Charles Croes - 7-Apr-12 Fiction - Nonfiction or just a Snippet in time?
During the writing of the book, ARUBA THIS IS YOUR ISLAND, it seemed important to have a Christmas story that dealt with a specific hill in St, Nicholas called “Seroe Pretu” which in Papiamento means Black Mountain where once a year, during the Christmas time, it is adorned with millions of lights, and during that adorned period it is called “Cas Di Lus” which means house of lights. As the Christmas story developed, it became something a bit more than what I originally planned, but then again, once any story gets out of the mind box and starts to play with the pages, it is something all on its own and the writer has so very little to do with it. In this case, a thin thread of truth has become a fat ball of fiction A snippet of sorts. -- CC
Several years back I became fascinated with the lights at Seroe Pretu, I thought about how I could capture, with words, the way lights twinkle and the fun of the colors and how they somehow wordlessly translate themselves into a Christmas message, year and year. I decided to go to the ‘Cas Di Lus’ at about 10 PM to make sure that there would be throngs of people and that out of the madness I hoped to weave a tale from the ‘happening’ on the small hill. When I arrived the people were everywhere. Kids held their parents hands as they climbed the mountain stairs where they were engulfed by the brightness of the millions of lights. Along the streets stood those that shied from the challenge of the climb. Locals sat on benches or walls and wondered how the small group of people that do this year on end, managed to get the utility company to cooperate with free electricity. In all senses of the word, it is a giving time. A time for a small community to give to the entire island.
An event such as this one would never be complete without the tour buses parked along the sides of the street with the engines still running to support the air-conditioning inside as they belched black smoke from their tail pipes. Inside the buses the passengers murmured that they were amazed as to just how creative the “locals” were. I thought of how much nicer it would have been to hear how creative “people” can be. In any event, the small community living around Seroe Pretu transformed a small mound into a spectacle of lights. They created nativity displays and used the multicolored bulbs as the oils of their mountain-canvas. All the while and in the middle of this madness, the lights burned on. There I was watching the shows-within-shows and never having an inkling that this would be a bit more complicated than I had imagined, so I did the most creative thing I could – I sat on a wall and watched the masses walk about.
Then I heard him. A thin wispy voice struggled out and said “Bon Nochi Meneer” – (Good evening Sir). This of course is the most respectful of all greetings that someone can receive, so I turned around and found myself staring at a young boy in a wheel chair. Apparently someone had parked him against the same wall I was sitting on and in the droning sound of the crowds I hadn’t noticed. His face was gentle and innocent while his eyes spoke of purity. It was the kind of face I hadn’t seen for some time – it was the face of a small child – yet he wasn’t. The long sleeved shirt he wore was to big and had been buttoned all the way to the top, leaving a loosely hanging area around the neckline. His legs were covered with a heavy blanket that didn’t do a very good job of hiding the fact that they were frighteningly thin. His hands were covered with thin leather gloves that had the initials MJ on them – I figured those were the initials of his name. As I looked at his face everything around him seemed to disappear – everything but his eyes. I knew by looking into that child’s eyes that he saw things differently than the rest of us. And then, as if I had asked him, he said, “Accident, Michael Jackson and when I get to know you better”. “OOOOOKAYYY” was my response. Then he said, “Most people always ask me the same dumb questions so I to get them out of the way.” OOOOOKAYYY” I repeated. “Anyway, I crushed my legs in a car accident when I was little and can’t walk anymore and my mommy died. My name does not start with the initials MJ. I have the Michael Jackson Wheeling gloves. They are a birthday present from a bunch of kids at school. I will tell you my name when I know you better, My Dad told me to not talk to strangers of give them my name.” I, on the other hand did not have such restrictions so I said to him,, “My name is Charles and I agree with your Dad” and followed that with a much shorter “OK”. And so it started. What awaited me was an evening of wonder beyond the lights and certainly with more reaching consequences. I made the decision to not ask anything and give him the space he needed to come to me. It took about 20 minutes and he finally blurted out “Johan – Johan is my name”. I purposely didn’t look at him and while looking at the crowds said “Charles”. He shot back with “I know”. I turned to him and smiled. We shook hands and I kept on looking at the parade of people. In that way we started a conversation without looking at each other. Johan “Do you know my father?” Charles “I don’t think so, what is his name?” Johan “Johan – They named me after him” Charles “Nope” Johan “He is a very nice man” Charles “I suspect he would be” Johan “Why?” Charles “Cause he has a cool kid named Johan”
We both laughed a little. Johan “Would you like to be my friend?” Charles “I thinks so” Johan “Is that a yes or a no? – Hey – here comes my Dad! – You will like him” Charles “That is a yes” Johan “Oh great, I will tell him right away.
