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Topic: The Short End of the Stick( 02/20/14)
By Pauline Carruthers
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Was there ever a more beautiful sight? I flicked an unruly strand of damp hair from my face and allowed my eyes to scan an endless field of roughly tied hay bales, stacked haphazardly at intervals across the dry dusty ground. A golden globe scattered rays of brilliance like clusters of sunbeams dancing in a pale blue cloudless sky.
He appeared on the horizon, his unhurried pace at odds with my punctuality. A thin sliver of a man with dark twinkling eyes and a grin like a piano keyboard. He moved with a slightly rolling gait, bowed legs encased in baggy combat trousers, old army boots tightly strung around thin ankles.
My hand gesture indicated his need to hurry, but he simply continued rolling forward at his own leisurely pace. I had met Igor several months ago whilst working on a church project building simple homes in a small remote village in his country. We didn’t speak each other’s language and we rubbed together like wood and sandpaper. Igor always managing to get one over on me. We worked as a team, with Igor waving deeply suntanned arms and bony fingers in impatient gestures of instruction. The heaviest and hardest work always coming my way, whilst Igor, being the knowledgeable local, maintained a sedate existence on site. When he prayed it resounded to the heights. When he cursed, it was for my ears only.
I had given up trying to get Igor to call me Joe. I couldn’t help a wry smile as he grew closer, pondering the purpose of the elongated broom handle that dragged from one brown furrowed hand and skimmed the dusty field as he loped along. During our stint on the cooking rota I had learned the value of slow vegetable peeling, as my ratio of filled pots outdid his by six to one. On the building site his stack of bricks lasted twice as long as mine. Whilst I dragged my weary feet back and forth filling our wheelbarrow, stacking bricks side by side for the two of us, he took time out to pray.
In the evenings, after supper, we prayed together as a team. Two alien languages joining in corporate prayer to the same God. I didn’t understand a word of Igor’s prayers, except when he spoke the name Jesus, but his earnestness filled my heart with longing to know my God as he did.
It was mid morning as Igor approached. The warmth of the sun and the stillness of remoteness striking an ambient mood amidst the pale golden hay bales. The rest of us had been working since sunrise and I was feeling frustrated at the casualness of Igor’s attitude.
With a toss of his head that sent his dusty black beret askew on top of thin greying curls, he thrust the stick at the topmost bale, sending it tumbling to the ground in a whisper of loose straw. Trepidation pulsed in my mind at the thought of the barn at the far end of the field. Back home complex farm machinery made lighter work of the harvest.
I watched as Igor threaded the stick through the ties that bound the bales. Then with a grin that stretched wide over his piano keyboard teeth he gestured to me to take one end as he took the other. For the rest of the day and into the evening we worked together, trudging heavy bales to the barn. Sweat filtering down loose shirts onto soaking waistbands until the sun began to set and the sky dimmed into evening.
Thrusting weary limbs into a sleeping bag later that night I pondered on the easy way Igor had trudged those fields whilst I had felt the full weight of the hay bales with every step. As if my thoughts had been spoken a voice punctuated with mirth and with just a slight trace of an accent pierced the silence.
“An old method of carrying heavy hay bales was to insert a long stick through the ties binding the bale. Two men would then take an end each. If the bale was off centre a disproportionate weight was placed on the person with the short end of the stick.”
Igor is with the Lord now, but his piano keyboard smile and irritating nonchalance, like scratches on glass, will stay etched on my life forever, alongside his poignant wisdom in gently teaching me humility.
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