The Migrant Genius

11 Jul

Jero did not at all resemble a typical mountaineer taking to the road in pursuit of work.

He had extremely short stature, and lacked the size and strength of the majority of carpenters or masons from his village of Pear.

As a member of a gang making a trek over the border into Buphland, the small teenager had looked ahead with curiosity and excitement to what he might experience in the cities of the more advanced and developed neighboring country.

The Chief Master of the migrating gang from the village of Pear was the white-haired giant called Serio. This head of the mountaineers with building skills took interest in the training and development of the young novice, Jero.

“Your uncles have taught you many details of our construction crafts,” the oldster told the orphan before the team of workers left for the boundary of Buphland. “It will be difficult for you to leave your mother for the first time, but you will be with our village workmen and never alone. Pear will be waiting our return in the fall. Only women and children are home during the months of the summer.

“But we all have high hopes for you, Jero. You have already revealed to us the signs of innovative intelligence of our Mountain Geniuses. The Buphs will be eager to hire a carpenter as talented as you have proven yourself already.”

How did it feel to young, little Jero to be labelled a Genius by the most senior migrant worker from Pear?

He did not know what to expect once he was over in Buphland with the other building craftsmen and artisans from his small, distant village.

Buphgrad was a growing city of recent origin, the national capital for only the last twenty-five years. It had a voracious demand for skilled, cheap labor and drew a flood of men seeking employment from the neighboring land of Gora.

Some places across the border were known for their confectioners and coffee makers, others went to work as cooks and waiters. But highlanders like those from Pear tended to enter the ranks of construction workers hired by contractors who themselves were most often Gorans themselves.

Gang Chief Serio had for years brought his craftsmen to jobs provided by the big building entrepreneur named Alpho. This fat, prosperous businessman was used to using natives of Pear as trustworthy masters who could be depended on for fine handiwork. He was the organizer who won the contract to construct a new general hospital for Buph and brought in Serio and his team, including Jero.

The group of carpenters and masons from Pear found rooms in the migrant quarter of the capital, in a hotel-eatery owned by a native from their own village in Gora. The facility was overcrowded with summer migrants from many locations over the border. But they could depend on familiar cooking by kitchen workers who knew what their fellow-countrymen craved and were used to.

The gang to which Jero belonged had the reputation of being sober and industrious, unlike the heavy drinkers from other mountain locations. Those from Pear tended to save most of their wages and send back transfer checks to their dependents back home.

Once the team was settled into its rooms, Serio stopped Jero in the upper corridor and spoke to him in a personal tone.

“I want you to come with me to the house of Alpho, the contractor, this evening. It will be a good experience for you, and there will be a lot for you to learn from what we accomplish in laying out the hospital plan.”

Jero, smiling with joy, accepted the invitation and looked forward to the benefits that might fall to him from being present at the meeting.

Alpho owned a low bungalow in the neighborhood of prosperous traders and craftsmen in the migrant quarter of Buph. The structures in this part of the capital looked quite different from the other portions, as if they had somehow been brought here out of the mountains of Gora.

The building contractor ushered his two visitors into a small, cluttered parlor that appeared sunk in neglect. Once the trio were seated, Alpho began to speak, his eyes fixed on young Jero.

“I have been impressed by what I have heard about you from Serio and several members of your work group. Everyone has praised your quickness in learning and your native, inherited intelligence.

“My son, you possess all the abilities needed to become one of the Genius Masters from Pear.

“Do you know what that means?”

The bewildered Jero shook his head no. “I do not understand what that is,” he confessed with chagrin.

Alpho exchanged glances with Serio, then proceeded to explain.

“The migrant craftsmen from our village in Gora include certain master workers who are so superior that they qualify to be termed geniuses. They have such excellent artistic skills that they deserve to be thought of as creative champions. Your Chief who is sitting beside you is one of these exceptional artisans. And he has related to me the secret evaluation he has made of you.”

Jero turned his head and looked at Serio, who was doing the same to him.

“What does all that mean?” the startled, shaken youth asked the contractor.

“You shall be the object of special training by your Chief and by me,” declared Alpho. “As a first assignment, you shall help your Chief in the planning and designing of the new municipal hospital to be built here in Buph. That will teach you how to utilize your potential for geniushood, my son.”

The two adult builders went on to discuss practical questions and details of the construction project, with Jero listening as if in a trance.

The first actual labor involved was the excavation of the substructure of the future hospital. As this was carried out by workers from Pear and other mountain villages in Gora, the plan for rooms, wards, and corridors was being drawn up by Serio and Alpho.

Jero was present as a witness studying how this difficult task moved to completion. He absorbed much practical knowledge of how the craft of architectural planning was applied to practical problems of construction.

