THE MORAL INDIVIDUAL

Jasmine

The following incidents are not actually part of this story, but Jasmine is certainly part of the story and these incidents are about her. I'm not going to describe Jasmine except to say she could not walk into a room without being noticed and from the time she was very little she was always a curious mixture of childlike enthusiasm and a ladylike grace, totally unimpressed with herself.

Jasmine's Speech

This little speech occurred in various forms more than once. Jasmine was not easily provoked and when she was it was never about herself but about ideas. The occasion of this particular incident was Marten Grandon teasing her about "Decision Day." He intentionally provoked her because he adored her animated expressions and they way she used her lovely voice that was almost like music.

Jasmine was looking at a book, standing with her back to Marten.

"Do you always want to be a child, Jasmine. Don't you want to be an adult?" Marten asked.

Jasmine whirled around. "Adult?" she said, disgustedly. "Do you know what they mean by 'adult?'"

"They mean never thinking for yourself, never asking if something is true or not, good or not. Never thinking of anything new, but only what they teach you.

"They mean never taking a risk, never doing anything that might cause pain or disappointment, never doing anything that requires courage or determination.

"They mean never doing anything exceptional, never achieving anything that anyone else cannot achieve, never excelling at anything or doing anything too hard.

"They mean being perpetually mediocre.

"They mean having nothing to live for but the approval of other mediocrates exactly like themselves, 'good citizens,' supporting the monstrosity they call, 'society,' that destroys any real virtue and dismisses as, 'childish,' any kind of life worth living.

"They think good and bad are dictated by some authority. They can't imagine that it is reality that determines what is right and wrong, not some Forbidder agent or some religious authority.

"When I was a little girl I was forced to sit through religious classes every week. The children would giggle and laugh at the silliness of the rituals, the ridiculous rigamaroles, and especially the stupid parables. I was still very little when I was struck by the absurdity that the adults were actually taking all that nonsense seriously, and I was appalled. What was worse, because rather than snickering like the other children, because I was so disgusted, one of the priests actually complimented me for my religious attitude. I almost threw up.

"The only thing I liked about those religious classes were some of the songs, because the music was full of life and joy, even when the words were total nonsense.

"I remember the day you heard me singing one of the songs, Marten, and you asked me if it was a religious song, and I said, 'Not when I sing it.'

"So I will never be an adult. I will always be a child. I'll never be taken in by the nonsense one is suppose to believe to be called an adult.

"I'll stay a child, in love with life and my enjoyment of it, a child knowing the world I see and feel is the real world and it is exactly what it seems to be, a child that knows no rituals, or prayers, or magic words can change anything.

"I'll always be a child knowing if I am to have anything I must make it, if I am to be anything I must achieve it, a child that knows anything is possible and I can do anything."

She stopped, still glaring at Marten, who could barely contain himself.

"You have no idea how grown-up you are, Jasmine," he said.

Jasmine's Bike

Though Jasmine and Eddy have always been in love and will always be, Jasmine fell in love with Lester almost the moment they met in the first grade, and the longer she knew him, the more she loved him. Lester obviously liked Jasmine and she was almost always a part of whatever Lester and Eddy were doing. The only sign there might be anything more than friendship on Lester's part is that while Eddy teased her mercilessly and Lester and Eddy teased each other, and she teased them both, Lester was always reluctant to tease Jasmine and always showed a subtle deference and gentleness toward her.

Jasmine was not at all shy and had certainly taken the lead in other relationships with boys, but she didn't want to take the lead with Lester. Of course she did everything she could to be noticed and appreciated by him and he was always appropriately appreciative, if starkly unromantic. What she really wanted was for Lester to want her because he found her worth wanting.

While never described, or even mentioned in the story, Jasmine, Eddy, and Lester always worked at something. Eddy and Jasmine used to run errands for neighbors, and Eddy would find odd jobs people needed done, and Lester worked in his mother's little furniture factory. When Jasmine had an opportunity to make deliveries she mentioned to Eddy and Lester she needed a bike. Lester said he would make her one. "How much?" she asked him. "I'll give it to you," Lester said.

"No you won't!" Jasmine said indignantly. "I don't let anyone give me anything. If I can't pay for it, I don't want it, and I won't have it."

Jasmine got over the unintended insult, and it was probably the only time she was ever truly angry with Lester.

"I'll pay for it, and I'm going to help you build it," she insisted.

For about two weeks, Jasmine would stop at the Moore's house after school to spend a couple of hours working with Lester on her bike.

"Hand me that wrench," Lester would say and Jasmine would hand it to him. Then she'd watch as he loosened a nut on the fork in order adjust the front wheel. He looked so serious, hardly noticing Jasmine until he needed something, but Jasmine saw how thoroughly Lester enjoyed the work and how satisfied he was as each part came together. "There, that looks right," he'd say with a kind of triumphant look in his eyes.

The day they installed the chain, Lester had her hold up the slack while he installed the master link. When he saw her hands covered with grease he took her by the hand and led her to the sink. "This will take that off," he said, squirting some kind of cleanser on her hands. He took a rag and washed the grease off her hands, then wiped them dry. When he realized he was holding her hands a soft look came into his eyes, but he didn't say anything.

"Thank you, Lester," she said.

Mrs. Moore saw how Jasmine looked at Lester and one day said, "I'm afraid the only thing he really loves is his work."

"That's good," Jasmine said. "It's what makes him Lester, isn't it?"

"Is that enough for you, Jasmine?" Mrs. Moore asked.

"Oh no, it's not nearly enough. But I'll never ask for more as long as I can have that much."

***