‘You must do no evil’ my brother said. ‘That means never steal, never lie and never cheat.’ I looked earnestly at him as he spoke and nodded.
I saw him glance at our mother so I looked at her too. She was thoughtful, her arms were folded across her chest and she was nodding as well.
I was about to leave home for the first time to go to boarding school. The same school my brother had gone to ten years earlier and mother had asked him to give me some advice and encouragement.
‘Many things will tempt you’ Peter - that is my brother’s name - continued ‘but you must not yield, like Jesus, our Lord and saviour you must tell the devil to go back to hell.’
‘Oh Peter you must not swear’ mother said.
I’m not swearing. How am I swearing? I’m just….’
‘Oh never mind’ she cut in ‘go on.’
‘What things will tempt me?’ I asked.
‘Well for one thing,’ Peter said as he cleared his throat ‘there will always be…..’
Mother’s phone rang and she left the room as she answered it. Peter shut the door, came close to me and lowered his voice.
‘Now pay attention, listen carefully and don’t ask any questions’
‘I’ll listen carefully and I won’t ask any questions.’ I said.
‘Good. Forget the crap you just heard me say, you have to steal, everybody does. Your food locker will be broken into and your food will be stolen as will your underwear and money so you replace them by taking someone else’s. Everyone lies so lie also, as a matter of fact you won’t survive if you don’t. You’ve got brains so you don’t have to cheat, if you do you’ll probably be caught. I don’t know how they do it but they somehow find out in the end, then they’ll bring mum and dad in and it will be Christmas with the Franciscans for you.’
I wanted to ask if it would also be Christmas with the Franciscans for me if I am caught stealing or lying but when Peter says ask no questions he means ask no questions so I promised that I would not cheat and said no more.
‘How are we doing?’ Mother was back. ‘I hope you’ve been listening very carefully, what did I miss?’
I looked at Peter, he had his hands in his pockets and was inspecting his shoes. I turned to mother and said, ‘I’m to do unto others as they do unto me,’
‘You mean as you would have them do unto you’ mother said. I nodded even though I didn’t mean that.
‘And I must remember to pray for the Franciscans, to ask God to let them enjoy their Christmas in peace and quiet without visitors.’
‘I don’t think the Franciscans mind having visitors at Christmas but yes you must always pray for them.’ Mother was smiling at me now and from the corner of my eye I saw that Peter no longer looking at his shoes, preferring to stare at me.
‘And Peter said I have brains so….’
‘Peter! James! Time to go,’ we heard our father call out. Peter pushed me, not too gently, towards the door.