Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)
TITLE: Through infirmity...
By Ruth Stromquist
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Focus...She needed focus.
Twenty minutes still, before her stop.
Didn't the bus have an air conditioner? Her skirt and once-neatly-pressed blouse felt soggy with sweat, the air stale. The smell of perfume from the girl student seemed an inescapable cloud, cloyingly sweet. Leslie clamped the leather case from her office tighter between her feet as the bus made a turn.
Fifteen more minutes.
It seemed the bus was turning forever. She grabbed the nearby pole, startlingly cool and smooth under her fingers, and willed herself to ignore the dizziness. If she could just...focus... She sent up a silent plea...
Lord, help. Strengthen me, I pray, and get me home to bed. What a day! Just this last little bit. Please...
"Yeah, and then this dude tells me I've gotta re-do the whole thing! Says he's gonna gimme an F if I don't hit the lab again tonight, and 'do it right'. Felt like tellin' him where to shove that pointer he's always wavin' around in class. Ol' fool!"
Leslie's eyes flew open. The boy was shaking his fist, blowing across scratched knuckles, the aluminum side of his bench now dented in the middle. Baseball cap on backwards, tattered holes in the knees of baggy jeans, dirty grey tee shirt, a tattoo of a coiled snake riding on his bulging bicep...
Heart pounding, Leslie scanned the other two quickly. The girl looked safe enough -- neatly dressed -- although Leslie wondered how that yellow, strapless polyester top actually stayed up.
The other guy seemed okay too, wearing checked shirt, cotton shorts and sandals; fingers flying over his laptop keyboard a mile a minute. He glanced sideways at his buddy, grinning, his typing barely slowing down. "Better chill, man. You'll be doin' more than lab makeup in Bio, if that driver catches you clobberin' his bus. And I've gotta pull an all nighter -- two finals tomorrow -- no time to be watching your back, dude."
Leslie sucked in a shaky breath. Lord? Home?
Snake boy caught her glance and glared back. "Whatcha starin' at?"
Shrugging, hoping to look like she wouldn't even think of objecting to people dismantling buses with their fists, she found her hand closing around the cloth-covered Bible in her lap. She flipped it open at random and lowered her eyes, pretending to read, trying to ignore the dark spots and sparks of light dancing with the words across her vision.
Her nausea surged as the bus braked abruptly for a red light. She tried shoving the Bible lightly against her stomach, hoping to settle it down. The last thing she needed right now was to be reading. But she didn't dare drop the pretense. Home, Lord? SAFE. Ibuprofen. Cold damp cloth on eyes...Lord. I--
Suddenly, words seemed to leap out at her, actually registering...
"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth..."
"Huh! Now that's interesting!" Realizing she'd actually spoken aloud, she felt like clapping her hand over her own mouth.
"What's interesting?" It was the girl, curious blue eyes peering out through thick black eyeliner.
Leslie shook her head. "Nothing. Just...nothing."
The boy at the laptop stopped typing, shoving hair out of his eyes. He raised an eyebrow.
Even the guy still shaking painful knuckles froze. "Nothin'? Whatdaya mean nothin'? Ya said 'interesting' didn't ya?"
Leslie closed her eyes again. You're kidding, Lord. Right? I'm in no condition to tell them about You. Need home, Lord. I..."
The bench-seat next to her shifted with the weight of snake boy landing at her side. He grabbed the Bible out of her lap. "Gimme that! What's so interesting, huh?"
So she told them...
And late into that night, as the bus took the second loop around its route, weaving its way through city lights and past dirty concrete curbs, the four became readers together.
Before the bus made its third loop, "snake boy" gave his life to the Lord.
And Leslie's headache was gone.
Scripture taken from the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:29-35 (KJV) “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to [him], and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
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