What is faith, without a little test now and then? Like the camper striking his flint into a pile of damp leaves, "The next spark will get it going, for sure!" Even if his thumbs start to bleed with the effort, his belief keeps him going through the pain. That said, let me turn to my story of a Canadian abroad, living on faith. He was setting up an orphanage, hiring personnel, and filing the government paperwork that had to be processed because he represented a foreign entity in Dhaka. Every step tested Tristan's faith, and his patience. Tristan Wicks had patience to spare though, and he was determined to transform faith into action. He was, as you might guess, a man on a mission, but not quite a missionary, though he did work for an international religious organization. With his shock of yellow hair atop his thin, tall body, the administrators back in Toronto dubbed him "the Candle," a nickname which he smilingly accepted, and always added, "Well, I am trying to spread a little light in the world." Good luck Tristan, good luck.
He had been in Dhaka for two months, first, learning Bangla with a local teacher and the help of retired Reverend Blaise, and then looking for buildings, interviewing prospective "house mothers" for the orphanage. It was a slow, tedious process. Many of the women who came were overqualified, presenting MA degrees in Education or English and even one MBA. "There's actually very little paperwork to do, once it gets started," he'd say to their blank faces. "Mostly, you'll just have to make sure the kitchen is run efficiently, the teachers come on time ... and of course, if anyone is sick, call the doctor or take them to the hospital. It will only be about twenty girls or so. Depending on the building, of course."
"Would I have to live there?" was one of the most commonly asked questions, though sometimes it wasn't phrased in such perfect English.
"Unfortunately, yes, at least at first. I'll be leaving in May, or at least that's the plan, if everything is going well, and then you would be responsible for reports to the Toronto office. A representative would come every year or six months, and there might be some students or interns coming here to do research and observe the operations."
Most of the women would nod slowly, considering the restricted lifestyle the job offered, while simultaneously imagining how they could spend the thousand dollar a month paycheck that the job offered and how much it would change their lives. "But I have two kids," the MBA said. "My mother has some problems, she's sick, and I don't think she could live away from her," an English teacher told him. After meeting about two dozen highly qualified candidates, Tristan finally interviewed, and hired, a veteran school principal, with grey-haired curls and thin steel glasses dignifying her chubby-cheeked, lightly-tanned face. Mrs. Sharma was a childless widow, and she wore a dark green shalwar kameez with a gauzy light scarf wrapped round her shoulders in what Tristan identified as a modern form of dress among women in Dhaka.
"I've been a teacher and now a principal, for twenty-five years," she told him. "This will be a nice change of pace."
"Sure, that's wonderful. There are two properties that my partner has found and we should be able to finalize a deal within two or three days. It would be perfect if you could actually go and look at them with me."
She agreed, and the next day, a Friday, she met him at a location in Mohakhali, not far from one of the private universities. The building was old, but it was two floors and about twelve rooms. There was a small yard in the back, blocked off by high walls that had once been white but now looked brown and grey with stains and dried mold. A tall tree in the next yard hung over the wall and kept the small yard in shadow most of the day. "This is much better than the last property," Tristan sighed, though he was not smiling at the thought of this place.
"He offered to paint the living room area, and there is some furniture to look at. If we want it, he'll leave it for us," the Reverend explained. A veteran of Dhaka, Reverend Blaise had lived in the city after the Liberation War of 1971; he wanted to retire, but he was the only one who knew the Bangladesh network that he had established back in those critical days.
They went inside and looked over the worn furniture and the empty rooms. Tristan counted out how many children could sleep in each upstairs chamber. One was a guest room for foreign visitors. One small room would be set aside for the live-in teacher (others could come and go), and another for the cook. "This would be yours, Mrs. Sharma," he said of a large corner room that overlooked the backyard. She nodded and looked around with sincere interest. There was a large wardrobe in one corner that she accepted when the agent said it was available.
She tilted her head in quiet approval. "This area of Dhaka is good. It's quiet, but close to some universities. I might be able to get a student to come here as a teacher."
"I think that's a great idea," Tristan said, smiling. Did he catch a glimpse of light coming from her eyes? He was sure of it, even if I can't confirm it for you.
A week later Mrs. Sharma moved in, and she had already found a cook who was willing to scrub the inside of the kitchen cabinets on her hands and knees. Tristan came in at about ten o'clock and smiled at Sharma's efficiency. "What's an orphanage without kids though," he said, smiling wide with what he thought was a friendly gesture but which struck Sharma as overly giddy and slightly ridiculous.
