Each of them had committed some crime against the ruling power; some could not muster living a mendacious life style that supported the rich few and drown the masses in unequal rights and poverty. They could not live in that place and pray to their gods feeling clean. Punja had abjured the government and now he was in this labor camp, most likely until he died, just like the rest of them.
He thought about knowledge as he swung his axe. He thought about its power to unleash fear in those who lacked it. He thought of the uprising that could take place if everyone were allowed an education, and how that would never happen. The government knew the ignorant and hungry and poor were easily manipulated by the fear of losing what little they already had.
Punja had spoke on the dirty, crowded street corners of the city about these things. He talked and shouted until his voice was no more than a harsh, inaudible breath. He now missed those moments when his people moved like a swarm of bees in the hive crawling all over each other, the low buzz of their movements, the smell of curry and cardamom and tea, and the children’s laughter despite their empty bellies; these instances when the universe lifted him out of his body to look at it all from above—to show him the subjects of his life’s mission.
He remembered these moments like a sylph passing by electrifying his every nerve. He remembered them as his back ached, as his arms burned, and his head pounded from dehydration.
He was lost now in the last conversation he had ever had with another. A young girl had heard him yelling on the street and tugged on his dust covered pants. He stopped mid sentence and looked down at her. She was drowning in a sea of legs as they passed by, so he bent closer to hear her tiny voice. She asked him what it all meant, all his words of education and knowledge. Punja squatted on his heels in silence, really thinking of the best thing he could leave her, something she could understand.
She waited with eyes wide, lips parted showing her fragile teeth, and gently placed her tiny hand upon his cheek as his head hung there in contemplation. He slowly raised his head and opened his eyes, heart more full than it had ever been as he sifted a great lesson from the Talmud out of his brain that he had once read. He told the young girl—“Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.”
The girl smiled at him and nodded, but did not say anything. She put her hands together in front of her heart and bowed slightly backing into the wave of pedestrians until she was carried away by its undulation. Punja sat on his haunches for a long time tasting that truth. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested and sentenced without trial. Now, he was part of the masses again, part of the fearful, part of the voiceless sea, and he felt empty and hopeless.
Punja stood up right then breaking the smooth machine, removing the sound of his axe from the song of the laborers. He heard shouts from the overseer, but he did not move. Punja stood there as they whipped him; stood there as his back trickled blood rivers; stood there while pain transmuted to elation; stood there as the machine stopped all together and the only sounds that could be heard were the leather against his skin and his voice crying—“Grow, grow.”
Aleathia Drehmer 2009
Published by Eclectic Flash, Print Anthology 1