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If a House is to Burn
11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
If a House is to burn:
If a house is to burn,
By luck, let it burn during the sweltering summer,
So those who lost are kept in a blanket of warmth.
If a house is to burn,
By unfortunate, it will burn in the winter,
And those who have lost will be licked by the tongues of winter.
If a house is to burn,
Let it burn and take all the ugliness with it.
If a house is to burn,
Make sure no one is inside it,
Lest they be killed.
If a house is to burn, burn it will,
But by God’s hand alone,
Let it stand.
This was true for my life. Once I saw the burning house, I was changed. It burned my heart, leaving a scar. It was coming that house, straight for me. It was coming to show me the truth. It was a life altering moment.
“Once I was blind, but now I see.”
If a house is to burn,
Let it begin like this…
In Africa, there is a place called Nairobi, Kenya. And in Nairobi, Kenya, there was a town whose name was Pride. The town fit its name like a hand in a glove. The citizens of the town were prideful, and bitter. They were as bitter as tobacco spit sitting in the warm sun. They hated outsiders who weren’t as prideful as they were, and had different morals than they did. The citizens of the town were of course, stubborn animals, with not a compassionate bone in their bodies. And of all the animals in the world, the citizens were, peacocks, and the most prideful ones too. Some were beautiful and some were ugly. But most were ugly because of their hearts.
I, unfortunately, was born into this culture, by a peacock named Proper, and I do believe she was just that. According to my mother, image is everything. She had to be beautiful every day, and since I was her daughter, I had to as well. It was no wonder my father left us. If I could I would too. But the town trapped me in itself, according to the stupid laws that Mayor Prejudice put down. Legally, I had to be twenty years old to escape this dump, but until then, my mother enjoyed bossing me around however she wanted. So we lived in the grander side of town, away from where our maid, Assister, lived.
Assister was like a sister to me. She was pretty and kind, way more than I was. I was sort of jealous of her, but she and I were still friends. Sometimes, when I was little, she let me visit her house. It was a small, one room shanty near the other poor peacocks’ houses. She also lived over by the ‘preacher’ as he was known.
Pastor Obedience was his real name, and he lived up on the hillside by himself. I was told by mother that he was this crazy peacock who was always telling us about this thing called the Peace. Along with the Peace, he would talk about the Master, who loved us all very much. I was curious about what he said if they were true or not. But I wasn’t curious enough to sneak over there and ask him. It was against the town’s social regulations that I be seen with him, for he was hated by the town. But why he stayed even though everyone hated him, I didn’t know.
“Fearful,” my mother would say to me, “why on earth would you even think of talking to that…’preacher’? He is no better than the trash he lives next to.”
Assister would look down at the carpet and walk back into the kitchen. Mother called her trash almost every day. It was typical, but I could tell Assister was hurt. Why didn’t she just leave us like daddy did? That was one answer I would have to snoop around for.
I pretty much lived as close to Hades as possible. Why? I wasn’t prideful, I wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous, and I didn’t care about my image. Plus, I didn’t have any friends, unless you count Worldly, who acted exactly as she was named, worldly. She always had the latest fad, phrase and behavior. If you wanted the latest, Worldly was your peacock. I didn’t like her that much, but mother loved her, way more than she loved me. Worldly should have been mother’s child, not I. She fit the role perfectly. They were the best friends, and I was the awkward third wheel.
My real trouble began the day when Mayor Prejudice came to visit. He was prejudice, especially against Pastor Obedience. He wanted the town to continue being prideful. He was just as bad as the Deceiver himself and all his serpents with him. His secretary was a peacock named Luster, who had many wives, and was as slippery as an eel. Luster and Mayor Prejudice were always trying to arrest Pastor Obedience, but they never could. For some reason, he would escape out of his locked cell, or he would disappear right after they got to his house. Mother claimed Assister had her hand in it, but others claimed it was the work of the Master. For some reason, they stopped after a while.
