It was on the last day before the passenger bus arrived at his beloved village, that the little boy looked up to see an eagle gliding far above the snow peaked mountains. The blue azure of heaven painted a spectacular background for the rugged peaks. What a glorious freedom this beautiful eagle represented as the cool air current pushed it higher and higher, until the boy’s eyes strained to follow the microscopic dot circling lazily across the wide expanse of blue sky.
In the cool, damp September morning, a small dark Indian boy sat in the dim morning light, dressed in his new blue bib overalls, and a red and black checkered shirt.
The boy, his widowed mother and his three older brothers waited in silence for the last passenger of the bus to arrive. As they waited, the only constant sound that broke the silence of the still morning was the hissing of the old copper kettle, as hot puffs of white steam bellowed out from its skinny bent spout.
As the quiet morning dragged on, the little six-year-old boy sat at the crude home table. His dark brown eyes noted how the well-scrubbed table had been painted a kaleidoscope of blues, reds, and greens, creating a unique marbled appearance for the old shiplap table.
Now, as the boy sat at the table, his mind wandered into the previous night’s shadows, which are lit up by a slightly smoking coal oil lamp, dispelling its dim yellowish and orange light, pushing out the darkness from the small attic bedroom.
His mother, who was not able to afford proper suitcases, filled two brown cardboard boxes with her boys’ meager clothing. The little boy followed her around everywhere like a shadow. Every step she took, he would be right behind her. She would move from the small dresser to get more clothing, and he followed. She walked back to the small bed, and he stayed right on her heels; it was as if he thought that she would somehow disappear from the enclosure of the small dormer.
When the boy’s mother had finished tying down the last paper box of clothing with some small twine, she turned to her shadow, placed her hands on his small shoulders and stood him in front of her. She sat on the edge of the small single bed.
Only then did the boy blurt out his pent up questions. “Why do we have to go on the bus tomorrow, Mom? And why do we have to go so far away to school?” As the little boy looked into his mother’s sad face, she tried her best to explain to her six year-old. She said, “Son, I don’t want to see you and your brothers leave on the bus tomorrow morning, nor do I want to see you go so far away to school, but since your Dad passed away last fall, I don’t have the money to keep you and your brothers home.” She also stressed on the importance of schooling for him and his brothers, and told him she didn’t have much choice in the matter, and that his crying made her feel very sad. She also said other things that he could not remember or understand.
The little boy’s mind focused on where he sat. Still confused, he sat and stared at the old wooden table. His emotions were as mixed and confused as the mixed colors of the old kitchen table.
He felt angry this morning, because his six-year-old mind could not find reasons why he and his brothers had to leave home. With his mounting anger and confusion, he also felt green envy for the eagle’s freedom burn in his heart.
His mind once more drifted out of the warm kitchen, and high up into the blue sky. For a brief moment he experienced the eagle’s freedom of flight. He experienced flying high above his world of turmoil, when suddenly the clanging sound of the cast iron frying pan that his mother was using jolted the boy back to reality.
The boys’ industrious mother kept herself busy by frying thin slices of moose meat and onions in a heavy cast iron frying pan, and slicing fresh homemade bread, for making sandwiches for her boys’ long bus trip this morning.
The little boy in his bib overalls noticed that his mother was very quiet this morning, and that she was not her jovial self. It was as if she had been maltreated somehow.
The little boy wondered to himself, “Could the bus trip have anything to do with making mom sad?”
Then he thought again, “Maybe if I didn’t go on the bus this morning, then Mother wouldn’t look so sad.” “But no! That’s impossible,” he said to himself.
This past week his mother had told him and his brothers over and over again, distinctly, “You and your brothers will have to go on the bus.” In her brief explanation she also mentioned something about the Indian Agent, giving the orders. The little boy did not understand. So the boy, not wanting to bring any more hurt to his mother, remained silent and waited for the bus.
In the unbearable silence of the morning, the long awaited moment arrived. The could hear the rickety old bus in low gear, squeaking its way through the deep pot holes, laboring its way into the small northern village.
As they heard the bus coming, they all got up in unison to leave the house. The little boy could hear how his heart was pounding in the silence of the morning, because the morning had arrived, the dreaded bus was coming.
How broken he felt as he walked out the door to leave the only home he had ever known. He kept looking back over his tiny shoulder, hoping that some kind of miracle would take place. He cried out in the silence, hoping for the bus to go away, but nothing happened. So each small step he took was an effort as he slowly made his way towards the church building, dreading every step that he took.
The big old blue and white B.Y.N. bus finally came to a rolling stop in front of the old brown church. The fateful moment had arrived. The door of the bus swung open, and from the doorway of the muddy bus a tired looking middle aged man dressed in black gave the command: “All those who are going to the Indian Residential School, line up beside the bus!”
So the little boy and his brothers lined up with the other children beside the bus. Still confused about why he had to go away, the little boy nudged his way forward in the single line. As he moved down the line he kept his dark eyes on his hurting mother and noticed how hard she was struggling to keep her composure, while fighting off tears of remorse. Her boys were leaving home today.
Seeing the brave face his mother kept, he remembered the words she had spoken to him earlier. “Be brave son and don’t cry.” He bit his upper lip hard, and again held back his tears.
After what seemed like forever, the little boy with dark eyes nudged his way to the door of the bus. He managed to kiss his mother goodbye without breaking into tears that were dammed up within him.
Finally, the little boy climbed into the big bus, walked down the narrow aisle, and found a seat. In order for him to see out the window, the little boy had to climb up and stand on the seat. He pressed his small face against the cool glass and waved his last goodbyes to his mother before the bus pulled out from his village.
The aging bus driver put the idling bus into gear, and it rolled slowly away from his village.
While the bus rolled away from his village, the boy had his face pressed hard against the damp glass, to take one last desperate look at his sleepy village, before it disappeared from his view. The boy had become so familiar with his village these past few years, but the further the bus went, the little boy knew that it was also taking him away into a foreign world, unknown to him or his brothers.
As the bus ate up the miles of the rough gravel road, the haunting question came back to his confused mind, “Why did we have to leave home?”
The little boy’s heart was breaking apart, and then the pent up tears came flowing over the dam. The tears gushed forth in hot torrents, and washed down his brown face. Then through his clouded mind, the boy thought to himself: “Today is the day the eagle has lost his wings.”
Written by Charlie Carlick, used by permission.