much?”

“No. Money is not for this. This cup say it must cost your spirit.”

“My soul?” Vandover let forth a low whistle and the hollowness of the tone chilled him to his marrow. “But it can be done?”

“Anything can be done, Bwana.”

“Anything? You can change any fate?” He paused. “Could you even make Carolina love me as I love her?”

Adui nodded. “The cost is the same. But you are not to wish this.”

Vandover slammed both his fists into the table. “God damn you, Adui. I do wish this. Don't you understand? Can your cup do it?”

“Yes. But then you must to die with the pains.”

Vandover rose from the stump. He towered over the tiny Tanzanian.

“Listen to me carefully, Mzee. I want one kiss from those perfect lips. One deep and soulful kiss. One. With this I can endure any pain. Any. It must be done.”

“Then you must to drink of the broth of this fortune cup.” Adui shook his head disbelieving the American standing before him. “It is as you say.”

Adui stepped out of the room to the bedroom again. This time when he returned he carried an armful of small baby food jars which he arranged carefully upon the table. The jars were filled with a variety of earth-colored herbs and dried powders. The labels bearing the smiling Gerber baby were long gone, replaced with grime and residue of the mountain.

With a steadied hand, the mganga pinched small portions and added them to the fortune. Each time, he would pour a small dollop of water from the cheerful red thermos before swirling the mixture with practiced motion and more of the incessant low humming.

When each of the baby food jars had offered their contents, Adui nodded in satisfaction. He looked at the consistency of the liquid in the cup, making sure that it was blended appropriately.

Vandover knew that there was a well-organized black market for potions and powders such as these. Some of the rarest of nature's elements were bartered and sold for high prices. A cow or a wife could be exchanged for a small jar of powders such as these. He had read that the powders ground from the dried tissue of zebra heart were prized in this mountain-country necromancy for their powers at affecting matters of the heart.

Zebras, he knew, were often romanticized in the lowlands. And he understood fully the allure. He had often seen them standing beneath the shade of the baobab trees in matched pairs. One zebra's head rested dutifully upon its mate's flank - like a beast with two heads. It was surmised - by legend if not by science - that this allowed each zebra to flick away the Tsetse flies from the faces of the other with its constantly swishing tail in a touching scene of symbiotic nature.

Vandover longed for that kind of symbiosis in life. That was part of what drew him to Carolina. Her inherent goodness and purity drew him to her as almost of opposite accord. Balance. Karma. Through his very act of loving her, he realized that he bore no goodness within, that he sacrificed what goodness there was within. That it was wrong for him to do so.

Yet he did. And he hoped beyond hope that it was not in vain.

Adui rose from the stool and turned to the wall. With frail fingers he carefully removed the photo of former President Julius Nyerere and wrestled out a long nail with both of his tiny hands.

Turning the nail in his hand, he walked around the table to Vandover. He took the American’s large hand in his own tiny one and began to force it, digging, twisting into the soft flesh of Vandover's palm. The American winced in pain but endured it stoically.

Slowly, Adui worked the nail down, down into the skin until the blood began to bubble and rise from around the sharp tip of the nail now buried deep within. With a sudden snap, Adui yanked the nail away. He turned Vandover's hand over then squeezed a large, bright red drop of blood into the very maw of the broth. Immediately the cup began to foam and churn as the drop disappeared beneath the turgid surface.

The fortune cup was then ready to serve.


The walk across the dirt paths of Kintori seemed to go more slowly this time. For one, Adui now held the cup in his hands and seemed to be entirely weighed down by the gravity of its contents. Vandover too carried a weight with him - his expectations of seeing her again at the end of their long journey.

He could not remember precisely how he first met Carolina all those years ago. He vaguely recalled it had something to do with one of his travels through the Tanzanian countryside training modern irrigation techniques to local farmers when his Land Rover had broken down in front of the orphanage. Fate works in mysterious ways, don't you know. Though the details of how they met were foggy, Vandover's memory of seeing her for that first time was as clear and as pure as the African sky itself.

She was - quite frankly - the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The vision of her appearance struck him instantly. Everything about her was perfect and moved him to the core of his being. Her eyes in particular transfixed him. Large and sensitive, framed by gorgeously appointed cheekbones, they were unearthly to him. It was as if they had seen the giant agonies of the world and more and yet radiated an angelic, almost beatific hope. The beauty of her eyes resonated deep within his soul, sending rivulets of electricity cascading through him in waves.

Carolina! Sweet, sweet Carolina.

