Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Hair (07/04/19)
- TITLE: The Cut
By Arlene Baker
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A few months later, a finely dressed man ventured into our dirty streets. “Come here, children.” He smiled as he gestured. Some ran up to him. Others, like me, pressed back against the stone walls. “Yes, all of you, come. Come.”
We crowded around.
“How would you children like a job?” Mr. Man asked. “I’ll give you beds to sleep in and plenty of food. You’ll never have to beg again.” He smiled again. “Do I have any takers?”
Was he kidding? We jumped up and down in our delight. His smile broadened.
“Good, good. I’ll have a wagon come around this afternoon to fetch you.”
Cheers erupted when the promised wagon appeared. The kids scrambled in. Charles lifted me up before climbing aboard himself. The driver flicked the whip over the horse’s rump. The others chattered with excitement. I sagged against the wooden wall.
Servants met us at the door. They separated boys from girls and led us into our new quarters. First, they scrubbed our bodies and hair. After drying off, we all donned new clothes. Next, they led us to a dining hall where we feasted on hot soup and cold milk.
Mr. Man arrived as we finished.
“Hello again, girls and boys.”
Several returned the greeting. I held my breath, afraid to release it. What if this were a cruel dream and I woke up back on the streets?
“How did you enjoy your lunch?” he asked.
“Good, good.” Mr. Man smiled. “This is your home now. I will take care of you until you reach 21 years old.”
We all grinned.
“I can’t pay you money, but I do provide a job, a place for you to live and plenty of food.”
“No money?” one boy protested.
A slight frown flitted across Mr. Man’s face.
“Shut up, Stuart,” another hissed. “We ain’t needin’ no money if we have us a place to eat and sleep.” The others quickly agreed.
“That’s a good lad.” Mr. Man’s smile returned. “So, we have a deal? You will work for me and I’ll take care of you. By the time you reach 21, you’ll have enough skills to work anywhere you choose. That’s a fair deal by any standards.”
Several older kids nodded.
“Great.” Mr. Man rubbed his hands together. “Now, let’s sign the contracts and make it all legal.”
We were awakened long before dawn the next morning and hurried to a scant breakfast. It was still dark when several women shepherded us to the tall, dark building across the way. The noise of clattering looms rocked me back on my heels. That was the first of countless 10-14-hour days, even for one as young as I. Our arches fell from standing so long. Our knees gave out. None of that compared to those who lost focus and were chewed up by the uncaring machines.
Charles’ screams had haunted me for years. In a split-second of inattention, a machine gobbled up his right hand. He was useless to Mr. Man after that and had to return to his former life of begging and stealing.
My spirit revolted after six years of mind-and-body numbing labor. I bolted. Mr. Man sent his henchmen who hunted me down with the proficiency of well-trained bloodhounds.
Mr. Man met me at the door. He grabbed a fist of hair and hacked it off to the skull, never stopping until my head was bare.
“This is what happens when you try to leave,” he growled. “You signed a contract. You’re mine until you’re 21 years old.”
I nursed hatred for years, until I realized it was killing me. I finally talked to a preacher.
“You have to forgive him.”
“Jesus forgave you.”
“That man chopped off all my hair,” I wailed.
“Let me read you something from the Bible.” He opened the book. “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair… ” (Isaiah 50.6 KJV). He searched my face. “That is what Jesus did for you.”
“But…” Tears welled up. “That monster…”
“That man did you wrong. Very wrong. As have you, before God. God forgives you. You refuse to do less?”
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