Who would have imagined a time when a written law was necessary to protect a child from its own mother? What darkness has blinded the conscience of an individual to the reality and value of another living being, not of some alien and strange species but one of its own?
The founders of this nation no doubt struggled with establishing the very framework of a moral, just and civil society. Recognizing the values of life, liberty and property were manifest in the Old Testament scripture, they determined these were the best principles to pursue. Their wisdom, born of Christian study and experience caused them to build our Constitution upon the very foundations necessary for a blessed and prosperous nation.
Need we be reminded once more of the blessing and the curse that befalls a people who choose darkness over light, death over life.
“See, today I am setting before you a blessing and a curse a blessing if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am giving you today, but a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God and turn aside from the path I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” Deut 11:26 – 28
The US Declaration of Independence has declared that
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It is urgent that we revisit this phrase daily and teach it to ourselves and our children. Current legislation from numerous states has effectively removed protections to the Right to Life. It is only a matter of time before Liberty and Property follow. ( I say Property because it is the original and better understanding of the concept phrased “pursuit of Happiness”.)
For statist and enemies of our Constitution, there is enough debatable material within this phrase to allow them the opportunity to destroy us from within. They have been relentlessly redefining each term and concept to fit their design of government. The only thing that is keeping our nation from total collapse at this point is the very Spirit of God.
Let us take up His full armor and engage the enemy with the words of Truth and Righteousness. It is late for us to make up lost time but we must stand firm and be committed to teaching with full understanding and compelling reason that our nation has indeed been blessed because of the loving obedience of a grateful people to the God of Life, Liberty and Happiness. Choose this day – Life!
Article XIV - US Constitution
July 9, 1868
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
"It's roasting in here" I said. "Arjun, prop the door open and let in some fresh air."
The exhaust fan rattled high in the red tile wall. Arjun looked up from scraping charred bits of something out of a skillet. He was sweating.
"Aren't you hot? Prop. Open. The. Door."
He nodded and kept scraping. I shook the extra flour off my hands, squeezed past him and wrenched open the door, getting flour and bits of dough all over the knob. I kicked a chair into position against it.
"You need your hearing checked, mop-head?" I muttered under my breath. But Arjun heard me, and his grin froze for a second, then cracked open too wide. "Yes," he nodded. "Yes." He poured soap onto his sponge.
"Sorry, Arjun," I stopped.
He didn't look up. "Yes, yes, no problem."
He wouldn't have understood a long apology, but it would have made me feel better. Maybe. "Dear God, I really do want to be sorry," I whispered.
I finished wrapping the last few sausage links in dough and laid them out on a pan to rise before frying them. I washed my hands and turned on the gas under the pan of oil.
Rama, who had been out front mopping the floor, came clattering back into the kitchen. His girlfriend, Preen, walked in behind him, a baby girl on one hip and a big plastic bag in her other hand. I had told Preen not to visit Rama at the café while he was working but she ignored me. Or didn't understand. Rama poured the bucket of dirty water down the dishwashing sink, even though I had told him at least twenty times to use the utility sink, and took the baby girl. He held her up, nuzzling her belly while she kicked and giggled. She had tiny ankle bracelets with bells on them that jingled when he lifted her above his head.
Preen said something and patted Rama's arm. Rama gave her back the baby and opened the bag. Inside was an imitation leather jacket, a pair of expensive-looking jeans, and a couple of tee shirts. Rama held up the jeans and tried on the jacket. He tossed his head and folded his arms across his chest. Preen smiled at him. If you could ignore the crescent-shaped silver ring through the middle part of her nose, she was pretty, especially when she smiled.
Preen was always bringing him clothes and other things. I wondered why he didn't buy them himself.
All three of them were talking at once. Rama laughed. Preen glanced over her shoulder at me, her brow furrowed. I sensed something was wrong, but I had no way of knowing what. I told Rama and Arjun to get back to work. Preen said something else to Arjun in a louder voice, gesturing at Rama with her free hand, and stalked out of the kitchen, her long braid swinging behind her, the baby bouncing on her hip.
The oil was hot, so I started frying my sausage rolls.
