The Secret Voice

by Bob Nailor


The Departure

Daniel hesitated at the bottom of the stairs before starting across the kitchen. It seemed he was alone; he could hear his siblings outside, getting ready to leave in the buggy. The kitchen floor creaked about mid-point and he halted.

"Daniel, I wish to speak with you." His father's voice called from the main room.

Daniel cringed. Did his father know of his plans?

"You know, tomorrow will be a special day." Noah Yoder now stood at the entrance to the kitchen from the living room. "Come, we will talk."

Daniel sighed, turned and slowly crossed the kitchen to follow his father into the front room of the house.

The outside kitchen door opened and Hannah peeked in. "Momma wants to know…"

"We will join you shortly, Hannah," Noah said, noting Daniel's distraction. "Here." He pointed to the chair next to the rocker he eased himself into.

Daniel sat and carefully searched his father's face as the man rocked slowly. There is no way he knows of my plans. Daniel tried not to sweat or give any indication of fear as he absently stared where the sun shone through the window and cast shadows of branches against the bare living room wall.

"This nonsense of attending school must end, Daniel." The rocker creaked rhythmically against the highly polished wood floor. "You are Amish and soon to be seventeen. It is time for you to step up and take your place within the community."

"I know, Papa," Daniel whispered, relieved the conversation was not what he expected.

"The school district wishes to bus our children away even farther than Centertown." He raised a hand to halt any comment. "The Amish community helped to vote for the new school consolidation." He turned to Daniel. "But our plan is to build a new school this summer. It will be a school for the Amish." He placed his hand on Daniel's hand. "Do you understand?"

Daniel glanced at his father and searched the face for an answer.

"Bishop Schmucker has a plan, my son. He wishes you to be baptized, join the community and become the new teacher for the school." He paused. "Your thoughts?"

"Me? A teacher?" Daniel could feel the sweat bead under the crop of hair covering his forehead. The conversation had taken a turn he hadn't considered.

"It is time for you to step up and become a man, Daniel. You are no longer a child. This dream of attending school to learn must come to an end."

"I understand, Papa, but—" Daniel glanced down and stared at his black shoes. There is no way he will understand the burn within me. He took a deep breath and looked directly into his father's eyes. "I am honored, Papa, but I must complete one more thing." He paused. "I must take time for Rumschpringe and answer the burning question within me."


This is not going well. Daniel stood and then quickly fell to one knee before the older man. He reached out and grabbed his father's hands.

"Yes, Papa. There is a burning issue within me and only by doing Rumschpringe may I truly know if I am Amish." A tear welled in one eye. "I am leaving today. Ben Hopkins will be arriving shortly to take me into DeMotte so I can begin my journey and learn my destiny." Daniel bent his head to his father's hands. "Forgive me, Papa, but I must know. I will not be gone long."

Noah jerked his hand away from Daniel's grasp. "Your brother said the same. He said a couple of days, perhaps a week. How long do you plan to be away?"

Daniel gazed up into his father's eyes. "I do not know, Papa."

"If you feel you must go, then leave. If you return, I will welcome you with open arms."

His father's hand caressed Daniel's head, the strong fingers smoothing the hairs.

"If you decide to become Englische, then so be it, Daniel. Perhaps the Bishop and I erred in our decision to allow you to attend high school. The Englische are a strong influence. The Bishop will not be pleased."

"I must do this," Daniel repeated. Each moment of delay added to the pain.

"Go." Noah stood and stepped around Daniel.

Daniel leaned against the rocker, taking in the scent of his father and the memories of years passed. He gazed at the plain room where he grew up, noting its simplicity when he heard Ben's station wagon pull into the driveway. He stood and quickly moved to grab his suitcase from the bottom of the stairwell. It held a few personal items and some clothes. He headed out the door. In the distance he could see the buggy with his family headed in the opposite direction to visit his eldest sister, Ruth. It appeared the twins were waving to him.

"How did your father take the news?" Ben asked as Daniel opened the front passenger door and slid into the seat.

"Not well," Daniel mumbled. "But he did not seem as upset as the day Luke told him he was going on Rumschpringe with Mary Sue." He reached up and removed his hat and pulled the business card from inside. He gazed at it.