His father came over and Johan started to tell him about how he had a new friend. His father looked a bit tired but hung in there and introduced himself. We shook hands and I knew that this man toiled heavily on a daily basis. The handshake was strong and his hand was hard. We started to chat a bit and in that conversation he let me know that he was a gardener at one of the hotels and that he was busy planning to start his own company. We talked about that for a while and then Johan turned to us both and asked his father if I could come for tea while Daddy sang him to sleep? His father was embarrassed and not sure on how to react but then to my surprise turned to me and asked me if I liked Tetley Tea? I told him that I loved Tetley Tea and would follow behind him.
While sitting in my car and waiting for them to get going so that I could follow, I saw them – Father and son rolling to a Van and then going through the practiced routine of getting Johan into the seat. It was flawless and it was love. The trip to their home was slow and gave me time to think – perhaps “wonder” is a better word for it. I wondered about these two people – father and son – and the bond they had and how they seemed tied to each other in a way that is special to those families that have situations such as theirs. When we pulled to their home I could see that it was small and tucked in back of a larger house. There was a special driveway to the side of the larger house that led to a cottage looking building. Flowers and plants engulfed it yet there was an order to their placement and it could never be interpreted as being overgrown. The front door was oversized and made of thick wood with a portal window in it. The entire scene was almost fairytale like.
Johan was carried inside and the father signaled me to follow. I did. His father gave him a quick washing and told him the beginning or a short story that was interrupted with Johan telling him not to forget that I liked Tetley Tea. Johan fell asleep and his father came out to join me. He told me about a car accident in which he lost his wife and explained the damage that his son had endured. His legs had been crushed and he would never walk again. He told me about his dream to go to Holland or anywhere in Europe or America and have them take care of his sons legs. He told me how this dream would probably remain a dream but that he would never stop dreaming it. As we drank coffee and ate some sugary bread he explained how much he hated the cold and how living there would surely cripple him due to his knee problems. It appears that gardeners suffer from the constant bending and kneeling. He explained that they even call the problem “gardeners’ knees”. He rolled his trousers up and showed me his swollen knees. Not nice. Anyway, Aruba is warm and it worked well for him. We laughed and then after finishing the tea told him I had to go. It was late and I was tired. On the way home, I made up my mind that this was to private to share. I did not have a Christmas story. So be it.
As the book got closer to being finished and going for final editing, I decided to ride over and go see Johan. Many months had passed and I wondered about him and his father. When I got to the little house, I found it closed and empty. The lady that lived in the big house came out and asked if I would be interested in renting it. I explained about my encounter with Johan and his father and that I had just come by to say hello. She smiled.
She said, “Johan Senior and little Johan are living in Austria. They went there to see a special Doctor for Johans legs and they are going to be there untill after his surgery. I asked her what she meant with “surgery” and she explained that… Johan went to a hospital to get a check up and it seems as if they can fix his legs to about 50% working order but at least he will be able to walk with crutches. They will be there for several months. I hope no-one rents this little place, it sort of is theirs - if you know what I mean.” I walked over to the small cottage and touched the front door, then I laughed and touched it again. The lady asked me if everything was alright and I assured her it was. She looked at the door and my hand. "I was just thinking about something.” “May I ask what it is?” She asked. I told her that that I was just thinking that Christmas stories take a long time to write and that most are written in April”.
And then I thought to myself: “Be well small boy. Walk tall. Your father loves you so very much and in the cold, his knees hurt.”
I hope to go to the Christmas lights this coming December and find him there. After all, I need to write a Christmas story.