It took me a few minutes to realize that Rama and Arjun were fighting, because they were loud even when they were getting along. They were always shouting, pushing, fake-punching, draping themselves over each others' shoulders to watch a video on someone's phone, laughing when they were supposed to be working.
Rama punched Arjun in the face just as I was dropping another batch of sausage rolls into the hot oil. Arjun shoved him back, and Rama fell, crashing into the stove beside me. His arm hit the pan and he splashed boiling oil all over himself and the stovetop. I jumped out of the way, but not before a few drops of oil scalded through my shirt and jeans. Rama yelled, shrill with pain, and held up his blistering hands. Arjun froze, his own hands spread out, his eyes wide with shock at what he had just done.
I read somewhere, or maybe Sasha told me, that cold water can stop a burn from getting any worse. As soon as I shut off the gas, I grabbed Rama, dragged him over to the sink and plunged his hands under the cold tap. He struggled. Rama is small, like most Tur people. His head came barely to my shoulder, but the pain made him so wild I couldn't hold him.
Sasha would have calmed him down and explained exactly what was happening. But I am not Sasha, and right then I was furious.
Rama sat on the floor, sucking in short breaths through his teeth. Arjun grabbed a handful of rags and threw them at the oil slick on the stovetop. Rama stood up and yelled something at him, waving his burned hands. "Come on," I said to him. "We need to get you to the clinic."
During the drive, I called Aunt Oxsana and explained what had happened. She said she'd call Uncle Peter and have him come down as soon as his afternoon class at the University was over. Her voice shook a little when she said goodbye. She probably felt sorrier for Rama than I did, but I guessed she was angry too.
It was not her idea to hire young, inexperienced Tur men to work in the café. Uncle Peter was behind that. "Better a few broken dishes than one more member of a Nationalist gang," he said. Even after their son Sasha was murdered. Or maybe because Sasha was murdered.
I decided to fire both Rama and Arjun, if Aunt Oxsana agreed. We would hire some Sevians. I was tired working with people who made me hate myself, who put the worst of me on display every day. God never seemed to give me enough patience. Training sessions, or even conversations often seemed to end with me yelling and waving my arms, while Arjun grinned and Rama scowled. I couldn't understand a word of Tur, and the chaotic alternate universe they seemed to live in made no sense, even with Uncle Peter's commentary. And he had multiple PHDs in Tur history and culture.
When we arrived at the clinic it occurred to me that Rama would need someone to interpret for him. I wished Uncle Peter could have come right away.
But it turned out that the emergency clinic provides free interpretation services over the phone.
I also wished I'd remembered to tell Rama to bring his health card, if he had one. Maybe he didn't. I had mine in my wallet, so I paid for him.
I sat down to wait, wondering if Rama had any family in the city besides Preen and the baby.
Just as Rama came out of the exam room, heavy-eyed with painkiller, hands swathed in bandages, Aunt Oxsana called me back. "Boris, I spoke with your uncle and explained what happened. He's still at the University but he'll be coming as soon as he can, less than an hour, I'm sure. You're at the clinic near the supermarket on Bladik, aren't you?"
"Yes. I think they're finished with Rama now. They must have given him some pretty strong stuff. He looks out of it."
Aunt Oxsana sighed. "Don't stay, your uncle will give him a ride wherever he needs to go. Thank you again, dear."
Rama wiggled his own phone out of his pocket, wincing, and poked the screen with stiff, gauze-wrapped fingers. I could hear Preen answering. She couldn't have been more than sixteen or seventeen, but her voice sounded even younger. Rama repeated her name often in their conversation, murmuring it as she exclaimed and cried.
When she hung up, he groaned, slumped sideways across two chairs and pulled his legs up to occupy another two.
I started to explain to Rama that I needed to go back to the café to help Arjun. Arjun probably wouldn't have thought to call up Sanjit, who usually only came on weekends. By 8:00, the café would be busy. But as I looked down at Rama huddled across the chairs, I suddenly thought of Sasha. I hadn't been able to help him. I hadn't been there when he needed me most, but I could still help Rama. It wouldn't be right leave him alone.