Antonio Cardinale
Maestro de Opera
4782 E. 23rd St, NYC

Ben glanced over at the card. "So, that's where you're going, Danny-boy? The Big Apple? New York City?"

Daniel nodded. "This man told Miss Bronson I was a natural and she was a fool not to have him teach me. I must find out the truth."

"Well, I'll tell you this much, Danny-boy. You can definitely sing."

Daniel glanced over at Ben. "My name is Daniel." Ben should know better.

Ben put the car in gear. "Fine, Daniel. My mistake. Let me get you to the bus station in DeMotte." He glanced at Daniel. "How long do you expect to be gone? Do you want me to tell Mr. Sullivan anything over at the wood mill?"

Daniel's eyes widened in shock. "I did not think about Mr. Sullivan. I—I do not know how long I will be gone. Do you know how long it takes to get to New York by bus?"

Ben put a comforting hand on the young boy's shoulder and squeezed. "Don't worry, Daniel. I'll tell Mr. Sullivan that you needed a couple of weeks to answer some questions. I don't think he will get too upset." He snorted a chuckle. "You're a good worker. I'll cover you."

Daniel breathed a sigh of relief and absently noted Centertown with a lingering gaze at the work being performed at the school in preparation for the consolidation. Ben increased speed as he headed for DeMotte.

Daniel glanced out the window of the car as it sped around the big "S" curve before zipping through the small community of Hayton with its lone market on the hillside.

Next stop, DeMotte, thought Daniel. And a bus to New York City.

# # #

Daniel nervously handed the money to the clerk who kept staring at him. I am sure he has seen an Amish person before.

"You ever been to New York City?" the clerk finally asked.

"No, sir," Daniel replied. "This will be my first trip."

The clerk leaned closer then pointed at the bench. "It's mighty big city, young man. Make yourself comfortable. Your bus won't be here for another forty minutes or more." He glanced at the wall clock. "Probably closer to an hour if he's running late."

Daniel took a seat near the window and glanced around the news stand/soda fountain/bus terminal. A gentleman sat at one table, reading the newspaper and sipping from a coffee cup. At a booth, two young girls casually peeked in his direction.

The front door open and the bell jingled to notify the owner somebody had come in or left. The clerk who had sold him his ticket glanced over his eyeglasses at the newcomer.

"It is you!" Molly said as she rushed toward Daniel. "What are you doing here? I thought I saw you come in."

"Hi, Molly," Daniel replied and took a deep breath. "I have decided to go to New York City and visit Mr. Cardinale."

Molly frowned momentarily then smiled. "Have you decided to leave the Amish?"

Daniel jerked in response and scowled at her. "No. I want to learn what this man has to say."

"Fine with me, Daniel Yoder," Molly snapped. "What are you going to do if he says you have a great voice and wants you to stay? You can't be Amish and live in New York." She stood. "Besides, you're only sixteen and half with no high school degree." She wrinkled her nose in disgust. "They don't have wood mills in the middle of New York. What will you do to pay for living there? Just remember, you can't farm in downtown New York, either"

Daniel stared at the floor as she chastised him. The last three sentences made valid points. He had money - but did he have enough? Just what type of work was he planning to do?< He gazed up at Molly.

"I am sure Mr. Cardinale will have some suggestions." He moved a leg nervously.

"Fine." Molly flicked her hair back over her shoulder. "Have a good trip." She turned and walked out.

Daniel sat there silently thinking about her words while the bell jingled into silence. He stared at the rack of comic books. He considered getting one to read while he sat there but thought better of it.

"Hey! Amish boy." The ticket clerk hollered.

Daniel stood and ambled over to the counter and sat on the stool at the end.

"Was that your girlfriend? Did you just breakup? Is that why you're leaving town?"

Daniel was amazed at the rapid questions from this stranger. He shook his head no.

"He's single, girls," the clerk said and nodded at the two sitting in the booth.

They nodded back.

The clerk turned, snapped a glass off the back counter and pulled the lever on the fountain. "Do you want a plain coke, cherry coke or maybe a vanilla coke?" He glanced over his shoulder at Daniel. "It's a treat." He smiled. "The girls are buying."