Near the end of the making of a detailed blueprint, the young observer himself made several helpful proposals. His suggestions impressed both the Chief from Pear and the contractor in charge of building the medical center for Buph.

Jero was learning the intricacies of construction, as well as astounding the Gorans he worked with by displaying his marvelous genius for their hereditary craft.

There was a high official of Buph who kept an unfriendly eye on the activities of all migrant workers from across the border, especially those in the building trades.

Duth operated as the civilian commissioner of police, in charge of all the uniformed and plainclothes law officers in the capital city.

The gigantic bruin, in a shiny serge suit, met with his main police figures in his ornate office in the Municipal Hall.

“We have a dangerous gang of immigrant construction workers who take away jobs from our native labor force,” began Duth in a loud, authoritative bass voice.

“There is a certain phenomenal Goran who has shown amazing skills in planning and building the new city hospital,” he told those hearing him. “That major project should never have been granted to the Goran named Alpho.

“That man is a notorious swindler who should never have been rewarded with such a large, lucrative contract. Without shame, he hired a construction team made of his fellow countrymen. What a scandal has arisen from such an arrangement!”

All eyes in the room focused on the commissioner whose face was fiery red with fury.

“We will take the first opportunity provided us to rid Buph of this Goran gang of dangerous thugs and their young construction genius,” roared Duth in a feverish tone.

Serio invited Jero to accompany him on a weekend to watch a special hiring of women servants at a square in the migrant sector of the capital.

The large open space in the middle of the area was covered with flagstones of various hues and materials. A temporary stage of cheap wood stood where something resembling an auction was set to be carried out.

A thick crowd of Goran women, many of them young teenagers, congregated in front of the platform where several older men stood, looking out over the candidates for household labor as servants of different varieties.

Jero, standing beside his gang Chief, was fascinated by the strange scene transpiring in front of the pair.

Scores of women, most of them young and dressed in simple work-clothes suitable for housework, had formed long lines in front of the small group of potential employers. Each individual seeking a servant surveyed the women in the assembly and made a choice based entirely on visual characteristics.

The girls and women hired walked off with the man or woman who had decided their immediate future.

Jero, reacting to his first experience of this auction of maids, turned and spoke to Serio.

“This is an awful relic of the past,” he murmured with anger. “The sooner it ends, the better it will be for all the Gorans here in Bufh.”

Serio motioned with his hand for the novice to follow him away from the uninviting scene of hiring.

In their hotel’s tavern, Jero vented his anger and indignation over what he and Serio had observed at the servants’ hiring auction.

“That was a completely demeaning treatment given to all of those Goran women who were seeking a job, usually a temporary one,” fumed the young migrant. “I heard about this infamous square when I was back home, but to see it in action is a truly horrible thing to experience.

“Why can’t a stop be put to such degradation of woman? Why must our maidens and mothers suffer such humiliation?” he demanded of Serio.

“How could it be stopped?” said the Chief of the Gang. “It has been there ever since our people began migrating to Buph generations ago.”

“There must be a way to end and abolish such exploitation,” said Jero in a voice as cold and sharp as a steel knife.

Once the idea formed in his mind, the incensed young migrant moved to put it in action at once.

He began to reveal his design to fellow workers at the site of the future hospital building.

“We who come here from Gora have been oppressed and exploited to a terrible degree by the upper classes of Buph,” he stated without fear. “When will we stand up and refuse the injuries and insults that our people suffer?

“Look at how the women are mistreated at the market for servants. It goes on day after day, for untold numbers of years.

“This can only be stopped when we refuse to comply with the old, established way of doing things. If a rebellion becomes necessary on our part, so be it.”

Jero was surprised at the ready acceptance of his complaints by his fellow-workers. Many voiced their agreement with his point of view. Several asked him when some direct action might be taken up.

“We will have to unite all the migrants from our homeland,” he advised them. “Our message must go out and be accepted on a mass scale. I am willing to speak to workers throughout our section of Buph and explain how I intend to correct and reform the treatment that the Gorans receive in this city.”

Among those Gorans to be converted to the idea of taking direct action was Serio, but his long experience on the construction scene in Bufh made him an extremely cautious advisor of Jero and the younger craftsmen.

“We must be careful not to bring the government of Buphland into the picture,” he warned the new migrants like Jero. “It would bring us no benefit if the police of the capital were brought in to rescue the interests of the employers of our sort.”

But Jero saw the growing interest and excitement among his ever larger group of followers, who were mostly young workers at the start of their work careers as migrants in Buph.

He conceived a bold, innovative means of putting an end to the auctioning of Goran women at the weekly market at the square. It would also be a weapon usable for bettering the working conditions of the male construction craftsmen: an all-out, general strike by the migrants from Gora.

Could it win enough worker support and participation to become successful?

When he felt confident enough, Jero presented his plan to Serio as they ate in their hotel’s dining room.

