The bullet rips through my back, tearing, burning, destroying, as I crumple to the street. The car accelerates away, tail lights dim against downtown squalor.
Momma warned it would come to this. “Keep away from those gangs, boy. They’re nothing but trouble.”
I try and pull myself upright, heart thudding, panting as pain cripples. In front of me, grey buildings run into grey streets. Foul water splashes through a gutter nearby and a burst of laughter escalates through a broken window. Gun shots are commonplace here. No one will call the cops; no one will care that a youth lies bleeding to death.
I struggle to my knees and sense blood pumping from my abdomen. The bullet must have gone straight through. “Oh God,” I whisper, and for the first time I’m talking to Him, not taking His name in vain. “Is this it? Am I really dying?”
They say your life flashes before you at death and like a film strip, memories come winding through my mind: Momma raising me alone, our dingy apartment, empty cupboards, my old football, school work … and the book shop.
I push onto my feet, gasping as pain slices me in two. The book shop was the only spot of beauty in my growing years. Situated in the heart of the slums, it shone like a candle in a dark room. I would pass it on the way home from school and linger, my breath misting the window as I gazed inside.
“If I’m dying, let me die there, God. I don’t want to die in this filth.” I force my legs to move, dragging one and then the other forward. The book shop is not far and I urge my body to keep going.
As I turn the corner, I see a golden glow down the street. “Twenty more steps.” I whisper. “You can make it.” I feel blood bubbling through my lips and memories of the book shop tumble through my mind. The windows were always clean and sparkling and the shelves were laden with books and Bibles. On Saturday mornings they had a children’s hour and a lady would read stories and hand out little cupcakes. The window display is what fascinated me most, however. It changed every week and I would spend ages staring at the miniature scenes.
A cough tears at my chest, shredding my insides with fresh pain. “Help me, God.” I moan as I lean against a wall.
I remember a lifelike lamb posed by a mirror lake and a Psalm in the background about green pastures and still waters. Another time a model train circled a track and a poster asked, Where are you going in life? At Christmas the window showed a stable with little figures inside and a glittering star suspended from above.
I’m suddenly desperate to get to the bookshop. Something inside me needs to see that window one last time. I push away from the wall, clutching my side as I stagger forward. Each step is racked with agony as life spews out of me.
The glow is brighter now and light spills across the pavement. My legs buckle and I crawl up to the window. A rough wooden cross stands inside, tall with red cloths draped across it. Next to it, a painting of Jesus stands on an easel, vibrant in deep crimson, gold and purple.
As my vision blurs, I gaze at the words spread across the painting: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
I feel my heart slowing, strength draining as I slump onto the sidewalk. “Oh God,” I whisper. “I’m sorry, so sorry …” My body convulses briefly as I twist my head sideways. “I need you Jesus … I’m dying …”
As my last conscious thought fades, a voice surges in my heart, washing away my agony and fear: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Bible verses from NIV, John 3:16 and John 1:12
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