He knew that she herself would have considered her beauty to be unremarkable, or even unimportant, but the light that emanated from within was of the most exhilarating and breathtaking beauty that he could ever dream. He wanted desperately to fall into those eyes never to return. To become consumed by the power of her gentle soul and to be one with her at last.

Crazy talk and he damn well knew it. But he could not resist his own thoughts - his own desires.

He loved her.

Her lips were of equal allure to him. Amazingly sensuous and insanely arousing, Vandover knew in that very first instant of recognition that her kiss would be sublime. He knew it. Not believed. Knew. He longed for nothing more than the fulfillment of that kiss.

He had loved her immediately. Passionately. Completely. He knew it made no sense. None. He didn't believe in love at first sight. Didn't believe in love all that much at all, to be honest. But it was real, and it was wonderful, and it was not to be.

As irrational as it all seemed to be - as it was! - Vandover nonetheless tried to forge within himself a rational argument for his feelings. It was (he thought), a confluence of two competing natures within. He believed strongly in a duality of persona. Animal and god of equal accord. He felt each aspect was in competition one with the other but yet somehow oddly symbiotic.

And both were in love with Carolina.

To Vandover, there was an aspect of his attraction for Carolina that was purely animal. Bestial. Her physical beauty appealed to him on an almost brute level. His lust for her was fierce and profound. Being the only American woman he regularly encountered in Africa, it may have been the novelty of their shared cultural history that heightened it to such extremes in this desolate place. He wasn't certain. He only knew it was so.

It was also so that it may have simply been her innate goodness which attracted him to her. Something saintly, distant, and virtuous there was in her goodness that appealed to his spiritual senses. Perhaps it was her goodness that he sought most of all. Maybe she represented what seemed to be unattainable perfection. Every person, he believed longed to be good. It seemed to him as if Carolina was the very personification of that goodness. And was hence irresistible to a moral man such as he considered himself to be.

Even to Vandover, that made no sense at all.

Ultimately, he did not know how to reconcile the conflicting aspects of his dual attractions to her. He only knew that it was so. He knew that it was crazy to be willing to give his life for a brief moment of intimacy with his beloved, but he also knew that it was undeniably true.

He had seen Carolina many, many times over the years. He had spent a great deal of time with her and the orphans who loved her with equal ardor. Whenever he came to Tanzania, he scheduled his journeys to pass at least one day by Kintori and Carolina's orphanage. Sometimes he had allowed himself even to stay with her. Under that selfsame roof. He slept with the orphans on the floor of the large one-room, cinderblock building that some German church had built for the orphanage long ago. For Vandover, to be so near to that most forbidden of loves was the closest to heaven that he feared he would ever be given privilege to be.

For her part, Carolina had shown no indication that she even remotely shared Vandover's feelings, nor even truly acknowledged them at all. Not in the slightest. She never rebuked his flirtation and even smiled in response to his schoolboy machinations at times, but not once had she ever given the merest glimpse of hope to him.

She could not, he knew, by the nature of her position. But he craved even the slightest of hints that she might possibly, somehow inexplicably, feel the same. Even if they could not share it, could not fully realize that love, he clung to that dwindling delicious hope.

Yet she herself offered none.

In a land of interminable wild heat, she was a princess of icy calm - perfect, seemingly aloof, totally focused upon the children and her task. She did not stray from her mission. There had never been a single moment where she let down her guard and betrayed the soft embers of a passion that Vandover prayed was stirring there. Not even once.

But even so, Vandover loved Carolina. Truly and wholly loved her. And somehow he knew he could endure any pain in this world or the next for one transcendent moment of that glorious embrace.

As Vandover followed Adui over the red dirt paths, the hills and vales of the terrain finally smoothed out allowing them each to catch their breath and to enjoy the lilting sounds of children laughing and singing in the near distance.

“Polé Bwana!” Adui called out suddenly. Vandover heard the old man and the rumble of the truck at the same moment. He stepped quickly to the side of the path. A lumbering lorry rolled suddenly past scant inches from his shoulder. The truck heaved and shifted dangerously on the bumpy road. Filled with grinning faces of young men on their way to the big city to work. Instinctively Vandover raised his t-shirt over his mouth to block the dust that would follow the truck and in the same motion threw forth an arm in a feeble wave to the youth.

