Ike removed his pad and pencils from his saddlebag and walked leisurely to his favorite spot to draw. He loved this place, the quiet and peaceful surroundings were perfect for contemplation. He’d found a way to express himself in drawing that would be impossible even if he could speak. Buck had helped him communicate to most people in general but drawing had always helped him communicate to himself, all his thoughts and feelings. It was like a special journal.
There was a time though, he’d given up drawing.
Ike kept as quiet as he could and peeked through the limbs of the tree he was hiding in. Sister Ada was looking for him and she was wearing a very concerned expression. Even though he liked her, he still wasn’t going to climb down, no matter how upset she was. He hated this place and all the people in it. He watched Sister Ada search the grounds for him. Well, maybe he didn’t hate all the people.
“Ike, where are you?”
Ike didn’t want to go to class. He might not hate everyone but he did hate the other children for how they treated him. Just because he was different, they saw him as a freak. He shifted on the limb where he was sitting, trying to maneuver himself further into the foliage, but instead, he snapped a small branch. Becoming completely still, he squeezed his eyes shut, hoping that Sister Ada hadn’t heard him.
“Ike,” she called softly. “What are you doing up there?”
Ike shook his head, keeping his eyes shut. If he didn’t see her, then she wouldn’t see him. Of course he knew that wasn’t true because he’d been trying that same tact since he’d arrived, almost seven months earlier, and it never worked.
“Ike, please, I can’t see you.” Ike smiled, maybe it did work.
“It’s dangerous that high up. You could fall.”
Ike sighed and scooted down to the lower branch so she could see him but not actually touch him. He wouldn’t look at her because he didn’t want to see her face, her disappointment. He inevitably was disappointing someone. Sister Cecilia was always telling him he was misbehaving or doing something wrong, even when he was just sitting still. Of the six sisters at the orphanage, he only liked two; Sister Ada and Sister Bernadette.
When he’d arrived, he’d felt like a sack of oats the way everyone had moved him around. He’d been so scared but he couldn’t ask what was happening and no one would help him understand. Finally, he’d just found a corner to hide in. That’s where he was when Sister Ada and Sister Bernadette had come by. When they’d introduced themselves, they’d been really nice and had sat down beside him – on the floor. It was startling but at the same time comforting.
They’d chatted with him and Sister Ada had even given him a piece of paper and a pencil to write his responses. Both sisters had praised his penmanship and his spelling. It had made him feel very good. But that hadn’t lasted long; Sister Cecilia had chastised both sisters and him for acting like indigents. Ike hadn’t understood the word but he definitely understood Sister Cecilia’s expression, meaning they were in trouble.
“Ike,” Sister Ada said, “please come down here. I want to talk to you.” She didn’t wait for a response and walked over to sit on the bench by the small chapel. Ike figured that she expected him to follow but he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
He saw that she was carrying a small sack, bulging from its contents, and curiosity got the better of him so he gave in and climbed down. He slowly walked to where Sister Ada sat, as she stared off in the distance. Ike stood a few steps away from the bench; he liked keeping some space between him and everyone else. He’d learned that it gave him time to get away from the other boys or kept him just out of slapping range for any of the other nuns. He didn’t think Sister Ada would hit him but he wasn’t going to bet on it. He didn’t trust anyone – not anymore.
“Won’t you sit beside me?” she said in that soft lilt she had. Ike loved listening to her talk and never missed her history classes. That was the only class he was doing well in.
Grudgingly, he sat on the corner of the bench the furthest he could get from her and still be actually sitting beside her. He heard her sigh but still didn’t look at her. He did eye the sack that was sitting on the ground next to her foot. He was trying to figure out what was in it. He didn’t have to wait long to find out.
“Ike, I have something for you,” she announced and pulled a pad of paper out of the sack. She held it towards him, waiting patiently for him to claim it.
Ike stared at the pad. It wasn’t like the coarse paper they used in their studies; the pages were thin and it was bound together tightly at the top with a thick cover on it. He glanced up to see if she were teasing him. That had happened before too. One of the boys had offered him a ball or other toy and, when Ike reached for it, the bully would pull it away and laugh. The other children would join in.
“Go ahead, Ike,” she said, encouraging him to take it. “It’s for you.”
He tentatively reached for the thick pad of paper. Once his hand was on it, he still expected her to pull it away, but she didn’t. He took it slowly from her and turned it over, face up, and read the cover. Drawing paper. His eyes widened and he shook his head, pushing the pad back at the sister.
“Ike, I thought you’d like it,” she said, the confusion plain on her face and in her voice. She wouldn’t take the pad though.
Ike kept shaking his head and tried desperately to get Sister Ada to take the paper back. She didn’t understand; he couldn’t ever draw again. That’s how he survived and his family didn’t. It was all his fault. Tears started to form in his eyes.
