As part of my efforts to learn and grow as a writer, I recently challenged myself to write something a little different for me: fiction. I LOVE reading good fiction, but I’ve never really tried to create it. So, in the interest of venturing out of my comfort zone, here’s a little parable I wrote. I would absolutely love to have your feedback (good and bad!) because that’s how I will grow! You can leave a comment, or email me (sheila(dot)alewine(at)gmail(dot)com.
Tajeet stretched his toes all the way to the end of his cot, rolling over to his side. Butterflies of excitement filled his stomach as the sleepiness of the night faded and he remembered what today was: his seventh birthday! He could hear his mother in the kitchen, already pulling out pots and pans to prepare the celebratory meals in his honor. Turning seven was a big step in his village, for it meant he could now attend the mission school. Today his father would take him to meet the teachers and tomorrow morning he would join two of his siblings in the mile-long trek they took each day to school.
He turned on his back and folded his hands on his chest as he had seen his father do many times. Pondering his future, he sensed he would miss the laziness of sleeping in and spending his days playing near his mother and the other women of the village. He would not miss being called the baby.
“Up from that bed, Tajeet!”
His mother pulled back the curtain which enclosed his cot and ruffled the dark curls of her youngest son. Tajeet blinked in the sudden brightness of the hot sun pouring through the front door.
“Yes, mama, I’m awake! Today is my birthday! You didn’t forget, did you?”
Giving his mother an impish grin, he stood on the cot and bounced up and down. Hands on her shoulders, he bent his face close. Making his voice as deep as possible, he whispered, “I am the man of the house today! Everyone must treat me well. Isn’t that right?”
Kissing his forehead, his mother smiled at her youngest son’s attempt to be serious. “Today is a special day for you, Tajeet, but don’t let it go to your head. We will celebrate, but there’s work to be done first. Get dressed and wash your face. Breakfast is ready.”
After breakfast, Tajeet and his father set out to visit the mission school. Spending this time together was a rare occurrence. Six days a week his father worked as a taxi driver to provide for their family of eight. Tajeet’s older brother worked long hours for a technology company in the city, traveling two hours by bus each morning and evening. His two oldest sisters were already accomplished seamstresses working for the shirt factory on the outskirts of their village, but his youngest brother and sister were still in school.
Tajeet found himself almost running, as his short legs kept up with his father’s long and purposeful strides. His father smiled to himself and reached down to grab his hand.
“Come along, son. We don’t want to be late.”
The dirt lane to town was empty except for a few stray dogs, and they made good time. As they neared the village, Tajeet noticed something about the people that he had never seen before. He slowed his pace, pulling at his father’s hand.
“Papa! What has happened to our friends?”
Up and down the streets, men and women, boys and girls went about their business as usual, paying little attention to the little boy standing with his mouth open and confusion written on his face. They looked perfectly normal, except that almost everyone had a very large, bulky sack on their back. It reminded Tajeet of the backpacks he had seen on some of the foreign visitors, but these sacks were much larger, and appeared to be filled with heavy rocks of all sizes. For even though everyone moved normally, their backs were bent over with the weight of the burden, some more than others.
Tajeet saw Rashid, his cousin, who was just three years older than him.
Tajeet waved to his cousin as he turned toward his voice. Rashid drew near, and Tajeet could see that he, too, was carrying a load, although it was much smaller than the adult burdens.
“Tajeet! Happy Birthday! I’m so glad you will be coming to join us in school!”
Rashid clapped his arm around Tajeet’s shoulders. Tajeet’s heart swelled with pride. He and Rashid were great friends, and because Rashid was always kind and encouraging to him, he nurtured a bit of hero-worship for him. Rashid never teased him like the others, but always made him feel special.
“Rashid, what is that on your back?” Tajeet reached out to touch the burden, but strangely, his hands only met the rough material of Rashid’s shirt. He could see the bumps and lumps on his cousin’s back, but he could not feel them.
“What are you talking about, Tajeet? Is there a spider on me?”
Rashid jumped away, slapping at his shoulder to dislodge whatever it was that concerned Tajeet.
“Tajeet, we must be going. We’re going to be late for your appointment as it is. Come with me. Rashid, we will see you later.”
Tajeet’s father reached his hand to Tajeet and pulled him away, as Rashid grinned at him.
“Don’t scare me like that, you scamp! I thought a scorpion must be on me with that wild look in your eyes!” Rashid shook his fist playfully toward his young cousin and ran off.
“Papa, what was that? Do you see what I see? Why are all our friends carrying heavy burdens, and they don’t seem to notice them?”
“I’ll tell you all about it on our walk home, Tajeet. Let’s just go to the school first and you tell me what you notice while we are there. Then I’ll share the secret of those mysterious burdens.”
Tajeet’s curiosity grew, but something about his father’s words comforted him, so he held tightly to his hand and walked on.
Tajeet kept his eyes open as he met his new teacher. Never shy, he easily slipped his hand into hers as she drew him into the classroom and introduced him to the students at their desks. He was excited to see his own name printed in a beautiful script and taped to the desk where he would sit, and slowly read his name out loud, tracing the letters with his finger.
“My mother taught me to read,” he said proudly.
“That is very good, Tajeet,” his teacher responded. “I see that you will keep us busy staying ahead of you! Why don’t you sit here for a bit and listen as the class continues?”
