a good thing after all. As far as Bean could see, though, the dead kids would rather have been alive,
just with more food. If God loved them so much, and he could do whatever he wanted, then why
wasn't there more food for these kids? And if God just wanted them dead, why didn't he let them
die sooner or not even be born at all, so they didn't have to go to so much trouble and get all excited
about trying to be alive when he was just going to take them to his heart. None of it made any sense
to Bean, and the more Sister Carlotta explained it, the less he understood it. Because if there was
somebody in charge, then he ought to be fair, and if he wasn't fair, then why should Sister Carlotta
be so happy that he was in charge?
But when he tried to say things like that to her, she got really upset and talked even more about
God and used words he didn't know and it was better just to let her say what she wanted and not
It was the reading that fascinated him. And the numbers. He loved that. Having paper and pencil
so he could actually write things, that was really good.
And maps. She didn't teach him maps at first, but there were some on the walls and the shapes of
them fascinated him. He would go up to them and read the little words written on them and one day
he saw the name of the river and realized that the blue was rivers and even bigger blue areas were
places with even more water than the river, and then he realized that some of the other words were
the same names that had been written on the street signs and so he figured out that somehow this
thing was a picture of Rotterdam, and then it all made sense. Rotterdam the way it would look to a
bird, if the buildings were all invisible and the streets were all empty. He found where the nest was,
and where Poke had died, and all kinds of other places.
When Sister Carlotta found out that he understood the map, she got very excited. She showed him
maps where Rotterdam was just a little patch of lines, and one where it was just a dot, and one
where it was too small even to be seen, but she knew where it would be. Bean had never realized
the world was so big. Or that there were so many people.
But Sister Carlotta kept coming back to the Rotterdam map, trying to get him to remember where
things from his earliest memories were. Nothing looked the same, though, on the map, so it wasn't
easy, and it took a long time for him to figure out where some of the places were where people had
fed him. He showed these to Sister and she made a mark right on the map, showing each place. And
after a while he realized -- all those places were grouped in one area, but kind of strung out, as if
they marked a path from where he found Poke leading back through time to ...
To the clean place.
Only that was too hard. He had been too scared, coming out of the clean place with the janitor. He
didn't know where it was. And the truth was, as Sister Carlotta herself said, the janitor might have
lived anywhere compared to the clean place. So all she was going to find by following Bean's path
backward was maybe the janitor's flat, or at least where he lived three years ago. And even then,
what would the janitor know?
He would know where the clean place was, that's what he'd know. And now Bean understood: It
was very important to Sister Carlotta to find out where Bean came from.
To find out who he really was.
Only ... he already knew who he really was. He tried to say this to her. "I'm right here. This is who
I really am. I'm not pretending."
"I know that," she said, laughing, and she hugged him, which was all right. It felt good. Back
when she first started doing it, he didn't know what to do with his hands. She had to show him how
to hug her back. He had seen some little kids -- the ones with mamas or papas -- doing that but he
always thought they were holding on tight so they wouldn't drop off onto the street and get lost. He
didn't know that you did it just because it felt good. Sister Carlotta's body had hard places and
squishy places and it was very strange to hug her. He thought of Poke and Achilles hugging and
kissing, but he didn't want to kiss Sister Carlotta and after he got used to what hugging was, he
didn't really want to do that either. He let her hug him. But he didn't ever think of hugging her
himself. It just didn't come into his mind.
He knew that sometimes she hugged him instead of explaining things to him, and he didn't like
that. She didn't want to tell him why it mattered that she find the clean place, so she hugged him
and said, "Oh, you dear thing," or "Oh, you poor boy." But that only meant that it was even more
important than she was saying, and she thought he was too stupid or ignorant to understand if she
tried to explain.
He kept trying to remember more and more, if he could, only now he didn't tell her everything
because she didn't tell *him* everything and fair was fair. He would find the clean room himself.
Without her. And then tell her if he decided it would be good for him to have her know. Because
what if she found the wrong answer? Would she put him back on the street? Would she keep him
from going to school in the sky? Because that's what she promised at first, only after the tests she
said he did very well only he would *not* go in the sky until he was five and maybe not even then
because it was not entirely her decision and that's when he knew that she didn't have the power to
keep her own promises. So if she found out the wrong thing about him, she might not be able to
keep *any* of her promises. Not even the one about keeping him safe from Achilles. That's why he
had to find out on his own.
He studied the map. He pictured things in his mind. He talked to himself as he was falling asleep,
talked and thought and remembered, trying to get the janitor's face back into his mind, and the
room he lived in, and the stairs outside where the mean lady stood to scream at him.
And one day, when he thought he had remembered enough, Bean went to the toilet -- he liked the
toilets, he liked to make them flush even though it scared him to see things disappear like that --
and instead of coming back to Sister Carlotta's teaching place, he went the other way down the
corridor and went right out the door onto the street and no one tried to stop him.
That's when he realized his mistake, though. He had been so busy trying to remember the janitor's
place that it never occurred to him that he had no idea where *this* place was on the map. And it
wasn't in a part of town that he knew. In fact, it hardly seemed like the same world. Instead of the
street being full of people walking and pushing carts and riding bikes or skating to get from one
place to another, the streets were almost empty, and there were cars parked everywhere. Not a
single store, either. All houses and offices, or houses made into offices with little signs out front.
The only building that was different was the very one he had just come out of. It was blocky and
square and bigger than the others, but it had no sign out in front of it at all.
He knew where he was going, but he didn't know how to get there from here. And Sister Carlotta
would start looking for him soon.
His first thought was to hide, but then he remembered that she knew all about his story of hiding
in the clean place, so she would also think of hiding and she would look for him in a hiding place
close to the big building.
So he ran. It surprised him how strong he was now. It felt like he could run as fast as a bird flying,
and he didn't get tired, he could run forever. All the way to the corner and around it onto another
Then down another street, and another, until he would have been lost except he started out lost
and when you start out completely lost, it's hard to get loster. As he walked and trotted and jogged
and ran up and down streets and alleys, he realized that all he had to do was find a canal or a stream
and it would lead him to the river or to a place that he recognized. So the first bridge that went over
water, he saw which way the water flowed and chose streets that would keep him close. It wasn't as
if he knew where he was yet, but at least he was following a plan.
It worked. He came to the river and walked along it until he recognized, off in the distance and
partly around a bend in the river, Maasboulevard, which led to the place where Poke was killed.
The bend in the river -- he knew it from the map. He knew where all of Sister Carlotta's marks had
been. He knew that he had to go through the place where he used to live on the streets in order to
get past them and closer to the area where the janitor might have lived. And that wouldn't be easy,
because he would be known there, and Sister Carlotta might even have the cops looking for him
and they would look there because that's where all the street urchins were and they would expect
him to become a street urchin again.
What they were forgetting was that Bean wasn't hungry anymore. And since he wasn't hungry, he
wasn't in a hurry.
He walked the long way around. Far from the river, far from the busy part of town where the
urchins were. Whenever the streets started looking crowded he would widen his circle and stay
away from the busy places. He took the rest of that day and most of the next making such a wide
circle that for a while he was not in Rotterdam anymore at all, and he saw some of the countryside,
just like the pictures -- farmland and the roads built up higher than the land around them. Sister
Carlotta had explained to him once that most of the farmland was lower than the level of the sea,
and great dikes were the only thing keeping the sea from rushing back onto the land and covering
it. But Bean knew that he would never get close to any of the big dikes. Not by walking, anyway.
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