“Ike,” Sister Ada said, kneeling in front of him, “what is it?”
As tears fell silently down his cheeks, he mouthed the words he longed to say. My fault.
“Here, write it.” Sister Ada opened the pad, placing it back on Ike’s lap and reached into the sack and pulled out a pencil. It was a pretty blue one. To Ike it was like she was handing him a snake that would bite him. Fearfully, he stared at her. He couldn’t have this stuff, but she didn’t stop and placed the pencil in his hand. “Why are you so sad?”
I cant have this, he wrote in neat printing.
He tapped on the pad with the pencil. Sister Ada sat beside Ike and read what he’d written. She looked puzzled and asked, “Why not?” He leaned over again and wrote.
Sister Ada shook her head. Ike knew she wouldn’t understand so he tried to push the pad back into her hands. “No,” she said, firmly, “you tell me why.” She crossed her arms over her chest and refused.
Ike sighed heavily, tears steadily falling, and wrote, I hurt my family
Sister Ada gasped. “Ike, you did no such thing. There were men that –”
Ike violently shook his head and scrawled on the paper, pressing hard.
I did it I drawd on the bible God got mad
As she read this, Ike saw her cover her mouth with her hand. At that moment, he knew he’d just lost his only friends here. She’d tell Sister Bernadette and then no one would like him. His shoulders shook with the silent sobs that wracked his body. He closed the pad and placed it back on the bench. He would leave and go somewhere far away. As he moved to stand, a hand on his shoulder startled him. His head whipped around, afraid that Sister Ada would indeed hit him but instead he saw her matching him, tear for tear.
“Ike,” she said, with a voice thick from emotion, “God would never get mad at you for that.” She pulled him close to her and continued, “God wants you to be happy. I’ve seen your scribbles on the side of your homework and it looks like you enjoy drawing.”
Ike was mortified that she’d seen his drawings. He’d been so angry with himself when he’d drawn on his homework. They were small drawings that he’d done when he was daydreaming instead of working. He’d tried to erase his pictures the best he could before turning the papers in. He knew he shouldn’t be drawing, it was bad, but he couldn’t help it. But now, Sister Ada was telling him it was okay to draw. She was a sister, someone very close to God, so maybe she was right. He glanced up at the nun, a small glimmer of hope inside him.
“Honestly,” she assured him. “Take this pad,” she picked it up and put it on his lap again, “and,” she bent over and took a few more colored pencils from the sack, “and these pencils. I want you to draw me a wonderful picture.” She smiled at him.
Unsure, Ike sat, staring at the supplies. He still didn’t believe it was alright. He looked up at Sister Ada again, needing confirmation. She cupped his chin and said, “What happened was not your fault. It was a terrible tragedy that a young boy such as yourself couldn’t have prevented. Ike, if you’d tried, you’d…”
He saw her swallow hard as her lips trembled. He wasn’t sure but he thought she was sad for him. She then patted his head and touched the tip of his nose. “I’m just glad that I’ve had the privilege to know you Ike McSwain and I know that good things will happen to you.”
Ducking his head, Ike blushed and grinned. Running his hand gently over the cover of the pad, he glanced up at Sister Ada, an expectant look on his face. She laughed.
“Go draw,” she said, shooing him away. As he grabbed the pad and pencils, she added, “I’ll tell Sister Cecilia you’re doing something special for me.”
Waving his thanks to Sister Ada, seven-year-old Ike McSwain ran the whole way to the small pond, where the big maple stood. He sat in the shade of the graceful branches and crossed his legs. Reverently, he opened the pad to the first page. He would draw over his words, covering them forever. With pencil poised, he thought about what picture he would draw for Sister Ada. Grinning, he knew the perfect thing. A sunny meadow with lots and lots of flowers.
Ike chuckled, thinking of that picture he’d drawn. Sister Ada had hung it on her personal board, much to Sister Cecilia’s dismay, and it had stayed there for as long as Ike had been at the mission. When it was time, she’d been sad to see him leave with Buck but she’d understood and sent him, and his new friend, off with her blessings.
He’d continued drawing after they’d left the mission. At times it had been almost a way for him to fight back against all the hate and animosity that was heaped on him and Buck as they made their way west. He’d kept their spirits up by drawing funny pictures of the people that had hurt them or nice pictures for the people that had helped them. Though there had been more hurt than help, those that had helped were remembered fondly in the drawings Ike kept folded and tucked safely in his trunk. His drawings were truly a very special journal.
Sighing, he saw that the light was growing dim and it was about time for him to get back to the station. Emma would have dinner ready and he knew he didn’t want to miss that. Especially since Cody was there tonight. Looking down at his pad, he was surprised to see he’d actually been drawing while he was reminiscing. Smiling, he saw that the picture was a beautiful, sunny meadow, with lots and lots of flowers and standing in the middle was a kind and caring woman wearing a nun’s habit.