Tajeet slid into his desk and watched his teacher walk back towards the front of the classroom. It dawned on him that there was no mysterious bag of lumps on her back. He looked around at the other children. No one else had anything on their backs, either. No, wait. He could see across the room that two of his classmates were hunched over their desk, with a small bag showing on their backs. But the majority of the children were just like him, unencumbered.
His eyes went to the open doorway, where his father stood in the hallway watching him. Their eyes met, and his father acknowledged what he had discovered with a barely perceptible nod. Tajeet could hardly wait for the bell to ring so he could ask the questions that were burning in his mind.
As the class ended, Tajeet lined up with his new friends and exited the room. He joined his father in the hallway and they were soon out of the schoolyard and on their way home.
“So, what did you notice at the school?” his father asked.
“My teacher did not have a burden on her shoulders, Papa. And most of the children in my class did not, but there were some who did. I did see on the playground many others who had those funny looking things on their backs, but I don’t think any of the grown ups at the school did. And, Papa, I just noticed, you don’t have a burden on your back, either.”
Tajeet circled around behind his father, reaching up to pat his shoulders as if to confirm what he saw.
“What are those? And why can I see them, but not feel them?”
“Tajeet, what you are seeing are all of the sins of the people. Do you know what a sin is?”
“Yes, Papa. Mother read about sins to us from the book we have at home. It is anything we do that is wrong. But why could I not see them before? What is special about today?”
“Today you are seven, Tajeet, an age which the old fathers taught us is a time when a young man or woman becomes accountable for their actions. It doesn’t always happen on your birthday, and some people are a little younger or older, but for our people, it is the time when we realize we have a choice of whether or not we will carry our sins, or let the King bear them for us.”
Tajeet’s father continued to explain, as Tajeet listened intently.
“Our King knows that we are often tempted to do wrong things. And every sin we commit is ours to bear. The sad part is that when we die, we are not allowed into the eternal kingdom of our King with our sin burden. The King is holy, and cannot allow sin into His presence. So as long as we carry our sin burden, we are separated from the King.”
Tajeet stopped and thought about what his father said. “But why do some people have the burdens, but others do not?”
“There is a way to get rid of our sin burden, Tajeet, but it is very costly. The King has decreed that He will take our sin burden and place them on the shoulders of His own Son, but we must ask Him to take them. And in return, we must pledge our lives to serve Him forever. He is a good King, and the choice was easy, once I realized that I could never get rid of my sin burden by myself. But many of our people are proud and stubborn. They do not want to serve our King, but want to maintain control over their own lives. So they continue carrying their sin.”
“So, when you die, you will go to live with the King, Papa?”
“Yes, Tajeet. When I was a young man, about seventeen years of age, I went to the King and asked Him to take my sin burden and gave my life to serve Him. He has promised me a place in His kingdom when I die. Your mother and your older brothers and sisters have also made this decision. And we pray that one day, all of our children will realize the wonderful gift the King offers and accept His willingness to bear their sin burden.”
Tajeet’s father knelt in the sandy trail and drew him close. “Tajeet, our King is a good and kind King. He is very powerful, and not only does He promise us a place in His kingdom when we die, but He also promises to take care of our needs while we live. There have been many times when your mother and I have asked for His help, and He has never once turned us away.”
Tajeet put both his hands on either side of his father’s face. “I believe you, Papa. And I want to serve our King too.”
“You will, my son, you will! Now, let’s go home and celebrate your birthday!”
When Tajeet and his father arrived back at their little home, they could smell the wonderful dishes that his mother had been working on all day. Tajeet’s grandparents were there, as well as many of his aunts and uncles and cousins. Tajeet was given a special place at the table, and the traditional songs were sung in his honor. He also received presents from his family, simple things like new clothes made by his sisters and aunts, and toys carved out of ivory and wood.
Tajeet enjoyed every minute of the evening and was tightly wound up by all the excitement by the time everyone left, and the house was settling into its normal quiet routines of bedtime and prayers. Feeling bold, he crept into the kitchen after the lights were out, intending to help himself to one more piece of his birthday dessert.
“Tajeet! I hear you. Get back into bed. No more food tonight!” Tajeet’s hands froze as he heard his mother’s stern voice. He hesitated.
“Yes, Mother,” he answered. But instead of obeying, he lifted up the cover and cut a piece of cake. “After all, it’s my birthday. Mother won’t mind if I have one more piece,” he told himself.
“Tajeet. Are you obeying me? Get back into bed.” His mother’s voice came again, and an entirely new sensation filled Tajeet. It wasn’t exactly that his stomach hurt, but his heart raced, and for the first time in his young life, he wrestled with whether to do what he wanted, or to obey his mother. It was a very strange feeling, but he was still so hungry, and the cake looked so good.
“I’m going, Mother.” Tajeet slid the cake into his hand and replaced the cover. Slipping into his bed, he bit down into the sweet and crumbly treat. But it didn’t taste as good as it had earlier in the day. Instead of sweetness, it tasted rather grainy. Perhaps he was not as hungry as he had imagined.
“Oh well,” he thought, swallowing the rest. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he flipped over to lay on his back and think about his birthday. As he squirmed to get comfortable, he felt a sharp pain underneath his shoulders. Sitting up, he looked in his bed for what had bothered him, but finding nothing, he lay down again.
This time, though, when the pain came again, he realized what it was. A small rock, a little lump, attached to his back.