He was even bigger up close; the small boy trailing him even smaller. Garth’s giant paw totally enveloped the boy’s hand as they stepped into the house. He looked into the eyes of each resident, smiled warmly, motioning for them to go further inside the house. Immediately understanding the need for silence, both Dave and Beth remained speechless. Garth confidently led the way and as though he knew the exact layout of the house, made his way through to the lounge and took a seat; indicating that the young child should do the same. Garth then returned slowly to his feet, signalling to the boy to remain seated. He moved slowly towards the couple who stood a few metres back. Garth Gleeson then spoke to them in such a low tone that the gravelly, raspy nature of his voice took on the quality of cool wind breezing over tussocks. “Mrs Walters,” he shifted his attention to Beth, “shall I assume you’ve had time to relay the information I gave you, to your husband,” his eyes flicking in Dave’s direction.
Beth visibly froze. “Oh no,” she squeaked.
Mild frustration mingled with Garth’s ruddy features as he turned focus to Dave: “I’ll be brief” – Dave wondered if that would be true – “this boy may or may not have been one of North Korea’s many abducted babies of last century, he has no name, no history, we estimate his age anywhere from eight to thirteen years’ old, we don’t believe he has any education to speak of, he might as well be a newborn,” at this point Garth stopped to gaze lamentably at the child. The boy stared straight back. Garth continued: “He is a clean slate, having never experienced any of life’s comforts, everything he sees is a new experience, that said, he will be prone to overstimulation, his first sighting of the outside world was only days ago, while in the conditioning camp we imagine he was subject to terrible abuse, torture and likely many other forms of inflicting pain, so understandably, he is scared of everything … And I mean everything,” Garth paused to stare into the eyes of his audience as if conveying the remainder of his thoughts telepathically. “Be very careful,” he went on, “very careful indeed, we don’t know exactly what kind of person he has become, but if you still wish to rescue him, Mr and Mrs Walters, Second Chance Adoption will provide any extra assistance you might need – be it financial or otherwise – and are even willing to periodically check in on your progress, should you request this service,” once more Garth’s dark eyes bored into the souls of his onlookers, “otherwise, Mr and Mrs Walters, I would like to extend my own personal gratitude for what you are doing today, and please know that the Second Chance Adoption Agency could not be more grateful.” With that he cautiously spun back around to the small boy on the sofa, who had not taken his eyes of the two strangers throughout the giant’s entire speech, and extended his hand. The boy tentatively placed his smaller hand in it and allowed himself to be pulled up. “Mr and Mrs Walters, it took some time to earn this level of trust but just talk quietly to him, if he likes you, hell respond.”
Dave shuffled forward and extended his hand the way Garth had done. The boy shuffled in behind the giant legs, treating them as though they were his fortress; peering out from between the monstrous pillars. “Oh,” cooed Beth, “you gorgeous little boy, you’re such a sweetheart, aren’t you?”
Still in hiding the child’s eyes nervously flicked from Beth to Dave and back again. “One of you, step back,” Garth suggested. Dave fell back.
“Who’s my little sweetheart,” whispered Beth, steadily moving closer and crouching down to the boy’s height. The child appeared to be fighting a battle of instincts: his immediate urges compelled him to touch, to caress and to breathe this beautiful creature; his primal urges, the urges developed through a lifetime of abject hardship, compelled him to stay away. “You’re my little sweetheart, aren’t you? Aren’t you?” Beth said in a playful tone. The boy stared back from between the giant’s legs; then he slid across to peer around the side. Beth extended her right arm, revealing the backs of long, slender fingers on an immaculately manicured hand. The young child stared at the hand, transfixed. Beth slowly rotated it until it was palm up. She beckoned. The boy’s left hand ever so slowly appeared from behind him; his eyes met Beth’s. She smiled as the warmth of his fingers touched hers. She started to weep. The boy moved closer, his eyes on hers. Tears formed rivulets over her cheeks. The boy looked confused and began to raise his other arm. Beth smiled and felt moisture trickling over her upper lip. The small North Korean child touched her cheek with the fingers of his left hand. Beth sniffed the moisture back up just as the boy collapsed into her, his left hand still on her cheek, his right arm now around her neck; as he tightly clung to his new mother.