"Oh don't worry Mr. Wicks, once word gets out, we'll have to beat them back with sticks!" she said, not at all smiling, and casting a serious look past him as if already worried that a herd of unruly children would come bursting through the door. The metaphor struck Tristan as not quite appropriate for a woman in her position, but he checked himself. It's just an expression, after all, he thought. I'm sure she'd never use a stick on one of those poor orphans. Still, he made a mental note to discuss with her the appropriate disciplinary practices that his organization expected, before leaving her in charge. His partner, the minister, was leaving in three days now that the plans were set in motion, and Tristan felt more or less in control of this projects development. Blaise arrived at noon and all three of them went to lunch in Gulshan.
"Maybe you should move into the orphanage too," Blaise recommended to Wicks as they finished eating. "At least for a week or two. Just to see how it feels from the inside. Once the beds all arrive, and the guest room is set up."
"You mean before the girls arrive?" Mrs. Sharma asked, a bit concerned.
"Would that be a problem do you think? Sometimes your visitors from our organization might be male. I know that all the orphans will be girls, so I guess there won't be any men in the house at all?" Blaise asked.
"I don't think it would be a good idea. The gatekeeper will sleep outside and I'll keep the house locked up tight," Mrs. Sharma said, seriously intent on making it a female stronghold.
Blaise looked at Tristan and raised his eyebrows to show that he was impressed by Mrs. Sharma's apparent sense of discipline. "I think the organization will appreciate that," Blaise said, giving a barely perceptible nod. "I guess that means no house stay, Tristan."
"Of course, Tristan can come any time, during the day. I would certainly expect that, and any of your visitors. I mean, it is your orphanage, your organization's." She didn't quite smile when she said this, but there was a lightness attempted, as she realized that perhaps she was acting a little tyrannical about her position.
"I think it's wonderful, Mrs. Sharma, how you've taken a real sense of ownership in our project," Tristan said, trying to find a way out of what he sensed was a delicate discussion. "I can already tell that this is going to be a big success."
The day before he left, Blaise came by the orphanage to meet Tristan and Mrs. Sharma. She had brought in a carpenter who was going to build desks according to what Tristan thought best. ( 1 ) When Blaise arrived, he was clearly excited and glowed as he approached Mrs. Sharma.
"One of my colleagues here, a fellow minister, has a girl who needs a place right away. Do you think we could bring her in? Tonight?"
Tristan's pale face seemed to light up in a way that Mrs. Sharma considered odd. Is he really so excited about his job? She thought to herself. "Tonight? Well, I suppose. We have a couple of beds ... there's one in the guest room. She could stay there for now. Until I have the girls' rooms painted. It shouldn't be more than two or three days."
"Perfect, oh, that's perfect!" Tristan said, clapping his hands together in what appeared to Mrs. Sharma a prayer pose, as she continued to stare at his silly, wide grin. Tristan and Blaise shared a glowing smile as Tristan completed their common thought out loud. "You'll be able to tell them the orphanage is up and running!"
The fact that Tristan wanted to be there to greet the girl also seemed a bit odd to Mrs. Sharma, but she accepted it as part of their opening ritual, and she went with the cook up to the guest room to make sure it was swept neatly clean for their new arrival. The barren room had just a bed with an old padded mattress and a table without a chair, so it didn't take long to clean it up. Around four-thirty, the Reverend returned with three other people, a very dark-skinned, short minister friend, a thin, small girl who looked about seven, and a shriveled looking woman in a faded sari, with the end wrapped around her head and face.
"This is Mrs. Sharma. Mrs. Sharma, let me introduce our new guest, Pahki." The girl clung to the woman with her and shyly peered up at Mrs. Sharma. "This is her mother, and this is-"
"Her mother?" Tristan asked, interrupting, and then recognizing his interruption excused himself and allowed the Reverend to continue.
"This is Reverend John Christopher. Yes, Tristan, her mother. The girl's father is dead, and she lives with her mother and stepfather, but I guess the stepfather has threatened to throw this poor girl out, so her mother came to John for help."
The mother began immediately to speak in a heavily accented Bangla that Tristan could not at all follow, except he heard the girl's name. "Amar pahki," the woman said, more than once, and stroked the girl's head.
The dark-skinned reverend consoled the woman but with only the lightest of touches on her arm; it was Mrs. Sharma who stepped up and consoled the woman by placing her hand on her shoulder and giving her an aunt-like hug. It struck Tristan that this was a hard task for her, that she wasn't naturally a very nurturing and caring person, but he was impressed that she reached out and tried, and then, after speaking briefly to Reverend John Christopher, they all went upstairs to see the girl's room.