"My Uncle Peter is coming to take you home. I'll wait with you until he gets here."
Rama didn't look up or move. I sat down again by his head.
'Touch him, let him know you are here,' something inside urged. I didn't want to touch him. I was done pretending to be kind to someone I hated. Maybe if I patted his shoulder it would comfort him more than words he didn't understand did, but my hand wouldn't move. I noticed a small tattoo on his left wrist, just above the bandages, a pair of stylized bull's horns. I had seen that same tattoo before, but not on him. I think Sanjit had one. Maybe it was some kind of gang sign.
"Almost five years ago, my cousin was murdered," I whispered. Of course I knew Rama wouldn't understand me. He was probably asleep. "His name was Sasha. Some Tur stabbed him to death. He died trying to protect a girl, I think. I don't really know. But I do know that it was your people, Rama. Your stupid, violent people killed the best person I ever knew. God smiled at Sasha, and at me too, when he was alive. God hasn't smiled at me since. That is why I hate you. I am glad you got burned today." Saying it out loud was a relief, for a moment. Then it made me sick again.
I forced myself to touch Rama, at least his hair. Secretly, I was curious about those Tur dreadlocks and had always wanted a chance to examine them more closely. I lifted a piece of hair and rubbed it between my fingers. It was a little greasy with some kind of scented oil. According to Uncle Peter the long dreadlocks are an ancient warrior traditon, from the days when the Tur ruled our nation and Dor was Beyun. Rama and Arjun and Sanjit would sometimes fiddle with each other's hair during their lunch break, in the cafe kitchen, I might add, twisting strands to tighten them or wrapping them with thread. I twisted pieces of his hair around and around my fingers as the pain in my stomach bubbled up into my throat and my eyes started to burn. I wasn't grieving Sasha anymore, I was grieving for myself, the me that had died when he did, choked to death on bitter hatred.
Maybe if I smiled at Rama, or gave him money, or helped him find another job, or, I don't know, tied his hair, changed his bandages, maybe I could bring myself back to life. "Dear God, I don't want to hate him," I whispered. "He never did anything to me."
Nothing I did could change who I was. Hateful. I wasn't kind enough to deserve kindness. I wasn't forgiving enough to deserve forgiveness. I could have learned a few Tur words instead of mocking Arjun's mangled Sev. I could have smiled at Rama's baby when Preen brought her in this afternoon, instead of yelling at him to get back to work. I couldn't share the love that people who know they're loved can't help sharing, because I didn't have it.
Through the blur of tears I saw Uncle Peter walking in the clinic door. He smiled at me, then bent down and touched Rama's shoulder. He said something in Tur and Rama startled awake, eyes widening when he saw who it was.
All the kitchen crew love my uncle, they even call him "Kah" which is the Tur word for "uncle," but I don't think Rama wanted Uncle Peter to see him this way. Rama sat up and started talking. Uncle Peter's blue eyes grew serious and the lines in his face deepened.
Rama started to cry. He sobbed, his eyes streamed and his nose ran and he wiped it with the back of his bandaged hand until a heavyset woman in maroon scrubs came out from the nurses' station and handed him a box of tissues. When Uncle Peter sat down beside him, Rama dropped his head down on my uncle's shoulder.
After a while, Uncle Peter called Aunt Oxsana. "Love, if it's all right with you, Rama will be staying with us for a few days. Apparently he's been sleeping in the park, but he can't do that now."
I didn't hear Aunt Oxsana's reply, but I knew it would be yes. She probably went and found a blanket and pillow to put on the couch for Rama as soon as she hung up.
Uncle Peter turned to me. "Thanks for waiting with him, Boris. What an unfortunate accident."
"It wasn't exactly an accident. He and Arjun were having a fistfight in the kitchen."
"Oh. I see. This is the end of his career at the café, I suppose?"
"I'll have to talk to Aunt Oxsana."
"Boris, Rama was explaining to me that he's working here in Dor to pay off a debt his father owes. He told me that a relative's barn burned down and his father was involved in starting the fire. I'm not sure of all the details. Rama probably isn't either."
"How much can it cost to rebuild a barn?"
