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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

The Schooldays of Jesus

J M Coetzee
Harvill Secker


From Chapter 1

He was expecting Estrella to be bigger. On the map it shows up as a dot of the same size as Novilla. But whereas Novilla was a city, Estrella is no more than a sprawling provincial town set in a countryside of hills and fields and orchards, with a sluggish river meandering through it.

Will a new life be possible in Estrella? In Novilla he had been able to rely on the Office of Relocations to arrange accommoda­tion. Will he and Ines and the boy be able to find a home here? The Office of Relocations is beneficent, it is the very embodiment of beneficence of an impersonal variety; but will its beneficence extend to fugitives from the law?

Juan, the hitchhiker who joined them on the road to Estrella, has suggested that they find work on one of the farms. Farmers always need farmhands, he says. The larger farms even have dor­mitories for seasonal workers. If it isn't orange season it is apple season; if it isn't apple season it is grape season. Estrella and its surrounds are a veritable cornucopia. He can direct them, if they wish, to a farm where friends of his once worked.

He exchanges looks with Ines. Should they follow Juan's advice? Money is not a consideration, he has plenty of money in his pocket, they could easily stay at a hotel. But if the authorities from Novilla are really pursuing them, then perhaps they would be better off among the nameless transients.

'Yes,' says Ines.'Let us go to this farm.We have been cooped up in the car long enough. Bolivar needs a run.'

'I feel the same way,' says he, Simon. 'However, a farm is not a holiday camp. Are you ready, Ines, to spend all day picking fruit under a hot sun?'

'I will do my share,' says Ines.'Neither less nor more.'

'Can I pick fruit too?' asks the boy.

'Unfortunately no, not you,' says Juan. 'That would be against the law. That would be child labour.'

'I don't mind being child labour,' says the boy.

'I am sure the farmer will let you pick fruit,' says he, Simon. 'But not too much. Not enough to turn it into labour.'

They drive through Estrella, following the main street. Juan points out the marketplace, the administrative buildings, the mod­est museum and art gallery. They cross a bridge, leave the town behind, and follow the course of the river until they come in sight of an imposing house on the hillside. 'That is the farm I had in mind,' says Juan.'That is where my friends found work.The refugio is at the back. It looks dreary, but it's actually quite comfortable.'

The refugio is made up of two long galvanized-iron sheds linked by a covered passage; to one side is an ablution block. He parks the car. No one emerges to greet them save a grizzled, stiff-legged dog who, from the limit of his chain, growls at them, baring yel­lowed fangs.

Bolivar unfolds himself and slides out of the car. From a dis­tance he inspects the foreign dog, then decides to ignore him.

The boy dashes into the sheds, re-emerges.'They've got double bunks!' he shouts.'Can I have a top bunk? Please!'