As they walked up the stairs, Blaise spoke quietly to Tristan, "you remember, I think, that we discussed the idea of orphans in Bangladesh."
"I guess I was a bit confused. I thought you meant, children might have parents as in, they might be runaway children, or they might have lost their parents, but I didn't think, like this, that the parent would actually come and bring a child to the orphanage."
"There were two or three children we saw at the Catholic orphanage like that. Pahki's case is fairly common. Stepfathers, or stepmothers, new in-laws, create problems."
"That kind of changes the whole idea of an orphanage, doesn't it?"
"But if we don't accept children like this, they might complain about it, and we need to keep up a spotless public record. For no reason at all, they'll just make trouble and then we'll either have to pay more, or face closing and possible humiliation for nothing."
In the room, Pahki sat on the bed with her mother while Mrs. Sharma tried to look busy walking around the room, commenting on it in Bangla to the mother. Reverends Blaise and John Christopher stood just outside the door, talking quietly and Tristan stood inside the door. Mrs. Sharma felt uncomfortable with the way he stood over them, smiling down at the girl with his silly grin which stretched his face tight with deep lines cutting into his cheeks along the edges of his wide mouth.
"God will watch over you here," Tristan said, and then he looked at Mrs. Sharma. "How do I say God in Bangla?"
"Allah. You just have to say Allah."
"But that's the muslim name, isn't it?"
"God is God, right? Isn't it the same God?" Mrs. Sharma asked.
"Allah's bari," he said, smiling at Pahki's mother.
"You want to say this is God's house?" Mrs. Sharma asked, a bit concerned.
"Well, yes. God watches over it."
Reverend John Christopher was listening and said a sentence in Bangla using "Allah" and "bari" and pointing to both Tristan and Reverend Blaise. Blaise nodded in agreement, and Tristan, who didn't quite understand, accepted it as correct. Then John Christopher said something about "bhalobasha," which Tristan knew was the word for love and he quickly repeated it once the Bangladeshi reverend had finished.
"Yes, bhalobasha. Bhalobasha."
From there, they went downstairs and into the dining area to have some tea and crackers, and Mrs. Sharma, who was sitting at the side of Reverend Blaise, said to both him and Tristan, "we don't really use bhalobasha like that. Love, in English, is not quite the same as the word we use. I don't know that Pahki quite understands what you mean by that."
"Is there some other word, Mrs. Sharma, that you think I should use? To tell her that we care for her here, that she's safe and under God's protection."
"I don't think that whole concept is there in her head. Safe, ok, you can say like shanti, for peace, like a shantibari, or peaceful house," she said, looking towards the girl and repeating the phrase. "You explained it to me that way earlier. This is a safe house, you said, for these girls."
"Sure, that's good. Shantibari. I like that. Eyta shanti bari," Tristan said, trying to wrap his tongue around the Bangla expression.
When the Reverends left, the mother was overjoyed and cried a lot while wringing John Christopher's hands, and Tristan left shortly after they did with a promise to drop in the next day to check on their new ward. "This girl is a sign of good things to come," Tristan said to Mrs. Sharma as he left, but the lightness he felt pouring out of his soul was not reflected back to him from her somber visage framed in silver. She simply wished him good night and closed the door.
Over the next few days, Tristan came regularly to meet young Pahki and to talk to Mrs. Sharma about her education. First, he wanted to test her level of education, and he discovered that she had already picked up a bit of English, which thrilled him to no end. He bought some books for her, with multiple copies for the others he imagined arriving soon, and pens, notebooks, and even a calculator. Everything in the market was so cheap, he was amazed. He came into the house with his bag of supplies and found Pahki alone in the front room. She smiled when she saw him, but her jaw dropped when she saw all the supplies he had bought, and he proudly laid them out on the floor near where she was sitting, saying that they were for her.
"Tomar boi," he said in Bangla, pointing to an English dictionary with pictures. "Pahki's boi" (boi being the word for book). She smiled and spoke in Bangla, but he couldn't follow, but he could see from her face that she was amazed and happy. Every hour, she became happier and more comfortable in the house; these gifts were just amazing to her.
"Thank you," she said, smiling. Then he handed her some pens, notebooks, erasers, pencils, a sharpener, a carry case, a math book... she took each thing like a Christmas gift, excited and laughing. Tristan looked at the thin, small girl and thought to himself, "She's so poor. These little things are all it takes to make her happy. What kind of life she must have led before? She's so thin and tiny! God has certainly led her to our doors."