Mother was in the back, having her daily preening, when Mayor Prejudice knocked on the door. Assister opened it, and gasped softly. He gave her a warning look, which meant, I’m keeping my eye on you, and came in.
“Mayor Prejudice!” I stammered, trying to keep my composure, “what a surprise, come in.” I tried to sit just like mother taught me: legs crossed, feathers out, wings folded in lap, no slouching whatsoever.
Mayor Prejudice laid his hat next to him on the couch. He cleared his throat for a second, and then solemnly stated: “As you know, we will be having this year’s Fire next week,” I nod, trying not to be bored. He was an old man, and didn’t do well on his speeches. Worldly and I have fallen asleep before, at his Fire speeches. He was the dullest part of the celebration.
“Every year, we choose a young peacock to be this year’s Opal.” Mayor Prejudice continued. It was typical. Every year the town had a celebration called the fire, where one young peacock dressed up as some aspect of fire and was sacrificed to the town. It was supposed to be a position of honor to be the Opal, but to me it was a position of torture. Why would Mayor Prejudice come see me about the celebration? Unless…
“The town council and I have elected you to be this year’s Opal. What do you say?” Mayor Prejudice waited for my response. I wanted to scream at him; tell him it wasn’t fair for the town to kill innocent peacocks.
But all that came out was: “Great.” He stood up and walked to the door,
“Have your maid make your costume by Thursday.” Then he was gone.
Have you ever wanted to run away? Well I certainly did, all the time. But after that, I wanted to even more.
“Assister?” I called out.
“She left while you were talking.” Mother stated while polishing her beak. Sometimes I can’t stand her. She spends all day primping, then goes out to talk to our neighbors for a few minutes, takes all the makeup, and wigs off, and hardly spends any time with me. I guess it’s because we’re so different.
I snuck outside, and began walking the old dirt path to Assister’s house. I watched the ground beneath my feet, and occasionally kicked a stone into the grass. I was furious, at my mother, at Mayor Prejudice, at the whole world. Was this my life?
I wanted an escape more than anything. I didn’t want to deal with any more of this, at all. But how could I escape when I was trapped?
Do you believe in angels and demons? Winged creatures of beauty and ugliness? I wasn’t sure what to believe at the moment, but I certainly wasn’t ready for what was coming.
I saw Assister’s house on the next hill over. I began sprinting. I slowed down when I got there. The house looked empty. No lights were on, and I couldn’t hear anything from the inside.
“Assister?” I called out. Nothing. I walked up to her front door and knocked. Nothing. Her porch creaked. It was sunset and the house looked creepy from this view. I shivered. I could feel someone’s eyes burning into my back. Someone was here, and if it wasn’t Assister, then who was it?
I turned around and stepped off the porch. The door swung open all by itself, tempting me to enter. Assister would never have done that. I was curious, who was really in the house? I had to find out. With caution, I snuck inside. The door closed behind me and I was lost in darkness. I could hear soft whispers surrounding me.
“Hello child, we’ve been waiting for you.” A voice soothingly whispered right into my ear. I shivered. Something moved around my feet. I stepped away. Something hissed. Who was there? I couldn’t see anything. Where was the door? I panted. I had to get out, I had to…
Suddenly the roof burst into flames. The whole house burst into flames. I could see serpents everywhere. Some encircled me; others mocked me from a distance. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. The serpents were squeezing the life out of me. I tried screaming, but no sound came out of my mouth. The flames licked my feathers and talons. I struggled to escape, but it was no use. I thought I was going to die.
Goodbye world, I didn’t really want you anyway, but I’m not ready to die. That’s what they’ll put on my tombstone: killed by serpents and the Deceiver.
It was almost like a dream. The fire dispersed and the serpents hissed loudly. They let go of me.
“It’s the Master’s son!” They hissed. Pastor Obedience held up his wings.
“Enough foul creatures. Do not tell the town who I really am, or else I will punish you. Back to the Deceiver!” He flung his hands at them. They flew through the air and disappeared, leaving me burnt in the middle of a pile of rubble.
