By Gavin Sinclair
Joseph knew almost every verse in the bible by heart. This was through necessity, for he was unable to carry the book with him. Only at home, with the great heavy black bible laid out before him, the long slender stick he used for turning the pages gripped between his teeth, was he able to draw added comfort from the permanence of the printed words on the page. Often, like tonight, after dark, he would sit in the burned out Toyota pick-up that squatted like a discarded beetle skin under the street lamp outside the apartment building and read aloud to the accompanying chorus of crickets and tree frogs. Occasionally, his concentration was broken by the distant howling of a monkey, and some nights, when the wind blew from the east, he heard the sudden sharp crack of a gun. In a town virtually without electricity, the light from the street lamp was some kind of a miracle and the long shadows it cast on the pages propped up on the dashboard added a luminous wonder to the verses.
Sometimes Isaiah would crawl into the truck and curl up next to him. As Joseph read the verses, Isaiah would repeat them, his voice fading to a quiet murmur as he drifted into sleep. Joseph would run his stump through the boy's hair. Isaiah could hardly remember what it was like to have hands. This must be a blessing and Joseph would thank the Lord for it.
There was a shuffling of sandals in the dust, and Ibrahim's face appeared where once the driver's side window had been. Beads of perspiration glistened on his forehead. His eyes drifted to where the boy's head lay in Joseph's lap. Joseph raised a stump to his lips and Ibrahim nodded, smiling. Joseph lay Isaiah's head gently on the vinyl seat and opened the door.
"It's OK," said Ibrahim in a hoarse whisper. "Myriam's home. I've already washed."
Ibrahim had a sister. She had been one of Joseph's best pupils, a little inclined to dream but a hard worker, outstanding in English and mathematics. Now she carried water and cooked for Ibrahim, Joseph and Isaiah and wiped them after they used the toilet at the back of the apartment building. She worked as a cook in one of the restaurants the soldiers frequented, so she could not always be home to help Ibrahim wash before praying, as ordained in the Koran. Then Joseph would help and between them they would manage somehow, being careful, out of concern for Myriam, not to waste too much water. 'You should convert, Joseph would say, joking for the most part. "Jesus does not demand this, and if he did, he would forgive you if sometimes you could not wash."
Isaiah stirred on the seat of the truck. His eyes opened and he was immediately awake. He sat up and looked around smiling. Ibrahim grinned from the truck's window. "Well, little man. Not even you can sleep on a night like this."
Isaiah grinned back. Suddenly the smile froze on his face. His eyes widened in terror and he buried his head in his father's chest. "Papa! Papa!"
"It's alright, my lamb. It's alright." Joseph reached up and brushed away the cobweb that was slung across the truck's window frame. "Now, it's gone, see."