As they sat on the floor, looking over her supplies, Mrs. Sharma and the cook came out of the kitchen. "Mr. Wicks! I didn't hear you come in."
"I was just showing Pahki all the supplies I bought to help her get started with school. I also bought her this," he said, pulling out a bag of candy and handing it to the girl.
Mrs. Sharma looked like she was trying to smile, but it was clearly not easy for her. She stood with the cook for a second, and then came over to them as the cook retreated. She said something to Pahki in Bangla and the girl picked up her supplies and carried them upstairs.
"Mr. Wicks, really. You should have given these things to me. I would have given them to her when she needed them. These girls, this girl, she's from the street. You might really confuse her with all of this attention."
"What do you mean?"
"Just that, well, it isn't normal. For her. And you don't know her. She might even take these things and sell them. There's no guarantee even that her mother won't come and take her away tomorrow, and she'll take all these things with her. Then what?"
"Oh no, Mrs. Sharma, that's not the case at all. These are just pens and notebooks."
"And the candy?"
"She's a kid. Kids love candy. I bet she hasn't had much candy in her life either."
"No, I'm sure she hasn't."
"What can it mean to her? We are her parents here, now. Just like her parents."
"You don't know these young girls like I do. Just, in the future, please, give these things to me, and I'll make sure she gets them when and where it is appropriate. Isn't that what you hired me for?"
Tristan agreed to her logic and left shortly thereafter, but he wasn't happy with this discussion and he dwelt on it that night while lying in bed. Mrs. Sharma was a childless woman, and an ex-principal. She seemed a bit strict, and she obviously harbored some stereotypes about these girls. Should he challenge her on that? No, he didn't want to confront her when it seemed she thought she was doing her job. Anyway, he would only be there for one more month, and when some more girls came, and it became busy, maybe she would appreciate his helping hand, and it was, he felt, necessary to show the girls that he (and his organization) really had a heart and wanted to reach out to them.
The next day, Mrs. Sharma and Tristan attended a conference for homeless children, where they met a number of other people working for charitable organizations. Immediately, one of the organizers brought forward two girls that needed a new home because they had some trouble at another orphanage and were about to be put back on the streets. Mrs. Sharma was very skeptical of the two, Momena and Shari. Momena was about eleven years old and Shari claimed to be five. Momena had lost about half of her hair, and her dark, brooding eyes bespoke a hard life already lived. Shari, on the other hand, was a plump girl with missing front teeth. With the media presence, however, Tristan convinced her that this would be an excellent opportunity to show the goodwill of their organization, and he made a public announcement that they would gladly take the two orphaned girls, and the two posed for numerous photographers who snapped shots of the foursome as if they were the future family of the world. A photo appeared in one of the English newspapers the next day which showed Tristan with his usual glowing, wide and goofy grin, and Mrs. Sharma, locked in a stone faced expression, the two girls glancing here and there in the foreground.
The arrival of the new girls marked a serious turning point in the orphanage though, because suddenly it was not so quiet and "shanti." Little Shari had a voracious appetite, and she was perpetually going into the kitchen, looking for food. She complained to the cook, then Mrs. Sharma, and finally to Tristan himself that she was not getting enough food. Mrs. Sharma spoke to Tristan about it a few days later, saying, "Shari says she got more food than this at the last home, but I highly doubt it. We give her plenty of rice and vegetables. She tries to order special food, beef, expensive fish. Our cook says even most housewives aren't so demanding."
Momena, on the other hand, proved to be a terror. She fought with Pahki, pulled her hair, broke her pencils and stole her book, all within the first six hours of her arrival in the house. Mrs. Sharma put her in a room by herself and locked the door, and spoke to Tristan about it the next day. "We can't keep her here."
"The press is coming to see the place. Someone from the Dhaka Age newspaper and a photographer from that other Bangla daily you spoke with yesterday."
"She should be in jail, that girl. She'll destroy this place if she stays."
"Let's just give her two more days. We have to try to show her some love. Maybe that will turn her around, or at least slow her down."
Love, Mrs. Sharma thought, with a cynical commentary I will not include here.
The press came, and the girls acted civilly enough, though something made Pahki cry while they left the girls in the other room and gave a tour to the reporters. Mrs. Sharma gave Momena some harsh words when the men left and Tristan stood by and listened. When she was done, he added a few words about "bhalobasha" and "shanti bari," but it was clear that Momena was not listening. He left that evening a bit disturbed, but still hopeful that things would turn around. He still had his faith.