Standing in the background, even Dave felt a pang of poignancy.
Over an hour after pulling up in the driveway, having imparted to the new parents all the knowledge they would need to know about raising an orphan boy from the underbelly of North Korea, the yellow Commodore drove to the end of their street and indicated left. Dave watched Garth go, still in a state of disbelief at just how wrong his projected perception of the giant had been; never again would he allow a telephone conversation to influence his impression of a person.
Beth, meantime, was in a state of perpetual glee and could see no reason that she should ever be sad again. Gath had warned her that there was a possibility that the union would fail and for that reason, she should approach the relationship exhibiting emotional restraint; in other words, she wasn’t to name, or to allow herself to fall hopelessly in love with, the child. Alas, from the first time he had reached forward and touched her face she was besotted with the child; now, kneeling on the carpet playing a silly game of who can touch who in whatever place before the other touches back, with no objective, no rules and no way to win, Beth was experiencing a kind of glorious kinship that she had never before known.
She loved this unspeaking child without a name; Dave loved how happy that unspeaking child made his dearly beloved.
As promised, she became a full time, stay at home mum. He had expected there would be unwillingness to keep the promise but no, Beth intended to devote her complete self to providing a life for the unspeaking child.
With each passing day the chances of the ‘union failing’ became slimmer; as the pair had never truly had the ‘baby name’ discussion, they had no idea what this child should be called. Beth’s apparently ‘mortal fear’ of giving a child a name only to later discover they had named the child improperly or inappropriately, prompted them to hold off until they’d each had ample time to consider the task; having seen the child prior to the name being delivered, they could appreciate, put them in a peculiar position but they agreed, it could only be a good thing. Until then, “The unspeaking child’ was popular as the temporary fix, which was quickly abbreviated to just ‘Unspeak’.
Weeks passed with Beth growing ever more attached to Unspeak; the unspoken bond of understanding between the two was remarkable: it seemed that whatever thoughts she entertained or emotions she’d project the boy would, in his way, replicate, or reciprocate. She recalled Garth Gleeson’s words regarding the ‘permeable nature’ of a young child’s mind; moreover when the aforementioned youngster has spent life hitherto in captivity, and while she wasn’t certain about the word ‘permeable’, she did think that when it came to information, the boy was rather like a sponge. Beth took it upon herself to become Unspeak’s private tutor and soon found herself learning almost as much as the boy must have been. She procured picture books, toys and other child-orientated paraphernalia from women in her NZ Airlines clique, then spent almost every waking hour reading and talking about nothing in particular to the captivated child. She took him for long walks around their neighbourhood in an effort to inure him to the rudimentary sounds of life. It took a long time but eventually, Beth noted, Unspeak wasn’t so scared anymore. She had even shown him how to turn the handle to open the front door of the house, put on his footwear and walk down the garden path to collect the morning post. Beth was no expert on child intellect, but if an inquisitive nature and an unrelenting desire to learn were anything to go by, this young boy was going to grow up to be very clever indeed.
Dave had been putting forward his ideas for possible names for days now, insisting that in order to properly relate to a boy, a real name by which to address him is surely of importance. She did have to agree, although in fairness, she had grown fond of ‘Unspeak’ – the name even sounded Korean. No, in fairness to the boy it had to go – if they didn’t hand down a proper name soon the poor lad would never be able to comprehend his latest form of address; besides, he was now uttering the odd word, rendering ‘Unspeak’ a patent misnomer.
Bruce, Jack, and Robert were Dave’s first choice trio; Beth preferred Daniel, Samuel, or Robin. They were set to compromise with Robbie, and that would probably have been the end of it, if it hadn’t been for the haircutting episode.