"There were about a dozen cattle killed or injured too, and cattle are cash on legs for the mountain Tur. Every bit of his salary has been going toward that debt since he started working. Is it two years now? He's also managed to acquire a girlfriend and a baby since moving to Dor. A busy young man." Uncle Peter almost smiled, though his eyes were still troubled.
Rama had been staring at his bandaged hands in his lap throughout our conversation. When Uncle Peter stopped talking he looked up at me. "Very, very sad," he said. "Very shame."
I had never heard him speak a whole sentence in Sev before.
"We're not going to fire you. You get another chance," I told him, slowly, but not slowly enough to make him feel stupid.
Uncle Peter had some questions for the nurse, but I got up to go. I was thinking about the café, about Arjun grinning at impatient customers while borscht boiled over on the oily stovetop. When I stood, Rama stood too, then he knelt in front of me and brushed his hand across my shoes two or three times. Uncle Peter smiled at my puzzled face. "He's telling you thank you," he said. "It's a way of showing deep respect, better than words."
I didn't know what to say. Somehow God had taken the fake, forced kindness that was all I had to give and made it real for Rama. If my love felt real to him, did that mean it was real?
Driving back to the cafe, I kept smelling hot oil, and sausage rolls, and pain. I realized my clothes were permeated with those smells. I wished I had time to go home and change.
When I got back to the restaurant, Arjun was dicing potatoes and Sanjit was washing dishes. I was impressed Arjun had thought to call him up.
"Where is Rama?" Arjun asked me. "Clinic?"
"No, he's with my uncle. He's going to be staying with them a few days. At. My. Uncle's. House." I repeated.
"House is close," Arjun muttered, looking at me.
I wasn't sure if it was a question. "Yes, it's pretty close. What's wrong?"
"Rama is not good. Not a good man. Angry. He say he is killing..." Arjun made a slashing motion across his own throat with his hand. I winced.
"When he said that, he was crazy with pain. You shouldn't worry about anything he said this afternoon."
Arjun shrugged. "Rama is not good," he repeated, as if I was the one who struggled to understand Sev.
"Rama give my sister one baby," said Arjun softly, as if he was talking to the potatoes as he chopped them.
"My sister. Yes. Preen. He gives my sister one baby girl, but no money, no house, nothing. She gives everything. Now she has baby again. Inside."
"Yes, pregnant. Rama saying this to me today."
"Is that why you were fighting?"
Sanjit went out to take orders from new customers, and I took over dishwashing. I wondered if Arjun knew that Rama never saw a penny of his salary and couldn't give Preen or his daughter anything, no matter how much he might want to. In my mind, I heard the sound of her little-girl voice sobbing on the phone. I saw Rama slumped against my uncle's shoulder, too exhausted to sit upright, and now I saw sadness and anger and fear in Arjun's eyes as he finally looked up from the potatoes.
They made me think of an ikon in my grandparents' church in Dovni, one that had fascinated me as a child. It showed Christ on the cross, gleaming white in the middle of crowds of dark faces that swirled around Him like smoke, all yelling, crying, smothering Him. The artist had painted Jesus black too, up to the waist, and the edges where the black and white met were blurred, as if the darkness was still rising and was going to cover Him completely. Even back then I knew I was part of the darkness that swallowed Him, but I wanted so badly to be one who helped take it away, to be loved enough, pure enough, to bear it, like Jesus did.
When Rama got hurt, I helped him because I had to, not because I cared about him. Now I really did care, and I wanted another chance to show it. Sliding plates into the soapy water, I prayed that God would be merciful and give me another chance too.
Suddenly my hands were on fire. At first I thought I had accidently bumped the hot tap open more. Sometimes it comes out scalding. I fumbled for it but it was off. My rinsing water was barely warm. I sucked in breath to keep from shouting in pain and stared at my dripping hands, expecting to see them redden and blister, but they didn't look any different.
"Boris! You are ok?" Arjun's voice sounded blurry. "Sit down. You are sick." He pulled me towards a chair.