The next day, he found Pahki crying again. The large room downstairs was empty, but he could hear noise upstairs and went to investigate. Mrs. Sharma was in one room with Momena, and they were arguing about something in Bangla, and from the other room, Pahki's low sobs drew him in. She was sitting on her bed and he came in and sat next to her, putting his arm around her shoulder. "Pahki," he said calmly, and she turned and stood against him as he hugged her. She cried into his shirt front for a minute and then looked up at him. "Momena bad," she said in a gasping, sobbing way. "Why...Momena not good. Cano ey mai ikane ashche?" she said, switching to Bangla.
He didn't respond, but he could understand that Pahki was upset about Momena. Pahki was so thin and bony, he noticed that in his arms she almost disappeared, but he released her and stood up, remembering Mrs. Sharma's words. "Ok," he said, though he didn't know what he meant by that. He tried to assure her by patting her head again, and then he walked out, following the voice of Mrs. Sharma which came from the other room.
When she saw him, Mrs. Sharma puffed up in anger. "I can't manage this girl. She has to go. She was in my room this morning, going through my bag! I'm calling the police. She's too bad."
"Where will the police take her?'
"I don't care!" Mrs. Sharma fired back. "She can't stay here. Not with me."
That last comment secured it, and by two o'clock, the police had come and taken the girl away, though Tristan still wasn't sure that this was the best thing to do. Bangladeshi jails do not have good juvenile facilities, and for a young girl, it was even worse. Maybe she had already been there, he thought, and that's how she became this way, but there was no way he could resist Mrs. Sharma's decision at this point. He stayed for lunch with Shari, Pahki and Mrs. Sharma, but left as soon as he could and sat in his hotel room, meditating on the difficulties of working in a foreign country. His degree in International Development at the University of Nova Scotia hadn't prepared him for this at all. Mrs. Sharma was a competent manager, though, so he had faith that she had made the right decision about Momena.
The next day, he was contacted by an agency that was supporting three girls who had been hospitalized. Two of them were sisters, caught in a slum fire that killed their mother, and the other was discovered unconscious and bleeding, near the front door of a hospital, perhaps dropped off by someone who wished to remain anonymous. The agency had paid for their hospital treatments, but now they needed a good home, and the media attention had brought their orphanage's name to the agency's attention. All three girls arrived that evening with a young college graduate, a woman in jeans and a long shirt, with a short hair cut and a bright, attractive face. She mentioned that her co-worker had met them at the homeless children's event, and Tristan remembered the organization's name, though not the co-worker she mentioned.
"We still have room," he announced happily, shaking the young woman's proffered hand. "What are their names?"
"The sisters are Sumi and Suri, but the other girl... well, she can't speak, and we don't know her name. We call her Shopno. It means dream."
Mrs. Sharma and the young woman escorted the girls upstairs, and Tristan waited below, sitting at the dining table. They would have to hire a teacher soon to help Mrs. Sharma, and to start teaching the girls. The next day, Tristan placed ads in some of the Banani coffee shops, on boards where other tutors and student apartments were advertised. A few days later, Mrs. Sharma had a few interviews and Tristan was there, to see the candidates, though he left the interviewing to her. He was downstairs, in the classroom, while Mrs. Sharma took the first girl interviewed upstairs, to show her where she would stay, the girls' rooms, etc. While he was lost in thought, Pahki came into the room and walked up to him, smiling.
"Thank you," she said, glowing with gratitude.
"The girl, Momena gone."
"Oh, that's ok. Actually.," and he wanted to continue, but he knew his English explanation would probably escape her understanding. He simply smiled.
"You love me?" she asked, still smiling.
Inside, he wanted to answer quickly, 'of course,' but he hesitated, remembering the lecture from Mrs. Sharma. He wanted to qualify it. "Love, like a father. Yes."
She smiled wide, but then winced, holding her belly, "Momena hurt me."
"Here," she said, holding her belly. She pulled up her shirt to show him the place, and he saw a small, purple bruise, but there was also a long, dark scar down the side of her abdomen.
"That?!?" he said confused about the various marks.
"No, that my ... not dad. Amma er newton ... new husben."
He reached out to her scar and gently traced his finger along it. Pahki lifted her shirt higher, nearly covering her own face as she gave him a complete view of her young torso.
