The deluge wakes us from our afternoon rest. Matt is up at once and out onto the porch.
The air is heavy with moisture and grey clouds swirl and dance across the Bandung sky.
At home a summer storm brews and rumbles slowly and fat lazy droplets fall at first with a ‘plunk’ onto the tin roof and a ‘phut’ onto the dusty earth.
You can feel the wind cool and swing in from the south, which gives us time to help mum grab washing from the clothesline ahead of the gathering rain shower .
But in Bandung there is no prelude – the air is still and rain streams in a single sheet as if an ancient God has suddenly upended a great cauldron into our the small garden, magically making the warung disappear and turning the street into a swirling, muddy river which bubbles up under the hedge and laps onto the driveway.
Matt stands in awe of this great theatre of water – his favourite element in the whole world.
As suddenly as the rain falls it is silent again and a sticky warmth presses on our skin. Steam rises from the tops of the gate posts and familiar objects return to view.
Tony is soon beside us and, as if their brains have a momentary single thought, both the boys head back into their rooms and come out in their old shorts.
“Mum and Dad asleep?”
Matt starts to work on his plan.
The deep drain alongside the house is swollen with water which races through the culvert beneath the driveway and spews foam out the other side.
“Come on,” Matt is off with Tony close behind.
Before I can reach the bottom of the garden Matt is in the water and through the culvert and I hold my breath until he pops out the other side with a huge grin.
Tony jumps in behind. The culvert is choked with water and the ride through takes a great gulp of air.
When Matt’s head comes out a third time the water is already starting to subside a little.
“Come on Chas!’ Matt urges.
“I don’t think so – I think I’ll have a mundi instead of getting wet and muddy.”
As I head off around the back, I hear Dad come out the front door.
That night there are stern lectures about flood water being ‘full of diseases’ and ‘a perfect way to drown yourself’ and concrete culverts being ‘a good way to crack your head open’.
Mum and Dad talk into the night. I overhear some words like ‘wild’ and ‘needs some routine’ and ‘more attention to reading.’
And so Matt is given to the Nuns up at the convent. He has not made his first communion and Mum and Dad decide this is the perfect time to repair this error in his upbringing.
A tiny Nun from the Philippines, Sister Mia, arrives with her neat grey habit and smiling face on her motor scooter to discuss Matt’s redemption.
Dad arranges that he will bring Matt up everyday for an hour and Sister Mia agrees that after three weeks Matt should be ready to make his first communion.
Dad takes a reluctant Matt in clean clothes and combed hair up to the convent.
I come along and can’t escape a sense of longing at the sight of the rows of desks in the classroom and the blackboard and the orderliness of the schoolground.
But we have to “leave Matt to it,” Dad says. This has to be ‘just about him.’
After a few days Matt is less reluctant to go to the convent than anyone expected.
He is out the door ahead of time and waves Dad good-bye, saying he is fine to go on his own.
“It’s so good to see that he’s getting on so well with Sister Mia,” Mum says.
A week later Dad says, “Perhaps we will just go up to the convent and pick Matt up from his class, and ask Sister Mia how he is getting on.”
Tony and I tag along and arrive to find the classroom empty and no sight of Matt or Sister Mia in the school.
“They might be having a lesson outside,” Dad reasons and one of the nuns directs us toward the garden.
We follow the lane between the class rooms out to the back of the convent building where there is a wide garden broken into a criss cross of concrete paths. The rectangular segments created by the paths are interspersed with the crosses and marked stones of the convent graveyard.
Sister Mia sits in the shade of a broad hedge on one side and waves for us to come over.
Before Dad can ask where Matt might be, the sound of a motor scooter whines from behind the hedge at the far end of the garden and Matt emerges with a grin even wider than the one he wore on his culvert diving adventure.
He comes toward us in a zigzag path and maneuvers expertly between the gravestones before he pulls up tightly at out feet. Dad gapes slightly as he tries to take in this modern form of instruction in the holy sacrament which might include desecrating the graves of past nuns.
“I think Matthew likes to go fast and doesn’t like to sit still so much,” says Sister Mia with a lovely bright smile, “It is the same with me. So I said to Matt, if he can sit still and read and listen for thirty minutes, then he can have a little turn on the scooter.”
For those who have read the story so far I thought it only fair to post a photo of the actual ‘characters’.
Sister ‘Mia’ was actually Sister Kiah – but I thought having two Kiahs in the story might be confusing.
As you can see she was such a lovely person and a good match for Matt.
I’m sure you can work out which one is Matt!