Chapter 20 Yuri: Gifts

Yuri stroked Gulag’s head and looked over the misty marshland. Lonely trees pierced the fog here and there and single round huts were just about visible through the gloom.

A few moments earlier Yuri had awoken to a new location. Relieved to have found Gulag by his side, Yuri immediately felt more at home in this new environment. The last one suddenly seemed a long way away and a long time ago.

The silence was eerie, only Gulag’s panting could be heard in the stillness. Yuri guessed it was early evening, but then changed his mind, opting for early morning because of the cool temperature.

There was no birdsong, not even the sound of a breeze, just a damp and unsettling quiet. For a minute Yuri felt a strange euphoria at the idea of being isolated, but it soon wore off, to be replaced with an impatient sense of frustration at the prospect of starting everything over again.

Yuri couldn’t be sure how long he sat there with Gulag, staring into the yawning desolation through the window. A knock at the door sounded deafening and Yuri was irritated for being made to jump with surprise.

He opened the wooden door to reveal Thomas standing before him, tall and looking wizened.

“Why am I not surprised to see you?” grunted Yuri.

“Hello Yuri, and hello Gulag,” said Thomas warmly, stooping down to greet the German Shepherd who was always very pleased to see Thomas, much to Yuri’s annoyance.

“Welcome to your second Jubilee,” said Thomas. “Do you have everything you need?”

Thomas knew full-well that Yuri did have everything he needed but wanted to encourage him to notice the way in which he had been provided for.

Yuri looked around with a token glance.

“Yes, yes, all is fine. Where are we?”

“That’s for us to find out. You are welcome to explore and discover what is here. I don’t pretend to know it myself, as Bull and I have only just arrived here, too.”

“You mean you don’t get to see before everyone else?” Yuri said, raising his eyebrows.

“No, we are in the same boat as everyone in the community.”

Yuri was genuinely surprised to hear that Thomas and Bull didn’t have the masterplan for the new environment.

“A bit unfair of your boss not to tell?” asked Yuri, disparagingly.

“We don’t have an advantage over everyone we are here with. We are not in control, and we are not in charge. We are discovering the New Earth just as you are, and we are here to work with everyone else here,” replied Thomas.

“Ok. Thanks for the speech.”

“Alright Yuri, I’ll see you soon.”

Thomas was used to Yuri’s sarcasm and brusque nature. Thomas longed for Yuri to see that he and Bull were for and not against him, but Yuri was still clearly determined to keep his world small and to distrust people.

It was a damp and colourless environment and felt like the edge of the known New Earth. The community they were with was a new mix of men and fewer in number, which Jesus had explained would mean relationships would have to go deeper.

Thomas returned to his hut to find Bull installing fixtures for candles to give light.

“How many do you think will come tonight?” he asked, looking back at Thomas over his shoulder.

“Not many. I don’t think many will want to be seen as needing anything,” replied Thomas. “My guess is that they will stay in their huts and eat their provisions and only come out when they are very hungry.”

“What will we do with the gifts from Jesus if they don’t come and receive them?”

“We’ll keep them here as best we can,” said Thomas, amused at the thought.

A few hours later Thomas and Bull were waving to signal their position to an angel leading a column of animals across a long causeway to the settlement.

“Welcome,” called Thomas to the angel, who waved back excitedly.

“Hallo!” she called.

A group of dogs followed immediately behind her, wagging their tales. Just behind them a group of cats trotted along and then an assortment of beasts, ranging from donkeys to horses to a few sheep, and even a pair of Indian elephants.

“These are the presents from Jesus?” laughed Bull.

“Yes,” said the angel. “These are the animals that many of the men here cared for in the Previous Age. Jesus has sent them as a gift.”

“Just like when Yuri was given Gulag?” remarked Bull.

“Jesus knows that these creatures will help soften hearts. Many of the men here bonded better with their animals than with other humans.”

“None of them abused animals, I’m assuming?” asked Bull.

“That’s right,” said the angel.

“Ok!” said Bull, “well, this will make things more interesting for them.”

“It’s the way of Agape Love,” said Thomas. “Jesus has been generous to these men. He is not holding their past against them, rather he is looking for ways to invite them to change their hearts. He has always given people chances and opportunities to help them find the love in their own lives.”

“Yes, that’s certainly my experience,” agreed Bull.

By now a couple of the men were lingering nearby, looking inquisitively at the menagerie. One suddenly broke into a run and came to where the elephants were drinking from a channel of water.

They turned to the man, and one reached out and wrapped its trunk around him, lifting the man off the ground. The man reached out his hands and began to caress the elephant’s forehead. The other elephant also extended his trunk into an embrace.

