Montaro Caine A Novel - By Sidney Poitier


FOR A MAN WHOSE ADULT LIFE WOULD COME TO BE MARKED BY SO many strange and miraculous events, Montaro Caine had a comparatively unremarkable childhood. In fact, during the times when Montaro would look back upon his earliest years—before his father died, before the arrival of the Seventh Ship, before a deformed black boy only a few years older than Montaro himself would make him a gift that would change Montaro’s life forever—he would remember his youth as if it had taken place in some distant galaxy light-years away. He was born in Hyde Park, a Kansas City neighborhood that was home to many academics such as his father, Robert, a professor of mathematics at the University of Missouri. Back then, the neighborhood was one of spacious front porches and vast backyards, just an easy bike ride away from frog-filled creeks and thrillingly perilous ravines.

To Montaro, childhood was a time of endless summers, a time when the things he loved most were close at hand—baseball, the end of school, staying up late to watch the stars with his father, the annual Ozark Mountains hiking trip with his dad and granddad Philip, and most of all, the time he spent with his Kansas City pals. Fueled by seemingly unlimited energy, his wild pack of friends would race across each priceless day in search of adventure, mischief, and fun, until hunger, exhaustion, or weather drove Montaro home, where his mother, Sarah, would always be there to feed him or order him to take a nap or read a book.

But that idyllic childhood would end suddenly and far too early, in fact not long after he turned eight. For Montaro, life would forever be divided between the time before his father arrived home from a meeting of his university’s personnel committee bearing an important letter, and everything that happened afterward.

The odd part about the letter and all that it would come to represent to Montaro for his entire life was that it seemed to promise good news.

“Sarah?” Montaro heard his father call out upon entering his family’s sprawling ranch house on that Monday afternoon; in Montaro’s memory, his father’s voice always seemed to echo throughout the house, but this time it sounded uncharacteristically cheerful. “Where are you, honey?” he asked.

Dr. Robert Caine was a gentle yet intimidating man, stocky and handsome. He was the son of Jewish immigrants from Austria and he counted both bankers and mathematicians like himself among his ancestors. The family name had once been Cohen, until Robert’s father, Philip, who left Europe not long before the outbreak of World War II, had changed it at Ellis Island. Though at eight years old Montaro was too young to understand the true nature of his father’s brilliance or the fact that he himself would inherit his father’s scientific mind, he was always aware on some level of his father’s great knowledge and kind authority.

“In here, Robert,” Sarah Caine replied from the kitchen where she was cooking dinner—roast chicken with apples, which was both Montaro and his father’s favorite. Sarah was a graceful woman—beautiful, warmhearted, and generous; to Montaro, she was the personification of love, which seemed to radiate from her, casting its glow everywhere, yet most directly upon her husband and son.

Robert Caine entered the kitchen, embraced his wife, and then presented the letter. “It arrived today. Out of the blue,” he said.

“What is it?” She was already able to detect an unusual enthusiasm coming from a man who usually tried hard to downplay his emotions.

The letter was handwritten on Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital stationery and signed by a Dr. Andrew Banks. Though Sarah Caine had not completed college after she became pregnant with Montaro, she was aware of Dr. Banks’s reputation. On many occasions, she had heard her husband speaking of the renowned behavioral scientist. Banks was known primarily for his studies of individuals who were afflicted with varying degrees of mental retardation but were inexplicably gifted in a single area, in some cases to the point of genius. Banks’s work had revolutionized the thinking on mental deficiencies. This topic was also of great interest to Robert Caine, who had referenced Banks’s studies in some of his own papers. Now, according to the letter he was showing his wife, Robert was being invited to join Dr. Banks’s research group for a few days in New York as a member of an observation team consisting of about half a dozen professors to see how autistic patients processed mathematical equations.

“This is wonderful, darling; I’m so