When the dust cleared, so too did the reverie in his mind. Standing by the road, he saw what passed for downtown Kintori. On both sides of the road were small dukas - shops - with Swahili signs offering cell phones and Coca Cola. And beyond the dukas were the first glimpses of the walls of the orphanage. Vandover saw the Cross first. An ornately painted wooden Cross adorned the top of the orphanage - the only ornamentation deemed appropriate. It peeked out over the tall gate and called Vandover to quicken his pace, to speed his footfalls toward his inevitable destiny.

Vandover looked to Adui in expectant helplessness. The old man smiled his toothless grin and nodded. “You may to go ahead.” He said haltingly. “This cup needs to walk slow.”

Adui held the fortune cup delicately in both his gnarled, wrinkled hands. The tea leaves of Vandover's fortune had mixed with the concoction of the broth during the long walk to form a froth of verdant green that seemed to swirl in proportion to the emotions careening out of control within the lovelorn American. In the center of the eddy was the dark brown drop of Vandover's blood suspended whole and unchanging - like the passions that could not be diluted within the very heart from whence that blood had come.

For an instant, Vandover was mesmerized by the tiny maelstrom spinning within the cup. It was as if it defied the laws of nature and of God as it continued turning, turning. Small wisps of steam still rose ominously from the vortex of the broth giving off a pungent aroma that both frightened and called to Vandover.

“Yes,” he said at last, “I will go ahead. Walk slowly, Mzee. You must not spill a drop.”

“This cup is very careful, Bwana. It does not wish to fall.” Adui's eyes twinkled briefly then lowered sadly. He too seemed captivated by the spinning whirlpool of fortune in the cup - consumed by its all-encompassing power.

Unlike Vandover, however, he had no desire to drink.

Vandover left the mganga staring into the cup and hurried on ahead. As he passed the dukas, a woman embroidering dashiki shirts at a treadle sewing machine on one of the porches waved to him gleefully.

“Shikamoo, Mistah Vandovah.” She called.

“Marahaba,” Vandover responded, using the traditional greeting response. “Good to see you, Bibi.”

“The childrens will be glad to see you.”

“I will be glad to see them too.” Vandover smiled at her without slowing his step. He met many people on these journeys and it never failed to warm him to feel the honest goodwill of their sincerity. He loved the Tanzanian people and the children especially. They were so pure of heart. Open. They possessed a spirit and a joy that was only equaled by that of their benefactor - not to mention a remarkably attuned sense of hearing.

Suddenly a column of small faces appeared, sticking through the bars of the gate. Even at a distance, Vandover recognized some of the children as his favorites. A shriek went up and instantly all the dark faces disappeared inside.

“It is he!” A tiny voice called loudly. “Mr. Van!” He recognized it immediately to be that of Godsend, an angelic young girl who was a particular favorite of his. Vandover felt her joyous innocence to be truly infectious and constantly uplifting. Truly a Godsend in every way, he teased without joking. Presently a volley of young squeals erupted over the wall sending the entire orphanage into aural chaos.

Vandover laughed and braced himself for the onslaught that he knew was coming. The gate swung open and the road was suddenly filled with the angular limbs of children screaming and running his way. Arms upraised, faces lit by pure joy rushed toward him. Clutching and grabbing; leaping and screaming; dancing and hugging. Suddenly his arms, hands, legs were all wrapped up in tiny arms and legs as the children clung to him excitedly. All talking at once, all wanting to share in equal attention. Little hands scrambled through his pockets seeking candy or loose change - neither of which he had. But even if he had, he would not take their actions to be any violation of their friendship or indicative of anything vile or malevolent at all.

He loved these children unconditionally. As he loved...

“Let Mr. Vandover walk children.” A woman's voice called from the gate. he loved Carolina.

Sister Carolina.

And she was there. Leaning on the gate watching with pure pleasure in her eyes. Vandover's heart leaped instantly. She was gorgeous. Perfect. Her only defect being the nun's habit that he knew forever separated him from ever consummating his love for her. Her eyes twinkled mischievously. Alive with life and energy.

Though the children continued to scramble over him, time had ceased to exist. Carolina's eyes had lost none of their luster, none of their allure. Her lips were instantly calling to him as they tried to suppress a smile at the children clamoring all over the hapless American.

She waved her birdlike hands at the children. “Back inside please. All of you. Off the road. Inside. Come now. Mr. Vandover will join us inside.” Her voice was a chime. Musical. Pure. She caught Vandover's gaze with her own. “You will join us inside, won't you?”

“Of course.” Vandover laughed. “I don't think I have a choice.”