"I do not know," Daniel replied.

"Fine, vanilla it is," the clerk said and pumped a dark liquid into the half-full glass before filling it up. The man pulled a straw from seemingly nowhere and offered the glass to Daniel. "Here you go." He leaned in conspiratorially. "If it were me, I'd mosey over to the booth." Standing up, he glanced at the girls in the back. "That'll be another quarter on your bill, Beth. Are you sure your allowance will cover this week's bill?"

"I'm sure, dad," Beth replied.

Daniel picked up the glass and headed toward the booth and two girls.

Suddenly, three boys burst through the back door. They rushed over to the booth and squeezed in beside the girls.

Beth glanced nervously at Daniel as the one boy beside her grabbed her glass and began to suck on the straw.

"Been waiting long?" the boy finally asked. "Papers aren't here, yet, so we came in to see who was here and what was happening."

Daniel paused then turned around and took the seat at the far end of the counter away from the group.

"Hey! Pops! Can you get me a vanilla phosphate? Jim wants a root beer float and Tommy will take his usual, a grape soda."

"Sure thing," the clerk said. He glanced at Daniel and shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry, kid."

Daniel nodded understanding and sipped on the straw of his drink, enjoying the vanilla flavored coke soda. He'd never had one before and it was different.

# # #

Once more Daniel sat on the wooden bench, staring out the window, watching the activity outside. In the background he heard the group at the booth laughing and talking.

The man snapped the newspaper, grabbed the coffee cup and gulped down the remaining liquid.

"Payment on the table, Jack." He placed a dollar under the coffee cup, stood and headed for the door. "I'll be back later for today's Toledo Blade<."

Daniel watched as the door opened and hit the curled spring with its dangling bell. The man held the door open as another patron, a woman, entered, placing a valise on a small metal stand beside Daniel's suitcase.

"The bus hasn't come, yet, has it, Jack?"

The woman hustled to the counter while proceeding to open her purse. "I need a ticket to-"

"Toledo," finished Jack. "Should be here real soon, Mrs. Shipley. Round-way, correct?"

She nodded and pulled money from within the dark realms of her large purse. "I still don't understand why Jenny and Matt needed to move all the way to Toledo." She shook her head and heaved a sigh. "Matt called to say Jenny was in the hospital." She pursed her lips and sighed again. "Pregnant, delivering and this far away from family." She took the ticket Jack offered. "What is a mother to do?"

Jack nodded to the windows and the Trailways

"New York City?" The woman stared at Daniel. "You're traveling so far alone at such a young age?"

Daniel nodded and grabbed his suitcase and her valise. "Yes, ma'am."

The bus driver met him at the door and took the baggage. "I'll put those away for you, sir."

Daniel handed the valise first. "This is her bag, sir."

The bus driver nodded. "Go ahead and get on board. There are plenty of seats."

Daniel let the woman get on first and he followed, making sure he found a seat away from her. He knew she would be asking a lot of questions about why he was traveling and he didn't want to talk to anyone right now. He settled into the seat and stared out the window at the bakery across the street.

"Rumschpringe.<" Daniel sighed.

"Excuse me," a woman's voice caught his attention as she sat in the seat next to him. "I can't believe a young lad like you can be traveling all alone. Are you only going to Toledo?" She quickly corrected herself. "No, you're going all the way to New York City. My, my."

Daniel's worst fears sprang forward. She had joined him.

"Today's youth seem so beset to leave home and make it a goodly distance. In my youth, well, my husband and I lived with his parents for the first three years of our marriage. Then we found a little cottage to raise our family." She shook her head. "I can't believe my only daughter has chosen to run off all the way to Toledo, Ohio. What was she thinking?"

Daniel shrugged and hoped his apathy would thwart any further attention. He was wrong.

"Oh, how rude of me. I'm Betty Shipley. My daughter, Jenny, is married to Mark and they decided to move to Toledo, of all places. Now she's pregnant, delivering and here I am, on a bus trying to get to her." She shook her head, the wavy coif locked for eternity in hair spray. "May I ask why you're going to the big city?"

