He is my obsession.
He is my waking thought. His face – the first I want to see. With each encounter I search his eyes. I want to see them stray to the distant horizon. I listen for the chord of impatience in his voice. I watch for the betrayal of his body, a clenched fist, a frustrated shake of his head – something to tell me what I long to hear.
Absent is the restlessness that used to define his every movement. Contentment is the brushstroke of every gesture. His gaze rests on the people in the room. Every conversation is milked of its pleasure. He touches people with the gentlest brush of contact, and a smile spills across his face.
He smiles even for me.
How could he touch my shoulder and gaze at me with such companionship when he knows I hate him?
The sun has not risen on a day when I have not despised and scorned my brother. He is everything that I am not. He is my parent’s sunshine, warm and vibrant, while I am but a moon, cold and lifeless with only a borrowed brightness. Everyday for him is an adventure and the farm with its chores is his playground. They call him happy, but I know him to be spoilt. He oils the machinery of manipulation as a cloud of his disappointment obliterates the sunshine and they surrender to his terms.
One day he demands, and is given, his share of the property. He finds a buyer, and leaves for the city. My hatred is maintained even in his absence. I watch him in his far distant place. I pay people to be my ears and eyes. I make it my business to know what he is doing. My father wastes hours scanning the distant hills. If he knew the son he was mourning perhaps he would turn away from his vigilant watch. My tales serve only to injure my father’s heart but never once wrest his gaze from the window.
My brother has no right to return, and yet one day, there he is in the centre of the room, wearing the best robes. The smell of the pigsty cannot be washed away with sweet herbs. It is my duty to serve him, the honoured guest, but I will not look upon him. I walk away with my father’s words ringing in my ears, “My son who was dead is alive again!”
I am silent but words pulsate. “What about this son standing here? This son has never left the farm and yet never has he felt that he is alive to you!”
In the months since his return, I have come to realise that the man who came home is not the brother who left. The sunshine in his veins is no longer there. He offers no excuses or pleading, but humbly bends to any task given him. He takes joy even in the meanest of jobs.
He has become my obsession. At first I used to watch him, waiting for him to fail so that I could rejoice knowing that he is just like me. Now I watch, celebrating his triumphs, knowing that the change in him is real. I recognise that he is nothing like me. I yearn to hate him, but my heart begins to love. Something pure in his soul draws me.
He sees me looking. An expression I cannot fathom haunts his face. He comes to a decision and leaves the room quietly. Moments later he returns with a parcel in his arms, carried much like a vassal king bringing homage to his master. He places it in front of me. It is bulky, wrapped in leather and tied with a scarlet chord. Folds of a deep purple robe spill out, as he begins to un-wrap his gift. It is the robe, my best garment, given to him the first night that he returned.
There is something else. The robe is wrapped around some other treasure. There is a smell I recognise. His rags from the pig farm are exposed. The mud and the grime fester and rot.
He kisses his rags and offers them to me.
“This is my answer. When I think to forget, I take these robes and I smell their fragrance. I remember the place where I came to my senses. And I find my soul again.”
Perhaps they will help me to find my own.
Based on Luke 15:11-32
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