Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: HOT (08/10/17)
TITLE: The Boy on Fire
By Melanie Kerr
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It’s not safe to talk about faith. Not the Christian faith and sometimes not even the Muslim faith. The oppressors have their own brand of Islam, full of blood and violence, devoid of peace. Their Islam is not mine, but it’s best not to say so. I feel safe beneath the heavy black cloth of my burka. It has become my hiding place.
Mikhal was seven years old. His Christian faith oozed out of every pore on his skinny body. He proudly showed me his Bible once. He couldn’t read it. One day, tita, he told me, I will read it to you. I have his Bible now. Hidden among the things that only a woman possesses and that no man will touch.
He told me some of the stories from his Bible. I remember the one about a man with a withered arm. In the midst of all his enemies, on a holy day, Jesus told him to stretch out his hand and he did. Mikhal told me the story because like the man, I have a twisted, useless hand. I had learned to compensate as one does but Mikhal believed that just the man was healed, I could be healed too if I believed in Jesus. I was swift to hush him, and yet there was an ache inside for wholeness. I admit that after Mikhal had gone, I prayed to his Jesus. Nothing happened. Perhaps, I thought, it is only the men who get healed by Jesus. Women are of little value. Or perhaps he knows that I am not a sincere believer.
Christians have lived in our town for centuries. They caused no harm. We tolerated them. I liked to listen to their songs. Such lively tunes that made you want to smile even if it had been a bad day.
Bad days are all we have now since the invaders came with their tanks, their machine guns and their black flags flying. They crave the taste of fear and the smell of blood. They don’t know how to live in peace. Their way is the only way. I have put away my bright dresses. The butterfly that I was has been forced back into the cocoon emerging now as the dull caterpillar.
The Christians were not their first victims. A tax was charged, the jizja tax, a fee supposedly for the protection the invaders provided to non-Muslims. The Christian leaders paid the tax believing they would be allowed to practice their faith but church bells were silenced and carrying Bibles in public was banned. It was all about humiliation and the Christians embraced the indignity.
We were the first victims. Theirs was a harsh faith, a straitjacket of rules. When we refused to comply their response was brutal. I have lost count of friends and family whose heads have met with the swing of a sword.
Mikhal was seven years old. How can a child be a threat? Ah, but, tita, said one of the invaders, mere boys grow up to be young men and young men grow up to be old warriors. Best deal with the weed before the root is buried too deep.
Not a sword for Mikhal. They gave him the chance to renounce his Jesus. Embrace Allah, they said. But Mikhal declined. Jesus was his best friend, he said. You cannot walk away from your best friend. Even if they killed him that was fine by him. He would go to live in his best friend’s house. Did they know that Jesus had built a house for them all? He was seven. He was a preacher. He was magnificent. His words, like water soaked into the dry heart in me, but left the invaders untouched.
The smell was strong in the dry air. His petrol-soaked hair and clothes glistened.
They casually tossed a match and they laughed.
The heat, as Mikhal burned, rivalled even the heat from the sun.
He was just seven years old.
I have his Bible. Sometimes in the night, by candle light, I hold it. I can’t read it. But one day I will. One day, Mikhal, I will read it. And now I am a sincere believer I will prayer to Jesus and he will straighten my hand.
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