Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Bridge (07/31/08)
- TITLE: The Prayer Man
By Debbie Roome
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Our bed is a mat of cardboard boxes and our roof, a disused bridge. In front of us, the land is splintered into shards of grey rock that tumble downwards, eventually spilling into a deep river gorge.
I hug Taylor to my chest. “The prayer man will be here soon.” I whisper as I drop kisses on her head. “He’ll look after you and give you a chance at a good life.”
I’m awed at how beautiful this child is. How can something so amazing be birthed from such shame? I think of Mom’s boyfriend and what he did to me. Of Mom’s contempt and the alcohol that seemed to ooze from her pores. “Get out!” she shouted when I tried to explain my swollen abdomen. “Don’t blame us for something you’ve done to yourself.”
I lived on the streets for weeks after that, begging and stealing to survive. Then I found this bridge in the hills above the city. It became my home and the place where I will die.
“Come along, Sweetie.” I lay Taylor down and open the bag of supplies I stole for her. A pack of newborn diapers, a soft velour stretch-suit and a fleecy blanket. With clumsy fingers and a bucket of river water, I clean her up and guide tiny arms into sleeve-holes.
It’s only a few minutes before the prayer man will arrive. “Oh, Taylor. If only things were different.” She’s making snuffling sounds and sucking the blanket. Surely it won’t harm to feed her? Just this once? I lift my shirt and tears wobble and overflow as she latches on and determined jaws draw nourishment from my weakened body.
For a moment my resolve wavers but I have chosen this path. I can only offer shame but the prayer man will care for Taylor. He walks this bridge every day at this time. I hear him, hidden as I am. He prays for the city below, for the destitute, the prostitutes and criminals. He has never seen me so I know his prayers are genuine.
I rearrange Taylor’s blanket and lay her in the cardboard box that I’ve fashioned into a crib. “We need to go, Sweetie.” My tears are uncontrollable now, dripping and splashing onto the letter that I tuck into the box.
Dear Prayer Man,
I’ve heard you praying on the bridge and know you’re a good person. I’m leaving Taylor in your care as I cannot be her mother. Please tell her I’m sorry and that I’ll love her forever.
I struggle up the bank and place Taylor at the end of the bridge. After kissing her one last time, I begin my death-walk; one step after the other across rippled,rutted tarmac. I can’t look back for fear of weakening. Weeds poke through the cracks and I count them, trying to distract myself.
Too quickly I’m at the centre of the bridge and lean over, gazing into the river below. Navy water surges and boils, sending sprays of mist into the gorge. I lift one leg and place it over the rails. The water is calling, pulling. It won’t be long now.
I keep moving, lifting the other leg over the rail. My head is spinning and all strength has drained from my body.
“Stop Jessica! Please! I want to help you.”
I’m torn between two voices. The oblivion of death and the promise of hope. The prayer man is next to me now and I see compassion and love in his eyes.
“Your baby is beautiful, Jessica.”
He has hold of my arm and I hesitate. If I jump, I may pull him with me. He slides his other arm round me and I feel the embrace of a father. “I’ve heard you praying.” I whisper as he scoops me up like a child and pulls me back onto the bridge.
For the first time in months I feel safe as he continues to hold me, murmuring a gentle prayer. “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for saving Jessica and thank you for second chances.”
As I drift into darkness, one word rises within me. Hope
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