Further induction into the cult.
“Scallerenes (skal-er-enes) call this area "The Naughty Gardens",” she explained pressing a button. A shrill buzzing sounded from within. Moments later a tall man with a bushy beard unfastened the gates and opened them wide as we entered, then closed them dutifully after us.
“Who are the Scallerenes?” I asked, studying the nursery with interest. There were about a dozen gardens, each devoted to a specified species of plant, flower or shrub. Lining the east and western walls were various fruit trees whilst several barns and sheds sat at the rear.
“The term "Sallerene" is derived from Scallywag and Serene. Scallerenes, or Scallies as some call them, are children that have been born and raised in the fellowship, or at least came here at a very early age. They range from the ages of five to twelve and are graded in accordance to how old they are.”
“I’m a "Grade Three",” added Jamie, proudly pointing to the G3 logo embodied on the front of his grey hooded sweat-top. “That’s cuz I’m eight. Eights’ have two noughts, making them double naughty Scallies.”
“I see…and they call this "The Naughty Gardens" because?” I asked.
“Misbehaving Scallerenes are made to weed them,” replied Petra “same principal as a naughty chair, only it’s more to do with manual labour.”
“So members of the fellowship learn to dislike gardening from a very early age.” I concluded with a deep sigh. “They never see beauty in a garden; only punishment...that’s so sad.”
Petra seized my upper left arm and gazed at me curiously, as if suddenly enlightened by some deep and meaningful revelation. Though slight in build, she nevertheless was surprisingly strong and I had no doubt that anyone on the receiving end of one of her punches would experience severe pain.
“Be that as it may, manual labour is the penalty bad Scallerenes must endure,” she asserted with conviction, releasing my arm “That or dishpan-hands…but it hasn’t put them off the idea of working in a kitchen. Some have gone on to be great chefs.”
“And some that get lots of timeouts end up wallpaper and painting people,” added Jamie, absently exploring his left nostril with his index finger.
A dark cloud obscured the early morning sun and a cold southerly breeze cut though my light attire, chilling me to the bone. I quickly shoved my hands in the hip pockets of the khaki jacket Petra had given me earlier and shivered, but Petra and Jamie seemed unaffected by the abrupt change of climate.
“You know the difference between a weed and flower or plant?” she asked me, prizing the boy’s finger from his nostril and slapping the back of his hand. “Please be honest, a lot of time and efforts go into maintaining these gardens and I would hate to see it all go to waste from negligence; intentional or otherwise.”
“My aunt told me "if in doubt don’t pull it out,” I replied, hoping to demonstrate responsibility and ease her distrust. Petra folded her arms and stared at me incredulously. Jamie giggled inanely. “Once it’s out it no always possible to replant again…because of damaged roots and things.”
“Your Aunt sounds a wise and practical woman. Now, normally gardening punishments are assigned in hourly allotments, depending on how bad a Scallerene has been. As this is your first official Fellowship infringement I’m only going to give you forty five minutes as a warning.”
“That’s very kind of you, Petra.”
“I’ve got to go and run some errands. Jamie will keep you company and lend a hand, or give advice if you so need it.”
“I’m the "Fellowship Number-oh accelerator!”” he declared, grinning. “That’s Latin speak for “Number one helper”, aye Pets.”
“That’s Numero-uno auxiliator, sweetheart,” she calmly corrected without a hint of distain.
The sky was getting darker and I could feel warm moisture in the air. I looked upwards briefly and watched the dark clouds merging then shifted my attention to Jamie’s attire.
“Thanks but I’ll be alright on my own, if it’s all the same to you,” I offered. Why should he endure a certain drenching just because of my door locking negligence?
“Don’t you want my help?” fretted Jamie; his eyes suddenly misting. He protruded his bottom lip and let his shoulders sag in a well-practised pouting pose.
“Of course I want your help Jamie, but I think it’s going to rain, and might end up getting all wet.”
“Don’t be silly, there was no mention of rain on today’s forecast. Jamie’s staying here. I can’t take him where I’m going and I won’t have him wandering the compound alone. He needs someone to look after him and you need someone to supervise you and make sure you’re weeding and not slacking off.”
Petra’s tone left little room for contradiction so I begrudgingly accepted Jamie’s assistance/supervision. She embraced her nephew for a few seconds then kissed his cheek, before finally leaving us to our assignment.
“They keep blood and guts in that red shed over there,” announced Jamie, pointing to one of the dilapidated wooden sheds. “You wanna check it out?”
“Maybe later, we’d best weed this first,” I retorted, crouching down and plucking out some of the spindly weeds.
Petra’s temperament was still what one of my relations used to refer to as an unknown quantity and prudence warned against the pitfalls of overstepping boundaries until I knew for certain the full extent of her wrath. So far she had not struck me in anger but it was still very much early days.
“Aunty Pets says the shed’s like off limits, and locked and stuff and we ain’t loud to go in there, but Ruby learn-did me a how to get in. It’s a secret and I ain’t apposed to tell anyone about it or he’ll kick my butt.”
“So why are you telling me? I have always been told the best way to keep a secret safe is not to tell anyone that you have a secret to keep. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“What if you’re like in a dark room and there’s this black cat you can’t see. If you accidently stand on its tail it’ll scratch and bite you.”
“So, things you don’t know about can hurt as much as things you do and….”
Jamie’s voice suddenly trailed and he ceased talking. His face turned pale and eyes once again misted. He slowly rose to his feet and gulped nervously. Seconds later footsteps approached us from behind.
“Hey “Three Quarter Dumbo”! Looking forward to your pelting this afternoon?” sounded a gruff voice. I turned round and saw a thickset teenager wearing a red jacket and burgundy track pants.
“Please leave me alone,” whimpered Jamie.
“It’s gunna’ really sting ya know,” taunted the teen “make you yelp like a beaten dog and I’ll be there laughing.”
“I didn’t do it, Pedro…honest I didn’t.”
“What’s going on?” bellowed another voice, seconds later the bearded man who had let us in appeared from seemingly no-where “How many times do I have to tell you not to wander off from your work!”
“I’m sorry sir,” responded Pedro, his threatening demeanour quickly receding.
“Get back to filling that wheel-barrow this instant Boy, or you’ll be taking a trip to Victor’s office;is that clear?”
“Four o'clock, scarlet’s wall. Don’t be late,” stated Pedro briefly turning his attention to Jamie then scurrying back to his assigned duties, with the bearded slave-driver following close behind.
“What was all that about?” I asked Jamie, but he seemed hesitant to respond so I decided to allow him his privacy.
The temperature dropped further and a heavy shower of rain challenged both Petra and the weather bureau’s authority.