Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Fulfillment (04/06/06)
TITLE: Fish Bones
By Jan Ackerson
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Hugh Niven sits in a padded pew, his mind wandering as the pastor reads the sixty-third Psalm. At the words “richest of foods,” Hugh’s thoughts turn to last night’s meal. Patty’s salmon was overcooked, and the rice was mushy. A snort of disgust forms in his throat; he covers it with a cough as Patty glances sharply in his direction. Sunlight filters through the lovely stained glass windows.
Hieu is thankful for the American agricultural expert who befriended him last year. This bold Christian man introduced Hieu to his Savior, and now he ponders the cost of his newfound faith. He does not know if he will ever embrace his family again, nor if his small booth with sandals for sale in downtown Saigon still stands. Memories of his family occupy Hieu’s heart: little Anh’s snapping black eyes, the scrunched-up face that Tuan makes when the noodle soup has too many chilies, lovely Da’o, so like her namesake—peach blossom—soft and sweet. His breath catches in his chest, and he swallows hard with the realization that he has sacrificed the temporary for the eternal.
As the pastor begins to speak on “The Satisfied Soul” Hugh thinks of the profits his company made last year, selling trendy shoes to yuppies with wallets full of crisp bills. This was a banner year, but already the pressure is on him to sign up even more vendors next year. His work at the company headquarters keeps him from his family most evenings, and increasingly on weekends, but Hugh considers this a small sacrifice. Patty has become a shrew, and he hardly knows his children, anyway. A small furrow deepens between Hugh’s brows.
Footsteps approach from outside Hieu’s cell. A guard opens the door. His eyes are dead, and he thumps a large stick into the palm of his open hand. Hieu knows that he will soon be given another “opportunity” to deny his faith—or to pay the price. He struggles to his feet and follows the guard, whispering another Psalm as he limps down the dank corridor. Wait for the Lord, he tells his trembling spirit. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
In his spacious office suite, Hugh studies the peaks and valleys of his stock portfolio. He glances away from the computer at the sound of approaching footsteps. “Hey, Buddy, we’re taking Stern and Bellows for a working dinner. Don’t suppose you want to join us, though—they want to go to Hooters and tip back a few. That’s probably against your religion, right?” The men exchange scornful looks.
Hugh hesitates for a moment. “Uh, no, actually, that’s no problem.” He pushes away from his desk and joins the men in the hall.
The cell door opens, and Hieu stumbles inside, propelled by a rough shove from behind. He is broken and bleeding, but his spirit sings. He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and saves them. There is the clank of metal, the turning of a key, then silence. Hieu lies curled on his bloodstained mattress and sends up an offering of praise to his King, then murmurs a prayer for his wife and children. Peace and contentment well up in Hieu’s faithful heart.
Hugh stumbles through the darkened house, hoping not to disturb Patty’s sleep. She is still awake, though—waiting for him with reddened eyes. “Another late night? You’re never home any more…”
Hugh sits and cradles his forehead in his hands, his palms pressed into his aching eyes. He has nothing to say to Patty; he has said it all before, and the gnawing emptiness inside his soul has swallowed every word.
Scriptures: Psalm 63:3 and 5, Psalm 27:14, Psalm 145:19 (NIV)
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