Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Handout (04/14/11)
TITLE: Feed My Lamb
By Ann Grover
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“Hoi, watch what yer doin’,” the stall keeper shouted. “Get away with you.”
Ollie hung his head in shame and disappointment. Usually, the stallkeeper offered Ollie a farthing to run an errand or even a soft apple or two, but today, nothing. Ollie blew on his hands and tried not to think of Ma and the children shivering on the thin mattress back in the tenement building.
Ollie passed a tavern as several men entered, and Ollie inhaled the moist breath of the tavern wafting through the open door. Clutching his worn jacket closer, he sat down on the step and closed his eyes, lulled by the merry sounds coming from within.
“Lad, move along.” The tavern keeper stood over him, compassion and annoyance mingled on his face. “Yer stoppin’ up me door.” He shoved a scrap of bread into Ollie’s hand.
Ollie crammed it in his mouth, and before he could move from the step, two voluminous skirts, bedecked with ribbons and flounces, blocked his way.
“Hello. I’m Miss Lillian, and this is Miss Mary. Is your father inside?”
“No, mum, me da’s dead.”
“Oh,” Miss Lillian laid a gentle hand on Ollie’s shoulder. “Was it the demon drink?”
“No, mum, ‘e were crushed at the docks.”
The ladies’ ringlets trembled.
“You mustn’t linger here, dear boy. It is a wicked place and will lead to laziness and dissipation. We’d like to invite you to a better place.” Miss Mary pulled a small handout from her lacy reticule and placed it in Ollie’s dirty hand.
The picture on the paper showed an array of food: roast goose and pheasant, puddings, tarts, and towering bowls of fruit. Above the lavish fare, the arms of a robed man stretched out in welcome. The words, an invitation to a revival sermon, were merely scribbles to Ollie.
“Please do come.” The ladies nodded enthusiastically.
“Who’s this man?” Ollie pointed to the robed man.
“Why, it’s Jesus Christ! Don’t you know Jesus?”
“No, mum. Not ‘eard of ‘im.”
The feathers on Miss Lillian’s hat quivered. “Jesus is our blessed Saviour.”
“‘E’s got food, mum, like this picture?”
Miss Lillian nodded.
“Reckon ‘e’s got enough for Ma and Joey and Martha?”
“Oh, yes, Jesus has enough to feed everyone in the world,” Miss Mary exclaimed.
“Remember, come to the Good Shepherd Church,” added Miss Lillian, as she spied several patrons exiting the tavern. The ladies approached them, handout ready, but the men sneered and consigned the proffered paper to the gutter.
Jesus must be a very fine gentleman, Ollie thought. He’d find Him, he would, and persuade Him to visit Ma. Jesus wouldn’t need to bring a goose, no, nothing fancy, just a bit of tea, a drop of milk for the little ones, and some bread and butter is all. Ollie’s eyes shone, somber brown eyes that had seen so much of life, yet so little.
Ollie asked a man where the Good Shepherd Church might be.
“Their kind don’t appreciate the likes of you,” the man warned.
“But Jesus ‘as food for me.”
The man laughed.
Light snow was falling, but Ollie, fortified by the thought of bringing Jesus to Ma and the little ones, walked doggedly through the looming dusk, his feet becoming more numb with each step.
Finally, in front of a great stone building with oaken doors, Ollie saw the man with outstretched arms, majestic and welcoming. This must be the right place. But, the doors were locked; no sounds of a banquet or any enticing fragrances came from within.
Maybe he was early. He’d wait.
The ragpicker found Ollie at dawn, a tattered bundle nestled beneath a snowy quilt, his head resting on the statue’s stony foot, and remnants of a smile lingering on his face.
“Aw, poor little mite. Let’s fetch somethin’ warm, though it’s a bit late for it, eh?” He rummaged through his cart, found a frayed blanket, and tenderly swaddled Ollie’s lifeless body.
“What ‘ave we ‘ere?” The ragpicker pulled the dog-eared paper from Ollie’s stiff fingers. Jesus’ face was smudged, not unlike his own, but the banquet was still discernible, splendid and grand.
“Yer surely feastin’ with the angels now. Rest easy, lad.”
A gust of wind whipped the paper from the ragpicker’s grasp, and like a feather, it fluttered away and vanished in the snow.
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