Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Passport (07/25/05)
TITLE: The Stamp Collector
By Anita Neuman
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Parker looked at his watch again. Sajid was an hour late. Under normal circumstances, he would chalk that up to typical African time-keeping. Then again, he hardly remembered what a “normal” circumstance was. He’d only been in Sudan for four months, but he’d already seen enough terrorized refugees, starving children and rotting bodies along the side of the road. And what did he do for them? He took pictures.
Parker flipped through the pages of his passport, studying the stamps, trying to remember happier days. Some of the stamps brought to mind people he’d met – a taxi driver in Beijing, a single mother in Ukraine. Others reminded him of specific pictures he’d taken – the missionary family on their houseboat in Peru, the schoolyard-turned-graveyard in South Africa. It was an impressive collection: proof of a career that sought to quench his restlessness. But regardless of his award-winning portfolio and the growing recognition, Parker Thompson was still searching.
He tucked the passport back into his pocket and dug around in his backpack for a granola bar. His fingers brushed the compact Bible that his daughter had begged him to carry around. His family’s new obsession with religion irked him. Every time he was home they wasted most of his precious few days trying to convert him. It almost made him glad to get away again – to find his own answers, to define his own life. Every stamp in his passport represented a country that had given him an opportunity to make a difference. He’d offered hope to people by shedding world-wide light on their plight. He’d brought education to his home country about the world beyond their borders. He’d been immersed in innumerable cultures, languages, and religions. The truth was just beyond his grasp, but he knew it was close. Perhaps the next stamp would mark the end of his search.
A shriek broke the morning stillness, followed by shouting and rapid gunfire. Sajid was running towards him, stumbling, then falling on his face in the street. Parker leapt to his feet, but he was too slow. There were four guns aimed at his face. Men in military uniforms were yelling at him in Arabic. He dropped to his knees, his hands in the air. Someone kicked him from behind, forcing his face into the dirt. He tried to think, tried to make sense of what was happening. He knew it was the end. He wondered what would happen to his body – if he would be buried in a mass grave, if his wife and children would be notified at all. The butt of a gun pressed against his temple. And in that moment before his life ended, a flash of startling clarity made him recognize the irony: for the first time, Parker Thompson was about to be denied entry to a nation – the one nation that he should have been working towards his entire life.
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