The Blessing
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© Gavin Sinclair 2000

    The new arrivals instinctively pressed to the edges of the room, merging as far as possible into the bare bricks of the wall. Clouds of steam rose from their clothes. Joseph tried not to catch anyone's eye. Ibrahim appeared at his side. "Let's get out of here."
    Joseph nodded. "Come, Isaiah."
    "Come now, my boy! Come!"
    "Papa, look!" The boy's voice shook. Joseph followed his gaze over the heads of the soldiers, through the haze of smoke and steam to a table in the far corner of the room. The table was smaller than the others and covered with a faded blue-checked cloth. Half a dozen men sat around three or four open bottles of whisky. One man, larger than the others, sat apart, lolling in his chair, relaxed, in command. His face was towards Joseph, but in the shadows, he could not make out the man's features. Suddenly the man threw back his head in a great laugh that bared a mouthful of flashing white teeth, and in that moment, as the swinging lamp threw its light across his face, Joseph caught sight of a glint of gold. He felt his guts contract. The muscles in his arms tightened in the remembered action of clenching  fists. The man pulled at a chicken leg with one hand as with the knife in the other he hacked through the bone, until the leg gave way and he raised it to his fleshy lips, dripping great globs of grease that shone on his chin as the lamp made another pass. Holding the chicken leg in one hand, he picked at a tooth with the middle finger of the other. Again the flash of gold in the flickering light. Joseph shuddered and felt a great wave of nausea. Against his legs, he felt Isaiah tremble.
    "Come, boy, come!" He pulled Isaiah through the crowd, following Ibrahim towards the door, pushing against the tide of people until at last they emerged onto the street and stood panting in the soaking rain. Joseph wrapped his arms around his son, as the rain pummeled their skin, and pulled the trembling little body close to him, as if to shield him from the memory of another hot sticky night four summers ago, when the rains came.

It was a Tuesday. A sunny day but with heavy clouds in the western sky. The rebels came to the house at about four in the afternoon. There were two of them, a fat man and a boy, carrying an axe. The boy was no more than thirteen, eight years older than Isaiah, the man about the same age as Papa.  He wore a cap with a badge. Isaiah was sitting outside the house, drawing in the dirt with a stick, while Elizabeth read in the shade of the fig tree. Papa was at the table inside the house, the big black bible open in front of him. Isaiah wasn't scared of the men at first. Ibrahim was with them. Then he saw Ibrahim's eyes. He saw the gun in the man's hand. He looked to Elizabeth, who was already running towards him, shouting "Papa!"  He looked up into the face of the man just as he grabbed him.

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