"It is called Rumschpringe,< Mrs. Shipley. It is a time for young Amish people to discover if they truly wish to remain Amish or embrace an Englische< lifestyle." Daniel saw the small scowl of question. "I am Amish, you are Englische<. If I decide to become Englische…<" He left the sentence unfinished.

"What will you do in New York?"

"I want to learn if I can sing," Daniel replied.

"Oh." The voice was cold and short. "So you want to be a rock and roll singer."

"No," Daniel replied, his denial coming quickly. "I sing light opera. My chorus teacher has taught me to sing and now a gentleman in New York wants to tutor me."

"You'll make more money singing this boogie-woogie rock and roll than opera." She stood. "I will leave you to your thoughts. I was just being a nosy busybody who still can't fathom why today's youth want to live away from their parents." She smiled and toddled down the aisle to her original seat.


New York City

Daniel stood away from the bus' entrance door and waited for the driver to pull his and the remaining passengers bags from the lower compartment.

The driver shoved the bag into his hands. "Taxis are outside the main doors to take you to your location. Good luck, kid." He smiled. "You're not my first Amish passenger to the big city for Rumschpringe<. If you need a place to stay, ask for Goodfellow Hostel. If the cabby don't know it, tell him it's on 159th street near Ashleigh Avenue. It's cheap, clean and safe to newcomers. Stay safe and may the Lord watch over you during this time."

Daniel nodded and thanked the man then proceeded to stride across the bus terminal. He took in the strangeness of the place. People sat on benches, walked here and there or stood singly or in small clusters. They were waiting, reading, napping or attending to children. He noticed the clock. 10:12 in the morning. He remembered back to breakfast at the diner on the highway. A simple meal consisting of a glass of milk, two eggs and three slices of bacon cost him eighty-five cents. He still didn't understand why the one man sitting next to him at the counter kept insisting it was a greasy spoon, and not one of the better ones, since he found most of his utensils to be quite clean.

Main doors? Daniel scanned the area and noted the doors leading to the outside. I bet those are the doors the bus driver was talking about.< He held the suitcase close to him and started for the door.

"Can I help you?" There was a tap on the shoulder

The touch caught Daniel by surprise. He turned to face the person and was greeted by a young man dressed in bluejeans with colorful assortment of patches, a blue shirt and a fringed leather vest. He wore a fedora which helped to keep his long hair in some form of control. Daniel looked at his face. He couldn't see the young man's eyes for the blue-colored spectacles he wore.

"My name is Jerry. Let me carry the bag. I'll show you how to catch a taxi and get you off to where you want to go."

"Why do you want to help me?"

"Because three years ago, I was like you. I came into the big city and didn't know anyone and had never got a taxi in my life." He smiled at Daniel. "Now, I help people and they give me coin." He raised his hands and wobbled his thumb against the first two fingers. "It's how I make a living.'

"Coin?" Daniel questioned.

"Quarters. Dimes. Nickels. Coinage. Bread. Scratch. Moolah. Money, man. It's all about love." Jerry continued to smile and raised a hand with the first two fingers in a "V" pattern. "Peace. Love. You share, I share. Like I said, man, it's all about the love. It's groovy."

"I need to get a taxi, Jerry." Daniel stretched out his hand and revealed some loose change. "Take what you feel is fair. I will carry my bag. I need to go to this address." Daniel reached up and pulled the business card from his hat.

Jerry gazed at the card and grabbed a few coins. "Follow me." He started toward the front doors. "I'll tell the cabby where to go and he should drop you there." Jerry reached back and shook Daniel's hand. "And thanks, man, for the coins."

Daniel followed Jerry out the doors and was amazed to see all the Yellow cabs sitting at the curb. Jerry opened a back door in the lead car, and pushed Daniel into the back seat then he hastily leaned in and said, "He needs to go to 4-7-8-2 East 23rd Street."

"No problem. Quick drive," the cabby replied and pressed a lever down to start the meter.

Jerry closed the door and held his one hand high with the "V" sign as the cab sped away.

Daniel stared out the window at the tall buildings as the cabby maneuvered the streets.

"First time to the Big Apple?" the cabby attempted small talk.

"This is my first time away from my home, sir." Daniel leaned against the door's window to see the top of the building they were passing. "That has to be the tallest building in the world."