"No, it's my hands. I'm burned," I gasped. I expected the skin on my hands to start peeling off. The kitchen door swung open behind us. I thought it was Sanjit, but when I looked around I realized it was Rama. He was wearing an ugly yellow plaid shirt that I'm pretty sure was Uncle Peter's, and his dreadlocks, which had been loose in the morning, were tied in a knot at the top of his head. Uncle Peter must have helped him, unless...
I noticed he had torn the thick outer layer of bandages off his hands and only the gauze was left, sticking to his raw skin. Arjun's and Rama's eyes flashed simultaneously to the big knife on the counter beside the potatoes. Rama stepped over and picked it up. Arjun backed away from him.
"No, Rama. Please no," I whispered.
Arjun bumped into the wall and stopped, cornered. He raised his hands to defend himself. Rama was saying something but he didn't sound angry. He waved his free hand and the one holding the knife back and forth. Arjun still looked scared.
Then Rama turned back to the counter, picked up a potato and chopped it in two.
I told Rama that he needed to get out of the kitchen, he shouldn't be handling the food with open wounds. He ignored me. Arjun reached out and put his hands on Rama's wrists and pulled him around. Rama tossed the knife into the sink. They were both smiling. Arjun held Rama's hands palm up in his own and studied them like they were something precious. Rama slowly curled and uncurled his fingers.
My own fingers felt like they had been set on fire. Or plunged into boiling oil.
I remembered something that Uncle Peter had told me soon after his son Sasha was murdered.
"God loved Sasha enough to entrust him with a short life and a violent death," he had said. "Challenges like those aren't for everyone, but God knew Sasha would be faithful and use whatever he was given wisely. God only gives gifts like that to the ones He loves the most."
At the time, I was too hurt to understand. That kind of love seemed worse than hatred.
But sitting there in the little café kitchen in the middle of the night, dizzy with the pain that seemed to throb hotter with each heartbeat, I understood. Whatever I thought about myself, God must know I was good enough, loving enough, to bear Rama's pain for him. He loved Rama enough to take it away, but how much more He must love me to entrust me with someone else's searing pain, just like Jesus, the one He loves most of all?
Arjun walked over and knelt down in front of me, his forehead wrinkled with concern.
"Boris, you are ok? What is happen?"
"Just give me a minute, I'll be fine."
"Calling your uncle."
"No, it's ok. I can walk there."
I looked over at Rama, who was watching us, confused. I didn't know how to explain what had happened, and I wasn't sure I wanted to. I smiled at him, the first time I ever had, and he smiled back, slow, uncertain. Did he sense that we were sharing something too strange, too important, to put into words?
I felt happy--but maybe happy is the wrong word to describe a person experiencing that much pain. I felt loved. I hoped Rama did too.
Moving in the past, present, and future
The Holy Ghost operates as preceptor
Light in shadowy darkness
Author of truth made manifest
Seen only with the mind
Unlaced by space and time
Stand aside with reverence
Be still for the promise of deliverance
In a moment glory will abound
Heralded by trumpets, voices will sound
Joining of the body and spirit at last
Moving in the future, present, and past
Transformed into a celestial light
A navigational clue in the depths of night
Like moths to a flame stray masses draw near
Charmed by the fire there is no fear
Orientation is fixed by positive detection
Seeking an escape, looking for protection
A comforter rises out of the earth
Showering praises and promises of mirth
Hearken unto thee, come close and see
Signs and marvels full of mystery
Speaking in words careful not to convict
A bond sealed
Every hour the spiritual battle rages
Desirous of Truth I read through the pages
History revealed in the Spirit shines forth
A merciless enemy rises out of the North
Taking control by subtlety
Convincing masses with intrigue and flattery
Desolation verily to ensue
As spoken by the Prophet ringing true
In a fallen world there are only two
Separated by Grace, a chosen few
Not by works, but faith alone
A sole Redeemer from God is shown
The Lord of Glory
First and Last
Saving souls from evil past
Suffering trial and persecution
A perfect work upon execution
Burst asunder the bands of decease
Spirit at rest, soul at peace
Glorified is His name
To Satan, an open shame
To those who are called
To those made wise
Press forth towards the mark
Seek ye the Prize!