Chapter 5.     Sean Ventura

There were a few more comments on the reading, and then attention turned to the mail. Despite their apparent poverty, the group possessed a laptop computer, mobile phone, and an email account. With it, they were able to pick up instantaneous communications from other groups like themselves all over Australia… or anywhere in the world for that matter.

Sometime during the mail call, Sean wandered down the hallway and into the lounge room. He climbed up on Diane's lap and rubbed his eyes as he waited patiently for the meeting to finish. There was an email letter from Cherry, who had been visiting a sister community in Adelaide for the past fortnight. With her had gone Martha, a 19 year old who had recently joined the Sydney group. Cherry and Martha had planned to return to Sydney on a bus that was to leave Adelaide that same night, and arrive back in Sydney on Friday night. However, acording to the latest mail, Martha had decided that she wanted to stay on with the Adelaide group, and so Cherry was coming back alone. It was the first face to face contact that anyone from the Sydney group had made with the Adelaide group. In her letter Cherry reassured the others that Martha would be in good hands. She said that the dif ferences between the two groups were insignificant.

In Adelaide there were three single men, a married couple, and one single woman. The couple was not as old as Dave and Cherry, and the singles were all in their twenties. It was understandable, Cherry said, that because of her age, Martha felt more comfortable with the younger group.

Cherry also reported that the Adelaide group had a teaching about staying single that was interesting.

"They teach that all sexual relationships, including legitimate marriages, need to be sacrificed for the greater good of building the kingdom of heaven," she wrote in her email. "They don't outlaw marriage, but they do advise strongly against it, and they advise even more heavily against married couples having children. The argument against having children, as I understand it, is much the same as the argument against marriage, that is, that it leaves us freer to help others besides our own little nuclear family."

The letter went on: "But they also worry that children may one day be used as a lever by the system, to pry the rest of us away from our duty to God."

When mail call was over, the last of ficial duty before they could settle down to breakfast was a group run. Residents of Redfern had grown accustomed to these strange people charging around the block each morning at 8:45am.

Another peculiarity about Dave's dress was that he always, day and night, wore running shorts and a T-shirt under his dress clothes. At any time, he could shed his more formal clothes and be ready to run. That was his reason for wearing joggers all the time as welll. Dave had been a serious runner in his younger days, and he still could give Juan and Greg a run for their money. A handicap system had been worked out for the morning run, which had them each starting at dif ferent times, and all finishing together. Sean only went around the block three times while the others went around five times. Cherry normally sent them of f and called out their times at the end of each lap. Anna was filling in for Cherry today.

"Mummy, can you run with me today?" asked Sean as they were preparing to start. Although Diane started only a few seconds behind Sean on the handicap system, she would usually overtake him before the first corner, and then pull quickly away from him in order to complete the extra circuits in the allotted twenty minutes. Diane gave Juan a pleading look, but he frowned and shook his head.

"No, you be a big boy and run by yourself," said Diane. "You're almost six, you know. I'll go with you on the big fun run on Sunday, but for now, you run by yourself. Run hard today, and we'll take tomorrow of f, so we'll be rested up for Sunday. How's that sound?" "OK."

Sean accepted Diane's refusal without complaint; and he was soon enjoying his run. The others shouted encouragement to him each time they ran past - though they didn't pass him so often today, because in the end, Sean finished his three laps more than ten seconds before any of the others had finished their five.

Breakfast was at 9:30, on completion of the run and showers.

"Mummy, if I eat all my Weet-Bix, can I read an extra story today?" asked Sean as they settled down to breakfast.

"I suppose so," said Diane.

"But first you have to put sultanas on it," Sean insisted.

"You drive a hard bargain, little man," replied his mother, pretending to think about his terms for a moment. "OK, we'll put sultanas on it," she concluded. "And look what else we have for you: Kiwi fruit!"

"Oh boy! Kiwi fruit. My favorite!" replied Sean. The fruit was part of Diane and Greg's haul from Buy-Rite. The Weet-Bix had been donated in bulk by Sanitarium Health Foods.

Sean ate his breakfast quietly, listening intently to the conversation going on around him. He had never lived with other children, and the others treated him so much like an adult that he often believed he was on a par with the rest of them.

"Is Martha going to marry one of the people from the other group?" he asked during a lull in the conversation?

"I don't think so," said Diane.

"If she doesn't marry them, can I marry her?"

"You're a little too young to get married now," said Diane. "Why do you want to marry Martha?" "Because if I marry her, then she won't want to leave us, and she'll stay with us all the time." Over the years a number of people had come and gone from the little fellowship. A few had moved on, like Martha, to join other communities. But most had simply returned to their former life after a few weeks or a few months with the Bin Raiders. Sean had seen several members leave during his short life.

"God wants us to think about his big big big family," said Diane. "Martha is still in God's family, even when we can't see her. You can write to her, and maybe sometime we'll go and see her. Won't that be fun?"

"Can I go see her today?"

"Not today. But you can write to her today. How would that be?"

"Can I do it for my school work?"

"Sure, you can do that," said Diane with a playful touch of Sean's chin.

Then, after a pause, Sean added, "But I still want to read an extra story."

Diane had been teaching Sean to read and write from the time he was two years old. He knew hundreds of words already and he had started to teach himself new ones by devouring more and more books. He would type his own letters too, using the computer. Diane had worked hard to make learning a treat rather than a chore, and it was already paying off.

Juan and Diane could not be certain that Sean wasn't some kind of a genius as well. But whether it came from their genes or from their teaching ability, Sean was a powerful testimony for the benefits of their lifestyle.

His complexion was dark, like his father's; he was short for his age, like his mother; and he was full of boundless energy like both of his parents.

It was almost noon before Sean had finished his reading and writing exercises and was ready to leave for the beach with the other members of the community. He clambered into the back of the van, still clutching a book that he had decided to take with him to read at the beach.

When they arrived, Diane laid out their lunch on a blanket; Sean settled down with his book; and Greg, Juan, Dave, and Anna had a preliminary stroll around the surrounding streets.

After lunch a further search led to plans for four dif ferent escape routes, to be used in the event of an emergency the following week. Two of the routes went through apartment buildings and over backyard fences, and two of them went in opposite directions on the beach itself. Hiding places included the toilet block roof, a nearby tree, some thick bushes, and the surf lifesaving club's boat shed. The shed was built into the beach retaining wall. They had discovered during their all-night surveillances that it was regularly left unlocked overnight.

At one stage, Greg and Juan had strolled up a private driveway beside a house that was situated half a block away from the beach. A nature reserve was on the far side of the block, and they believed that this was the shortest route to it.

They hopped over a low fence, and just as they entered the backyard, they spotted four people seated around a picnic table. Juan's heart stopped. They had hardly expected to interrupt a barbecue at three in the afternoon on a weekday in August. Everyone at the table turned to look at the two men in surprise as they entered the yard. It was too late to back out now, but Greg displayed the same charm that had worked so well in the Buy-Rite confrontation the day before. He smiled broadly and nodded in the direction of the table, while Juan did the best he could to hide his shaking hands.

"G'day. Did ya' see a little black and white kitten come this way?" Greg asked.

"No, I didn't see one. Did you?" the residents each asked of the others. Greg had succeeded in overcoming any suspicion.

"Look, there it is. In the park!" said Greg as he raced for the back fence and vaulted it.

Several people jumped up from the table to see the kitten for themselves. It was apparently out of sight before they reached the fence, although Greg was (apparently) racing keenly after it, shouting, "Domino! Here, Domino!"

"I'll go 'round this way and see if we can corner it," said Juan bashfully as he backed quickly out of the driveway.

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