Quickly withdrawing his hand, Tristan turned to see Mrs. Sharma and the interviewee standing at the entrance to the room. His face turned red as Pahki dropped her shirt and shuffled away from him. Pahki was beginning to speak in Bangla but Mrs. Sharma cut her off.
"What is this!?!" Mrs. Sharma stepped forward while the interviewee stepped back, and Pahki looked to Tristan to speak up. Mrs. Sharma reached out and caught Pahki. She slapped the top of her head and said some harsh words in Bangla. Pahki ran out of the room.
"Mr. Wicks, what is this? What's going on?"
"Mrs. Sharma, she was just showing me a wound, where she said Momena had hurt her."
"Why was her shirt up? Why was your hand on her?"
"She was just showing me where . she has a scar, a long scar..."
"Yes, from her stepfather. Her mother told me, but ... this is ... Mr. Wicks? Are you a doctor?"
"No," he wanted to say with a laugh, but he was held to a serious tone by her investigative method.
"I cannot trust you, Mr. Wicks. It isn't possible. To leave you here, with girls here."
"Excuse me? What?"
"You wanted to see that girl's body? To touch her?"
"No! She complained, she wanted to show me. It was nothing! I mean, she's a little girl. So young."
"She's not that young, Mr. Wicks. She's a girl, almost old enough for marriage."
"Marriage? Mrs. Sharma-"
"Mr. Wicks, please. Please leave. Let me think about this. I'll talk to Reverend Blaise. I can't imagine ... what will happen."
"Mrs. Sharma, what?! Well I'm sure Blaise, Reverend Blaise will understand. She's just a little kid. He saw her himself, and we were just here for a minute, just one minute since you left! What is it about her body ... what do you think, I would have done anything, here, to her, with you, just there ... it's just ... a little girl's innocent sharing!"
"Just leave, please Mr. Wicks. I'll talk it over with Reverend Blaise, and I'll talk to Pahki about this. But please, Mr. Wicks, go, just go."
During the night, Mrs. Sharma called the organization's office in Toronto, and the next evening, after sitting in his room all day stewing over what had happened, Tristan videoconferenced with his director from his rented room.
"Tristan. What happened?"
In as matter of fact way as he could, he explained to his boss the girl, her size, her smallness, her helplessness, her desire to reach out to him, and the difficulty he had in talking to her, and then he quickly narrated the events, almost as quickly as they had happened.
"You've really got yourself in a bind there, Tristan. I don't know what to tell you. Mrs. Sharma refuses to work with you. I believe you, but . She seems like a competent woman."
"Did you talk to her?"
"Yes, by cell phone. I called her just a half hour ago. She insists that she won't work for you anymore. I'm afraid you're going to have to come back here, and we'll keep her there and try to get someone else over there to help her get started."
Tristan sat, shaking his head.
"We can't jeopardize the investment we've already made. She's not going to go to the press, or the police about it. She just wants you to leave. She says the girl is ok. I guess nothing really happened."
"The press? What? For ... nothing! Nothing wrong."
"So something happened."
"No, nothing 'happened'! It was an accident. The girl trusted me, to show me her wound, but the timing was wrong, the way Mrs. Sharma saw it, she didn't understand what was going on."
As he said it, he remembered something this man had said to him in his office. "There are no accidents," he had lectured, expounding on the providence of faith that he believed in. "God plans everything, we just don't know it." Though he didn't repeat it out loud, Tristan knew that they were both thinking of this phrase as they looked at each other on their computer monitors.
"Get the next flight back, Tristan. We'll talk when you get here."
He could feel the tension in his boss' voice. Doubt. Tristan always imagined that the candle that he was would burn brighter, more brilliantly, with time. Now he considered the possibility that candles flicker, and even burn out early. He might not ever get a project like this again. He might have shined here in Dhaka; he might have brought light to so many people, to the future. It was no accident? Could he continue to have faith? As he packed his bags and doubled checked his passport and airline tickets, he reminded himself that he was part of something larger, only a single element-maybe he was leaving something positive behind; after all, the orphanage had opened and that alone could still make a big difference to someone, even to Pakhi. He could take consolation by thinking that perhaps the light had been passed on, and another lightbearer would emerge to carry on where he could not. He closed the door behind him and wondered if he had passed his test, but he sighed when he looked towards the heavens; he saw that all the lights of Dhaka faded quickly into the enormous darkness overhead.
1 This might sound extravagant to Western readers, but the fact is, carpenters are very cheap in Dhaka, and it is usually just as cheap to have one work in your home as it is to buy readymade goods.