Carolina nodded with a smile and disappeared behind the walls.

The children half-dragged, half-pushed him to the gate and then ran on inside before him. At the entrance, Vandover stopped for a moment. He looked back. Adui continued to steadfastly shuffle toward the orphanage. He looked suddenly ancient. Decrepit. Spent. Dead. With each stoop-shouldered step, the old man exhaled heavily as he made certain that not one drop of the wicked broth swirling in the fortune cup would be spilt.

Vandover nodded to the old man. Yes. He knew then that he would drink from that cup. He must drink from that cup. He must do it for Carolina. For himself.

He nodded again to Adui then stepped inside to the courtyard of the orphanage. Carolina was already across the way standing on the dilapidated porch fussing over a makeshift crib. He watched her with boundless admiration as she bent to retrieve a baby from the contortions of its suddenly shrill wails.

“Did you think I had given up on you, little one?” Carolina cooed soothingly. “I would never do that. Never. I am here.”

With practiced grace, she rocked the babe to comfort in her arms and only when she was absolutely assured of the restoration of peace in the child's world, did she raise her eyes to see Vandover standing before her in the courtyard, enrapt. He was watching her interact with the children and falling in love with her all over again. She had to see that. She has to know that there was something in her kindness that melted his every resistance.

“This woman is very beautiful, Bwana.” Adui said, suddenly standing at Vandover's arm. “I see that you love him.”

“Her. Her, Adui.” Vandover smiled gently down at the mganga still cupping the foaming broth with two trembling hands. He sighed deeply. “Yes she is and yes I do.”

“Then you must to drink the broth and speak this desire.”

Before he could answer in the affirmative, Vandover became aware of the presence of child insinuating herself between himself and the cup.

Looking down he saw his little friend, Godsend.

“Mr. Van.” The cherub said with a voice filled with gladness. “Jackson and Samueli are not here.”

Though his mind was not then upon the orphans, he recognized the names as being two of the older children that he had come to love at the orphanage over the years.

“Where have they gone?” He said respectfully of the child. “Did they get adopted?”

“I have told the children this.” Carolina responded from across the courtyard still rocking the baby in her arms. She shot him a look which indicated that the truth may not have been so clear. With a gentle gesture, she nodded to Godsend who ran off joyously to play with the others.

“They were of age.” Carolina said, her words filled with meaning.

Vandover knew that when orphans reached a certain age, they were most often returned to the extended family from whence they came - uncles, aunts, cousins. To these poor homes, additional mouths were thus added. Although many of the families accepted them as their own, he knew that others considered this an extreme burden upon them and sought to be compensated for their troubles.

Compensation for these children was often a life sold into labor or worse. For a pittance, or a cow, or even a tribally-ordained black magic powder, the lives of these children were often bartered away.

Carolina wiped a tear from her face with her free hand. Vandover's heart felt for her, understanding her pain, her loss.

“It's not your fault.” He said quietly.

“No. It is not. But I only pray that what I have given them is enough to sustain them on their journey.”

Vandover nodded. “I'm sure it has. They are good kids.”

“Yes, but the world is not so good, Van. I can only share with them the glories of Our Savior's loving-kindness through His word. I hope it...”

Her voice drifted off as her heart wept for the children she loved so. She averted her eyes and choked back the pain of the loss. Of knowing that she could no longer be there for them - to protect them and shield them from all harm from the evil she knew was waiting in the tall grasses with predator's eyes and predator's jaws.

“May God hold them now.” She was finally able to utter.

“He will.” Vandover said feebly, knowing that his words were empty. More hopeful than realistic.

It was then that he realized the full depth of Carolina's love for Christ and for His children. He understood then that she loved them with the same pure devotion, the same absolute passion for all that was good and right as he himself bore so unconditionally for her. He loved her even more in that instant.

It was in that moment that he knew what he must do.

“I am ready.” Vandover said softly, turning to take the cup carefully from Adui's hands.

With deliberate drama, Vandover raised the cup before him for a long moment looking past it into the mysteries of the void. He sought composure; he sought strength.

He found neither.

He started to speak - but no words were his to give. He cleared his throat loudly. Instinctively, all eyes in the courtyard turned to him.


Jansen Vandover raised his eyes to meet Carolina's.

It may have been only for an instant, but he thought he recognized a shadow of understanding cross her face for the merest of seconds - perhaps he was wrong in that - he would never know.

He looked away. With a grand gesture, he held the fortune cup further aloft.

