Morning class is out. Children run, play, and call names. Their words follow me. "No Tongue! No Tongue!" Names. Names. I am not smiling.
"Hey wait up."
My friend Peter runs very fast. He catches up to me.
"Why don't you want to wait for me, Jay?"
Always a question from him.
"Hey, how come?"
Too may questions. Why? Why? I keep going. He follows. Peter is my best friend. He is in grade seven with me.
"Aren't you glad, No Tongue? You know, about our Social Studies today? Learning about your Indian people?"
I hate that name. My thoughts climb, as a shrieking raven. An alarm cries out. I try to be quiet. I am a Mi'Kmaq boy. I am 12 years old. I must become a patient leaf.
Why do children tease me? I pretend not to know. I am silent in their midst. Is it because I am proud to be a Native?
I am Eagle Eyes. My grandfather willed it. It made my mother proud.
I remember my grandfather. So tall. His wrinkles were like waves on Cobequid Bay's shore. His tales were numerous as leaves in October. Before he went to Niskam.
"Jay are you listening?" Peter is speaking, again. Sometimes he talks too much. We walk home together.
My white name is Jay. Inside my skin I am Mi'Kmaq. "Why," I ask at home, "must I go to that school?"
"Names and faces can't hurt you," my mother speaks. She is kind. Her skin is dark and her cheekbones are like a raven. Hunting, searching and protecting.
"What's for dinner?" My watch says not much time left, before school begins.
"You're always hungry," my mother speaks again.
"Yes. Always hungry." An echo sounds from the corner of the room. It is Nan, my sister. She is smart at school. She does everything well. Playing ball. Playing soccer.
She has many friends.
I am the opposite. My feet trip running to first base. My hands can't stop the soccer ball from scoring. Children at school don't want me on their team.
I became quiet, like a rabbit.
Once in the woods I watched one in silence. He hopped slowly around an old apple tree. It was during our Fall deer hunt.
I saw his eyes. Trusting. His white color became part of the woods, like a blanket. I adopted his heart of bravery. I became his friend.
Jay was my white father's name. My mother wanted me to be like him. Study. Read. Watch. Learn. But he worked in an office. His cry of anger at night stilled my heart.
His anguish pierced my skin. So little time for father and son. The tie on his neck was a noose. One day he went away and I became "No Tongue."
I felt in my spirit, it was my fault.
It became easy to disappear among the weeds.
Grandfather became my friend. His stories about living in a residential school were lessons to be remembered.
"How come you could not wear your Native clothes?" I asked one day. His answer then, was a river of tears on his cheek.
"Never mind," his lips told me. "My sorrow is not yours. You must be what you wish to be."
"Hurry up and eat Jay. You have to get back to school." My mother always worries. She cut through my thoughts of time. I love her so much. My mouth is full of beans and I hurry. My mind is full of memories.
Grandfather's funeral was a celebration. I became happy in the sadness of his passing. I became Eagle Eyes, his grandson.
It was his gift to me.
I became a boy who became a man each time he took me into the woods. Now I am that boy-man.
The fireflies became my friends. The rabbit became my candle. All the birds and animals of the forest became part of my family.
My feet walked paths bathed in moonlight. And my heart was filled with songs from my past. My heritage.
I finish my lunch and look at my mother.
"Such a beautiful boy. Isn't he Nan? Look at those teeth. I can't believe you are only twelve years old Jay."
My mother is also like a partridge. She moves quickly from one moment to another. "Wipe your face. Brush your teeth. Scoot, scoot to school."
My mother is also like a bear. She is my protector.
Peter waits for me outside. He is a good friend. I know he too is afraid of some things.
I think I will teach him the old ways. How to make a shelter. How to make a fire to provide for food and warmth. I will show him. My grandfather's face will be upon me with gladness.
He has taught me to put away, "No Tongue." To make him sleep for a long time. It was only a name to mock me.
And I am no longer afraid.
The voice of grandfather calls often to me. "Be a proud Mi'Kmaq, a warrior-son."
My mother's words soothe me. "Such a beautiful boy, my baby." I have warmth and protection. I soar above all difficult things. My wings are as beautiful feathers.
My friend Peter calls, "Jay. Hurry up, or we'll be late for school."
I answer back, "Eagle Eyes is coming!"
* * *
Richard & Esther Provencher 2008
Note: The 2002 original version (almost similar) to "No Tongue" 2008 was critiqued by two very special Mi'Kmaq ladies who are recently deceased.
Poet Rita Joe said, "The story makes me proud to be a native."
Nora Bernard, native activist and the driving force to successfully garner several billion dollars from the Canadian government to rectify the abuse of many thousands of natives in residential schools, now abolished, said, "I love it, Richard."
Her son, Jay, was the model for this story and I had the privilege of being his 'Big Brother' for three years, when he was 11-14. Jay now has two lovely girls and we remain excellent friends. Richard LP E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
My wife, Esther and I really enjoy writing. It is an excellent salve, in addition to prayers, a great wife and family during my continuing recovery from a stroke/aneurysm. You can contact us at: email@example.com re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.