Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Call

A cold November evening was descending upon the city of Vernal, Utah. Smoke was coming out of the chimneys, forming narrowing paths towards the sky. A light breeze was blowing the old yellow leaves into someone’s garage, through the gates forgotten open, in the small provincial city. The trees and bushes were preparing for their winter sleep. The birds on the branches were more hurried, but quieter. The cats were bulkier and fuller from over-eating on Chinese turkeys from Thanksgiving. Children were already writing Christmas letters to Santa Claus with their Christmas wishes.

The Mormon temple on the main square was brightly lit, as usual, like the hall in Beverly Hills, on the night of the Oscars. Well-kept and clean, the white palace dazzled like a vision from a winter fairytale. A palace, from which at any moment, it looked like as if a Snow White would come out. Unfortunately, mostly Santas were emerging from it.

The family of Edward Nelson was preparing the table for the Saturday dinner. Mister Nelson, an aging real estate broker, father of a son and three younger daughters, Mormon fourth generation, had a special reason to celebrate – his son Mathew, who had just turned 19 in August, had received his calling for a full-time mission. Mathew was a humble, quiet boy, who had graduated high-school with a perfect record. His father advised him to study medicine after his mission, but Mathew loved poetry and theatre and secretly dreamt of a different future than butchering human organs. Mathew’s grandparents were invited. Mathew’s mother, Jane Nelson, had also invited her older sister and her brother-in-law. Mathew’s three younger sisters were running around the house, dressed in light, frilly dresses, putting a smile on everyone’s face. The big news was going to be announced in front of the whole family.

In the dining room, which was growing into a spacious living room with a fireplace, the table for the guests was set. Mathew’s father and grandfather were already sitting at the table quietly expecting the warm, tasty food. They were looking at the family album. Mathew went up to his room on the second floor. In the corner of the living room, Mathew’s grandmother was gently playing the piano. The cat was lying lazily on the leather sofa. The wood was cracking in the fireplace. There was the light aroma of chicken, baked with broccoli and blue cheese, going around the house. American idyll! The cuckoo clock struck 8 pm. The uncle, Mr. Burns, was looking through a book from the lavish home library. He was dressed in an extravagant yellow shirt, wearing a blue bowtie with white dots, and he was an English literature teacher in the local high school. He was starting to get rather annoying with his latest idea to knock at least 10 years off his age. Mathew’s aunt, dressed in an expensive but tasteless green dress, also a teacher but of chemistry, was helping her sister in the kitchen.

There was tension in the kitchen. The pans and plates were making more noise than usual.

‘What is it, Jane?’ The aunt worryingly asked her sister, while handing her the washed carrots.

‘Nothing!’ replied Jane, and continued ‘I have told your Pushkin 100 times that I hate this bowtie he’s wearing!’

Bam! At that moment Jane dropped a plate on the floor. Oh dear! The plate broke in a million pieces.

‘Darn it!’ cried out Jane ‘The set is a gift from my mother – it is German china with a coat of arms.’

Mister Nelson ran to the kitchen and embraced his wife. She began to cry in his arms.

‘Don’t worry, honey, nothing happened’ he whispered, ‘It is just a plate – it’s no big deal! Come on children, sit at the table,’ he calmed down his daughters that had also come to see what had happened. Mr Nelson raised his eyebrows and took a deep sigh – only he knew the real reason for his wife’s nervousness – their favourite son Mathew was going on a mission far, far away, close to Turkey, in a small, poor and developing country.