“Ramesh raised those elephants,” said Bull. “He may have hunted and killed people in the war his country was caught in, but he always had a tender heart toward animals.”

Thomas and the angel looked on at the moving spectacle. Ramesh was clearly overcome with emotion.

“It will be difficult for him to take care of them here,” said Thomas. “He will have to work very hard to keep them.”

“Maybe that’s Jesus’ strategy as well?” thought Bull out loud.

“Jesus is giving these men more to do in this jubilee. It’s in the work that further attitudes will begin to change. The men will have to accept the challenge to co-operate more than they did in the last jubilee,” said the angel.

Some of the dogs and cats had started to find places to lie down, in and around Thomas and Bull’s hut.

Another man came out of the gloom and crouched down near the sheep, who immediately came swirling around him.

“Darren was a shepherd,” explained Thomas. “He was brutalised by his grandfather as a young boy and grew into a violent thug with the IRA, but he always felt at peace around his sheep. He was devastated when these yews were killed by a rival gang as vengeance. He had reared them by hand.”

The sound of animal noises had attracted more of the men from their lodgings and reunions were now happening around Thomas and Bull. For a while they stood with the angel enjoying the men receiving their gifts from Jesus.

“Jesus said not to be surprised if it takes a long time for these men to take their eyes off their animals and start seeing each other again,” said the angel.

Thomas and Bull bid the angel farewell and stayed outside as the fog caused the air to get increasingly murky. Gradually the men had gone back to their huts, their animals in tow. A couple of cats and a parrot had not been claimed and they settled down in the hut temporarily.


‘There is no way I can do this on my own,’ thought Yuri to himself. The barn structure was big, bigger than any other building he had seen on the New Earth. Three times his height and as wide as four huts. Yuri felt the familiar dread of being seen to need help.

“So, you’re going to do it?” called Bull, walking toward him.

“I can do it,” said Yuri stoically. “But I will need other men to help.”

“Are you going to ask around to see who could join you?”

Yuri fumed at the idea of having to speak to the other men in the village.

“You ask them,” he said, deliberately not posing it as a question.

“Yeah, I can say that Yuri needs help, if you like?” said Bull.

“No, not ‘needs help’. Wants more men. Say it like that.”

“Right,” said Bull. “But why would that motivate anyone to come and work with you? Would you respond to a request like that?”

Yuri was caught between two poles of his own pride. Too proud to turn down the chance to show his authority, and too proud to recruit help to do the job. Eventually he broke.

“Fine, I won’t do it. I don’t care.”

“So, you won’t finish the barn?” said Bull, checking with Yuri.

Yuri hesitated again. He wanted the respect for converting the barn. It would be a symbol of his power in the community. But he didn’t want to share the glory with anyone else.

“Ok, I’ll do it, but I will do it myself.”

“You do what you feel is best,” Bull said patiently.

Bull left Yuri standing near a door, too daunted by the size of the job to look inside again. Yuri knew he would need to fell and cut up several trees to get the timber to build the floor. He didn’t have a clue how to even start the project but figured that if he were to assert himself this would be a good way to do it. He thought lying to the other men would get him the job, but he hadn’t thought through how big a job it was.

Yuri hadn’t been handy with tools in the Previous Age, preferring to use his ill-gotten gains to pay people to do things for him. However, there was a basic use of saws and hammers that Yuri felt it important, a man, should know. He had already discovered a huge storeroom of all sorts of tools and returned there from the barn to look over the implements available.

To his surprise he found another man already in the storehouse. Dark brown skin and black wavy hair, a short beard and keen, piercing eyes. The man nodded and went back to scanning the walls where all the tools were hanging, one finger tapping his chin.

Yuri felt uneasy having company, not knowing quite what he needed. Adding further vexation to Yuri’s state of mind, the man reached out and took hold of the biggest saw of all. It took him both hands and arms outstretched to lower it down.

“You ok?” asked the man.

“I’m ok,” Yuri answered briskly.

Before he had time to overthink it, Yuri had asked the burning question.

“What you using that for?”

“Trees,” said the man.

“Oh yeah?” said Yuri, trying his best not to sound too interested.

“Yeah. I’m going to make some furniture.”

The man was obviously minding his own business but didn’t seem to be too bothered by the questions.

“Ok. That’s…”

Yuri searched for a compliment, wanting to appear agreeable.

“That’s… very good.”

The man smiled.

“I’m Angush,” said the man, and held out a hand.

Yuri swung a hand in to Angush’s open palm and clenched down tightly, hoping to demonstrate his strength. Angush didn’t seek to match his grip which immediately made Yuri feel rather silly.

“Would you like a hand with the trees?” Yuri surprised himself with the question.

Angush smiled and bowed a brief bow. “I would very much appreciate that.”