“May God bless all whom this woman shall touch in her life and may Christ in His dear compassion hold them forever to his bosom in goodness, care and love.” Vandover's eyes dropped. His voice dropped.

“...and love.” He whispered again.

And then he drank from the cup.

Immediately the foul brew burned and seared at his throat. A dry fire seemed to rise as a cough from deep within and screamed forth, up, out through his gasping mouth, the sound ripped into the sudden silence. Vandover's eyes flashed wicked and wild. Horrified by what he was feeling. His body erupted in spasms, wracked by wave upon wave of uncontrollable shudders that seemed to ripple forth in all directions at once and did not stop at the surface perimeter of his body, but rather extended into the thin air, the tear-stained sky, the very soul of the universe itself.

Shaking violently, Vandover clutched at his throat in horror and in pain. He stumbled wildly backward, careening off the heavy iron-gate and onto the street.

In his disorientation he never saw the lorry truck at all.

In a flash it was over. Even those that were watching could scarcely recall later what exactly they had seen. A blur. A squeal of tires. And Vandover's body suddenly limp and broken upon the red dirt road.

Carolina did not remember screaming, but her throat hurt afterward telling her that she had done so. She was told later that she had handed the squirming baby in her arms to the care of dear little Godsend and ran to his side, but she herself could not clearly remember this either. She would later only recall holding him full-knowing that it was already too late.

Seated at his head in the dry red dirt, she bent low over the body that seconds ago had contained her friend. With tender grace she stroked his hair then lowered herself to him. She paused momentarily, not knowing precisely why she had stopped. A cascade of emotions suddenly flushed over her, emotions she had tried to suppress and felt confidently that she had done just that. In that moment, doubt clouded Carolina's unwrinkled brow. An indefinable heat flowed up and over her seeming to engulf her in its fiery passion. She raised her eyes in a silent plea, which seemed to be answered immediately as she felt calm, peace wash away the flame.

Carolina smiled gently. Knowingly. She leaned over and delicately placed a soft kiss upon Vandover's forehead streaked with blood and dust; horror and pain. The lips that Vandover craved with all his passion fell in that moment gently upon his brow. Despite the tenderness of the embrace it was nonetheless somehow plaintive, and soulful and in an all-encompassing way - deep.

It would never be known whether the kiss was in time or not to fulfill Vandover's unyielding desire, or whether her touch was in time to save his soul. There was much that was never to be known.

No one noticed at the time, but had they raised their eyes at that moment to the horizon, they would have seen the shuffling steps of an old man walking away, head bent low and sad, muttering, humming something to himself.

They would have seen that his hands were empty.

Carolina's tears fell soft upon Vandover's peaceful face. Her sorrow fell drop by precious droplet there leaving long streaks that seemed to sprawl forth in all directions at once in an unwitting homage to the dirt paths of Kintori that had taken his earthly life.

She held him to her. Rocking him with the same rocking motion that comforted God's children so. She prayed that in his last breath, he too had felt that comfort.


The next day, the courtyard of the orphanage was now quiet. Subdued. Sad. Carolina stood upon the porch her beautiful face cocked quizzically. She was listening to a peculiar sound and could not place it in her mind.

With tentative steps she followed the sound out the courtyard to the road. The road where Vandover had died. As she pushed open the heavy gate, she saw the gleeful Godsend dancing peculiarly in the street.

“Jambo, Sister Carol.” The little girl called continuing to dance, each step making a crunching strangely joyful sound.

Carolina looked to the ground. With each leap of Godsend's dance, she was further breaking what was already broken, what looked to be the remains of a cup. The fortune cup.

“I think that is enough.” Carolina said gently. “It is well broken, dear.”

“God bless this day, Sister Carol.” Godsend called over her shoulder as she quickly ran into the courtyard, skipping and still dancing.

“Yes.” Carolina agreed. “God bless this day.” She knelt in the dust, streaked as it was with long dark trails of dried blood.

She began to pick up the pieces of the broken fortune cup. Piece by piece, Carolina carefully deposited each fragment into the swaying fold of her cradled apron as she held it aloft. Piece by piece, she was reminded of God's love and her love for His children. She smiled in spite of her sorrow. As she picked up the final piece of the cup - a large round shard broken whole from the bottom - she turned it over and over in her hand.

Though she did not in fact see it - and it would not have meant anything to her if she had - a small black mark on the shard flashed again and again before her eyes.

MADE IN CHINA - it read.

But Carolina did not see it.

She did not know.

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