“I believe that the key weapon that we migrants have is the factor of surprise,” said the younger man in almost a whisper. “The business owners who employ us depend upon our passivity and disunity. But if we made a coordinated move, an unexpected occupation of the square where the young Goran females are auctioned off to their bidders, we have the possibility of forcing drastic changes that will better the conditions of hiring and working for the women who are being exploited without mercy.

“What can we lose? They dare not use any of their guns against striking women accompanied by a phalanx of migrant male workers like us.

“Will you take part in our seizure of the servant’s square, as it is called?”

Serio made an unexpected smile with a note of desperation in it. “How can I refuse?” he muttered. “I will be present there when it comes about.”

The date of assault was set for late summer, when the temperature was high and human movement tended to fall to the necessary minimum. No one in any sort of authority would be expecting or ready for an illegal seizure and strike.

No practice runs of any kind occurred, out of fear of drawing unwanted attention to what was in preparation.

Jero rose early on the appointed morning, meeting at the site of the new municipal hospital with his fellow conspirators. Serio was one of the last to appear, acting almost as if he saw little prospect of success in such a dangerous enterprise.

“Do we all understand what our objective shall be this morning?” he said to the assembled group about to advance on the hiring square. “We are going to voice the demand for major reform of the established system by shutting down all business going on today between employers and migrant women from anywhere in Gora.

“Our goal is to close down the system for finding servants until the women are granted all the improvements we think they deserve.

“We have to be ready to face the police when they enter to take control of the situation that we have created there. Firmness and courage will be demanded from every person involved.”

With that said, Jero began walking toward their destination, the large group of Goran men behind him.

The auctioneer in charge had just shouted out a call for experienced cooks when the demonstrators led by Jero appeared at the periphery of the square.

By prearranged, coordinated movements, the male workers spread out and circled the crowd of women seeking employment and the small number of potential employers hunting for the right candidate to choose.

Those already in the area of the square watched passively as the newcomers surrounded and enclosed them in a complete, tight circle.

Jero, following the plan that he had devised in his own brain then revealed to his comrades, marched with strenuous steps to the platform from which the auction was to be conducted.

All eyes turned upon his short figure as the young migrant started to speak.

“Residents of Buph, whether born here or immigrants from elsewhere, listen to my words and heed what I say.

“There is no need to continue the terrible hiring practices for which this square is known. If all of us join together as one, we can end the abuses and exploitation that stem from this horrible custom of buying and selling household and business servants and laborers.

“My friends and I have come here this morning to stop this degrading selling of women. No longer shall we permit it to go on. If anyone is going to seek female workers in the future, let them advertise their positions in the daily newspapers or through publicly distributed notices.

“That should provide adequate substitutes for the disgraceful buying and selling that takes place here every week. It is time for all of us to disperse and go to our places of residence.”

Jero ended his statement to the crowd and started to move away from the platform at the center when a sudden piercing sound shook the air.

Eyes searched in all directions, hunting for the nature and the cause of the disrupting noise.

It took long seconds before the realization dawned that a shot had just been fired somewhere in the square.

From intersecting streets, platoons of soldiers with rifles began to run into the square from different directions.

A second, then a third loud clap occurred, then a series of bursts upward into the air.

Panic seized hold of the scores of women. In absolute terror, they poured outward into the adjacent streets in a rush to save their lives.

The male migrants who had entered as an invading force were now being taken in arrest by the army of Buphland, summoned into action by the highest civil authorities in charge of them.

Jero was looking at the collapse of his plan as a team of troops neared the platform and arrested all the men who were present. Wild shots exploded, some fired at fleeing or resisting migrant workers.

One shooter felled the Chief who had brought Jero to Buph, Serio.

_

Thrown into a large holding cell with fellow prisoners in the municipal jail, Jero felt overwhelmed by the defeat he had witnessed. The capstone of disaster for him was the shooting of Serio.

Later that fateful day, Alpho appeared and was given an opportunity to talk with the leader of the strike, Jero himself.

The two met in a small room away from where the other migrants were jailed.

“This was a terrible catastrophe,” moaned the contractor. “My dear friend, Serio, has lost his life. The government of Buphland has revealed its real nature. It is entirely hostile to all the people from Gora, including the defenseless women. There is no mercy or charity for any of us here.”

“What, then, will the future hold?” asked Jero. “Will it be the same as the past has been?”

“I believe you shall have an active role to play,” said Alpho with a small hint of hope. “You must take the place that Serio held as Chief of the work team working at the hospital. And after that, I aim to make you my assistant manager on the new construction projects that may come my way.

“Will you accept the offer of a job with me?”

“Certainly, if you will allow me to continue fighting for the rights of our migrants from Kora.”

“Of course I will,” replied Alpho with a grin.

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