"No, sir. The Empire State Building—" He pointed. "It's that one over there."

Daniel stared off in the distance where the driver pointed. He could see the building and it was tall, rearing its spire into the sky.

"Will we go near it?" Daniel asked. "I am told people can go to the top of that building."

"Tourists go up there all the time, sir. If you would prefer to go there instead of your original destination, just let me know. I'm sure you could catch another cab."

"Not going near it?"

"No, I need to get across the river for your address. What do you want to do?"

Daniel looked once more at the Empire State Building. "Go across the river." He sighed and then mumbled. "I will see it another day, maybe."

# # #

"This is it, buddy."

The cabby pulled along side the curb and Daniel stared at the array of storefronts. He looked down at the business card.

"This is 4782 East 23rd Street?"

The cabby leaned back and pointed at the building with red and gold scrollings. "That's it right there." He paused, taking a moment to verify the address of the different businesses. "China Dragon." He smiled. "Tell you what, kid, if you wanted to eat that kind of food, I could have taken you to Chinatown." He glanced at the buildings again. "No, wait, the address you want is the one on the end — that dry cleaners." He snickered. "I guess it doesn't really matter, it's a Chinese place, too."

Daniel once more stared at the card in his hands. This is not right. He shook his head and grimaced in thought.

"Your fare is five dollars and— Nevermind, just make it five bucks and we'll call it even." He hesitated. "Do you want me to wait? Just in case this ain't the place?"

Daniel gave the man five dollars and shook his head. "No need, sir. If this is not the correct place, I will have to go back home, I guess."

# # #

Daniel strode across the small plaza of the strip mall toward the designated address. Something had to be wrong since he was sure Mr. Cardinale wouldn't give out phony business cards.

He paused once more in front of the store and stared at the Chinese characters that covered the windows. Above the door was a sign:

Chang's Chinese Laundry

On the window to the right he read another sign:

One day service guaranteed.

In by 8am, out by 4pm.

Stains no problems.

Hopefully they will speak English, he thought and pushed the door open, listening to the tinkling bell above his head as he entered. He was reminded of the news stand back in DeMotte.

"Ha-row. You got ticky?" An Oriental lady in a blue smock greeted him.

Daniel stood silent, unsure of how to proceed. He cringed at the faint scent of mothballs before speaking. "I am looking for Mr. Antonio Cardinale?" It was more a question than a statement.

"I tell him, no use my add-ress. He ha-round corner, back door." She waved her arm to indicate going back out the door and around the end of the building. "Ack!" She grimaced and shook her head. "No good. You lost boy. Come with me. I take you and talk to him. He no use my add-ress no more." The woman turned and spoke Chinese to another person out of sight.

Like an ensnaring dragon, the woman lurched out and grabbed Daniel's hand and pulled him behind counter.

"You no touch," she admonished while pointing at the assortment of presses and other equipment. "No get hurt."

She'd let go of Daniel's hand and he now followed her, clutching his suitcase close to him and making sure his arms were tucked in close to his body. Bursts of steam escaped everywhere near him, causing him to occassionally lose view of the woman before him in the swirling mists.

Conveyor belts of hanging clothes moved endlessly around on the track—some in plastic coverings, others not.

A hand slammed against his chest.

"See door?" She pointed at a door in the rear corner of the building. "You come in there. You go up there." She pointed at a wooden-framed set of stairs of questionable stability. "He office there." Once more she grabbed Daniel's hand. "We go and he no use my add-ress no more." She towed Daniel up the stairs and suddenly a door at the top opened as she pushed it.

"Tony! Tony!" She charged into the room, once more letting go of Daniel's hand. "You no use my add-ress. My add-ress, not you add-ress. You unnerstand? Yes? No?"

"Ah, Mrs. Chang. So nice to see you. Is there a problem?" Antonio Cardinale moved toward them.

"You use my add-ress. My add-ress. You add-ress 4-7-8-2-B, not 4-7-8-2. It B' — rike Behind, Back."

"I'm so sorry, Mrs. Chang, but as I explained, they messed up my business cards and forgot to put the B' on the address. It is so minor."

"Show me card." Mrs. Chang held out one hand while the other was firmly planted on her hip, waiting.

