Not all prisons have four walls and iron bars. Not all prisoners are hardened criminals.
My mat is my prison. Six feet long and three feet wide, it is made of coarse wool, thickly woven and dyed a deep earthy brown. Where it is worn thin in places there are one or two carefully mended holes. Each day, friends carry a corner each, like stretcher bearers, depositing me next to the busy market where I beg.
My body is my prison. My arms are twisted, with elbows protruding and fingers frozen in a grotesque claw. My legs are pale, their flesh shriveled and my muscles wasted. A sentence handed down for the crime of catching a childhood illness, robs me of movement.
My total dependence upon others is my prison. I am so reliant upon others that I watch what I say. The words I speak are guarded. Angry words dripping with bitter poison, like caged lions, stalk my heart clawing for release. I cover my face with a smile and breathe soft thankful assurances to those who care for me.
My body's refusal to give up is my prison. My lungs breathe in and out. My heart pumps blood through my veins. My body clings to life while I long to escape. I am useless and have nothing to contribute. To most people I am invisible.
Then one day everything changes. A smell of freedom permeates the air. The presence of a healer in the town stirs something up. My own faith, like my body, has become paralysed and useless, but my friends are not daunted.
Like waves in a turbulent storm, my faith begins to rise, but drops as I see the crowd packed in the doorway. Solid, like a wall of living stones, they form an impassable barrier. They refuse to move aside, afraid to miss a word or a miracle performed by the healer inside.
The roof packed with straw and plaster is an easier barrier to dismantle, and my friends pick at holes with fingers and fists. Carefully I am lowered down. I am uneasy being the centre of attraction. Invisible no longer, I am the object of curious stares.
Is this the man who holds the key to my prison? He looks just like any other person that has passed me by. Something in my spirit tells me that this man, so ordinary, would not pass me by. His gaze is not on me, but on my friends. His face lifted to them smiles in celebration of their faith. Theirs is not a passive faith that waits, but strides out to claim a gift offered.
Finally, the healer speaks to me. First he grants me forgiveness and closed door in my heart springs open and peace floods in. Then he commands me to take up my mat and go home. My frozen limbs melt in the heat of his power.
The mat that has held my body for so long I now roll up and hold. I tuck it under my arm and make my escape.
My carefree saunter towards the door and my face smiling in a last backward glance convey my overwhelming gratitude in a way that words could not.
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