Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Childhood (09/03/09)
TITLE: One Small Sardine
By Patricia Turner
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Staring up at the man hanging on it, a young boy stood at the foot of one of the crosses.
“Why father? Why have you left me all alone?” he cried out, his fists tightly balled up and his eyes red-rimmed and empty. Sobbing, he clutched his soiled linen tunic tightly around him and sank dejectedly on his knees on the side of the road.
“Move along, son. You can’t stay here.” The mounted guard with the headdress of a Roman centurion prodded him with the blunt end of his spear.
Stirred from his daze, the feet of the young Egyptian found their way to the bustling market. Dodging the merchants of pomegranates and figs, clay urns and brightly colored linen he managed to snatch a fig here and a small sardine there. Scampering through the streets ahead of the angry sellers he made his way to the dwellings of the poor, near the edge of town.
Sensing that he was still being followed, the boy slipped around a corner and leaned against a stone wall. There with a moment of respite, he devoured the fig.
As he was about to unwrap the package containing the sardine he noticed a small boy standing nearby. He was thin but his tunic appeared clean. The child seemed to be watching him with a solemn gaze.
The older boy started to slink away with his fish but the younger child came closer and his eyes fell on the package in his hand.
Something about the child stirred a sense of loneliness in him. “Are you hungry?” the boy asked, knowing he had little to offer.
Saying nothing the little boy held out his hands to the older boy. There was nothing imperative in the gesture yet the Egyptian hesitated for only the length of an exhaled breath before placing the package in his hands.
“Here he is.” A Jewish man and woman approached quickly and the man touched the small boy’s shoulder. “Son, you must come with us now. We are going home – back to our homeland, at long last.”
The small child closed his eyes for the barest instant. When he opened them again the older child was struck again by their solemnity and the sense that he was older than his years. The child handed the package back to the Egyptian boy and turned obediently to follow his parents.
Passing between rows of crosses the family of three followed the Roman road out of Egypt on their way home to Galilee as the Egyptian boy opened the package.
Inside, three sardines were nestled in the wrapping.
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