Antonio slipped a card from his pocket and offered it to her.

"Rook. Velly easy." From someplace in the pitch-black woven hair, she pulled a pen. "See?" She had neatly placed, at a slight angle, a hyphen and a B' after the 2' on the card. Mrs. Chang slipped the pen back into the hair where it disappeared.

As if seeing him for the first time, Antonio spotted Daniel.

"The Amish boy from Ohio? Yes?"

Daniel approached with his hand extended to shake. "Daniel Yoder. Yes., we met in Columbus, Ohio."

"Students!" Antonio turned, clapped his hands above his head and walked away from them. "Students! Today I want to introduce a voice of an angel. This is Daniel Yoder." He bowed slightly while flourishing his hand in Daniel's direction. "He is the voice I was telling you about."

"You no use my add-ress," Mrs. Chang said and headed toward the stairs.

Antonio moved to Daniel. "Place your bag there."

Daniel set the bag on the floor by the table.

"Now," Antonio began while moving a protective arm about the young man's shoulders. "I want to hear your voice in my studio. Come! Sing a capella any song you desire." He motioned to the students. "Gather about, sit on the floor, if necessary."

Daniel felt it, that feeling he'd made a wrong choice. It was obvious he was about to be the center of attention, definitely standing out.

Miss Bronson's reassuring voice calmed him. He heard it clearly as it spoke to him, telling him to breathe and relax. Release the tension building. This was like the competition—which was not competition, but instead, a test of personal skills.

"Are you ready, Daniel?" Antonio relaxed, sitting cross-legged on floor with the other students.

Daniel placed his hands together before him, closed his eyes, heard the lone note in his mind and began singing Where'er You Walk.

The last note of the song approached and Daniel worried he would be off-key. He held the note, not letting his voice warble or vary.

Antonio jumped up, snapping his fingers. The students joined in, snapping their fingers as well.

"That, my students, is a perfect voice. If I'd had a tuning fork, the harmonics would have matched flawlessly."

Daniel tried not to frown as he listened to Antonio and his students snap their fingers. This was a custom he was not aware of and it made him uncomfortable.

"Hi, I'm Adam Singleman." A male student approached. "That song was a total funk, man. Welcome to our little world, mate. Like man, what a gas to listen to you."

"Did you glean the depth of his voice?" Antonio strutted about the area, praising and lauding Daniel. "If we could listen to Jupiter sing this song to Semele, this is what we'd hear." He turned to Daniel. "Your vocal interpretation of Jupiter's love for a mere mortal is perfection."

Adam, who towered over Daniel, grabbed him by the shoulders and looked directly at Antonio. "Could he sing the part needed for the new opera we've been practicing?"

"You students continue your rehearsal." He grabbed Daniel's arm. "How long would it take for you memorize five songs, Daniel? Could you do it in less than two weeks?"

Daniel gulped. "Two weeks? I came to talk to you about my voice, not perform in an opera." He awkwardly pulled away from Antonio's grip and massaged the arm.

"I can make you a star overnight, Daniel. This part is so immense, the director has been pushing for a big name to sing — if only to assure himself that the voice is adequate." Antonio stopped. "I'll arrange a vocal test for tomorrow."

"Mr. Cardinale," Daniel started. "I do not have a place to live, to sleep, to eat and I have no job. I arrived in New York just a few hours ago."

Antonio flipped his hand to dismiss the issue. "You can stay with Mrs. Cardinale and me. As to a job, what type of work can you perform?"

Daniel shrugged. "I worked at a wood mill during the summers and I helped around the family farm."

Antonio scratched the side of his head and winced. "We don't have a local wood mill and we don't farm here in New York city, either." He scratched the back of his head as he thought. "Can you clean floors? Do dishes? I mean, can you help out in a kitchen? Not fixing the food, but making sure everything is clean?"

"I did janitorial work at the wood mill most of the time my first year."

"That's the spirit, Daniel. I think I have two jobs for you already." He paused. "Well, let's allow Mrs. Chang to calm down before we approach her about a janitor job." He smiled, a little glint in his eye. "But I'm sure we can discuss the possibility of you working for Mr. Chang next door at the restaurant."

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