Chapter 20 Yuri: Surprising Gifts

Yuri stroked Gulag’s head and looked out of the window over the misty marshland. He could just make out the roofs of round huts and a scattering of trees through the gloom. He had awoken a few moments earlier, relieved to find Gulag by his side. His previous community suddenly seemed a long way away and a long time ago. Yuri wondered if he would feel more at home in this new environment.

The silence was eerie, and only Gulag’s panting could be heard in the stillness. There was no birdsong, not even the sound of a breeze, just a damp and muffled quiet. The temperature was cool and Yuri guessed that it must be early morning.  

Yuri couldn’t be sure how long he sat staring through the window. Initially he felt euphoria at being somewhere new but this was soon been replaced with growing frustration at the prospect of starting over.

A knock at the door jolted him out of his thoughts.  

“Why am I not surprised to see you?” grunted Yuri, as he opened the door and found Thomas standing there.

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

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

Thomas knew that Yuri did have everything, 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, it’s all fine. Where are we?”

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

“You don’t get to see the place before everyone else?” Yuri asked, raising his eyebrows.

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

“A bit unfair of your boss not to tell you,” said Yuri, disparagingly.

“Well, we don’t have an advantage over anyone else here. We’re not in control, and we’re not in charge. We’re discovering the New Earth just like you are, and we’re here to work just like everyone else here.”

“Ok. Thanks for the speech.”

“Alright Yuri, I’ll see you soon.”

Thomas was used to Yuri’s brusque nature. He longed for him to see that he and Bull were on his side and not against him, but Yuri was still clearly determined to hold on to his distrust of people. Thomas returned through the gloom to the hut he shared with Bull. Their new environment seemed damp and colourless and felt like the edge of the known New Earth. There would be fewer men in this new community, and Jesus had explained that relationships would go deeper.

Thomas opened the door to find Bull installing fixtures for candles to give light.

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

“Well, they’ve all been invited, but I don’t think many of them will want to be seen as needing anything. My guess is they’ll stay in their huts, eat their provisions and only come out when they are hungry.”

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

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

A group of dogs followed immediately behind the angel, wagging their tails. Just behind them trotted a group of cats, followed by an assortment of beasts, including donkeys, horses, 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 he gave Gulag to Yuri,” said Bull.

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

“So none of the men here ever abused animals or were cruel to them?” asked Bull.

“Correct,” replied the angel.

Bull chuckled. “Well, this will certainly make things more interesting for them.”

“It’s the way of agape love,” said Thomas. “Jesus has been generous to these men. He doesn’t hold their past against them, and he’s always looking for ways to encourage them to change their hearts. He gives people opportunities to help them find love in their own lives.”

By now a few men from the settlement had appeared and were looking with interest at the menagerie. One suddenly broke into a run and came to where the elephants were drinking from a water channel.

One of the elephants reached out and gently explored the man’s face and body with his trunk before wrapping it around him and lifting him off the ground. The man reached out his hands, clearly overcome with emotion, and rubbed the elephant’s forehead. The other elephant extended its trunk into the embrace.

“Ramesh raised those elephants,” said Bull. “He may have hunted and killed people in the war that divided his country, but he kept a tender heart for animals.”

“It will be difficult for him to take care of them here,” said Thomas. “He’ll have to work hard… but maybe that’s all part of Jesus’ strategy.” 

“Yes, Jesus is giving these men more to do in this jubilee period,” explained the angel. “It’s through working hard and accepting the challenge to co-operate that attitudes will begin to change.” 

Another man appeared out of the gloom and crouched down near the sheep, which immediately gathered around him.

“Darren was a shepherd,” explained Thomas. “He was raised in rural Northern Ireland but was abused by his grandfather as a young boy. He grew up into a violent young man and joined the IRA, but he always felt at peace around his sheep. He was devastated when he found these sheep with their throats cut by rival paramilitaries.”

The noise of the animals had brought men out of their huts and reunions were now taking place all around Thomas and Bull. For a while they stood with the angel enjoying watching the men receive their gifts.

Thomas and Bull bade the angel farewell but stayed outside until the fog began to roll in from the marshes. Gradually the men returned to their huts with their animals, and the two friends returned to their new home with a couple of unclaimed cats and a parrot as temporary housemates.


”There is no way I can do this on my own,” thought Yuri. When it was finished, the barn was going to be 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 shame that he experienced whenever he needed to ask for help.

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

“I can do it,” replied Yuri stoically. “But I will need other men.”

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

“You ask them,” he replied.

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

“Not ‘needs help’. Wants more men. Say it like that.”

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

Too egoistic to turn down the chance to earn admiration, but too proud to recruit help to get the job done, Yuri wavered before breaking.

“Fine, I won’t do it. I don’t fucking care, anyway.”

“So you won’t finish the barn?” said Bull.

Yuri hesitated again. He wanted respect and the barn would be a symbol of his authority.

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

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

Bull left Yuri standing near one of the doors, too daunted by the size of the job to look inside again. Yuri knew he would need to fell several trees for timber to build the floor but didn’t have much clue how to proceed with the project after that. He’d lied to the other men about his ability, not realising the scale of what was required.

Yuri hadn’t been handy with tools in the Previous Age, preferring to use his money to pay people to do things for him. However, he’d always felt there were basic things about saws and hammers that, as a man, he should know. He had already discovered a large storeroom full of all sorts of tools, and he headed there now to see what was available.

He was surprised to find another man already there. The man nodded at him and went back to scanning the walls where the tools were hanging.

Yuri felt self-conscious having company, as he was aware he didn’t know what he needed. He was further vexed to see the man reach out and with both hands lift down the biggest saw from the wall. 

“You ok?” the man asked Yuri, as he turned to go

“I’m ok,” Yuri replied curtly, but then, before he had time to overthink it, he added, “What are you going to use that saw for?”

 “Cutting down trees. I’m going to make some furniture.”

“Ok, that’s… good.” Yuri searched for a response, wanting to be agreeable without appearing too interested.

The man smiled.

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

Yuri swung his hand into the man’s and clenched it tight. Angush didn’t seek to match his grip, which made Yuri feel rather foolish.

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

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