“Are you okay?” Pastor Obedience leaned down and examined my burns. I nodded.
“What were they trying to do to me?”
“The serpents, followers of the Deceiver, were trying to drag you to the abyss. I got here just in time.” He examined me carefully, “You’re not saved so you would have gotten there anyway.” He said flatly. He helped me to my feet.
“What do you mean sir?” I asked. I had never heard anyone speak about being saved or not. I’ll admit I was curious. No one ever spoke to me like that before, I wasn’t used to it.
“I mean that you do not know the Peace or the loving Master, therefore you would have gone to Hades unless you believed, which you don’t so I guess until you change that you’re still going there anyway, sorry.” He shrugged. I was furious.
“Can’t you help me? You’re a Pastor, you know of the Peace very well.”
He chuckled. Then he turned to me:
“Would you be willing to give up all of this? All of your comforts, you would even be risking your life, for an escape? Because Fearful, believe me I know you want it.”
“How do you know my name?”
He laughed as if I had said something funny, but I didn’t think it was funny. I had never met anyone like him before. Could he read minds or something? How did he know I wanted an escape? I had to know.
“Alright…” I nodded sternly, “I’ll do it. I’ll follow this Peace thingie.”
He stopped laughing: “You can’t just say that Fearful, you have to live it. You have to have a commitment.”
“What’s a commitment?”
He stared at the sky, and I never noticed how chalky blue it looked. There were a couple clouds, but it was the sky that interested me. It seemed to be changing. It turned from a chalky blue to an ocean blue.
“Commitment,” Obedience stared at the grass, “is a promise of the deepest kind. An oath, which is the most pure. This is what you must have with the Master. This is the way for your escape.”
“But how can I get this commitment?”
“Believe in me, trust me, and follow me. Listen, respect, and learn from me.” He smiled. We walked to his house. I didn’t care who saw me over here, I had an escape. The one I wanted. It was all mine. I was going to get my commitment and get out of here.
Assister was in Pastor Obedience’s house. She was sitting at the table, deep in thought. She blinked back into reality when we entered the house. They eyed each other with surprise. I sat down across from Assister, and Pastor Obedience sat next to her. They looked at me. Now I’m in for it. I thought.
“Your house is gone and Fearful here got a taste of Hades.” I sat back in my chair. So that was who was after me. The Deceiver himself and all his serpents with him.
“You seem surprised.” Pastor Obedience stated, reading my mind. I shrugged.
“I just didn’t know.”
“Well Assister, we’ve got a case on our hands. Fearful wants to be saved.”
“Tell me about it. I done wished that for myself too. Sho’ nuff, I ain’t gettin’ nowhere without him.” She nodded to Pastor Obedience. She smiled, showing off her beautiful beak. My mind went mad. She’s prettier than you. It mocked. I crossed my wings and knitted my eyebrows.
“Now, now Fearful, no need to get mad about Assister, why don’t we talk about the Peace, since you’re so curious?” Pastor Obedience crossed his wings. He was really good about reading minds.
I had so many questions, but I didn’t ask any of them. I wanted to find out what exactly I was getting into.
Pastor Obedience, reading my mind again, said:
“Okay then, we’ll tell you. The Peace is based off the Master and our belief in him and his ways.”
I snorted. This guy was a crackpot. This commitment was pointless. Why would I believe in something that didn’t exist? There was no master, and even if there was a master, why couldn’t I see him?
“The Masta’ ain’t a genie you done appear on command. Nah, he be powerful, more powerful, than you done givin’ him credit for. And he be a’ comin’ for you.” Assister wagged her wing at me.
“Fearful,” Pastor Obedience leaned forward, “can you see the wind?”
“No.” I shrugged.
“No says she, she just gonna havta-“
“Assister, I’ve got it.”
“No, you say. You can’t see the wind, no one can, but you can see the effects of the wind right? You can see leaves falling, you feel it on your face, it blows pages, leaves, flower petals right? Likewise, you cannot see the Master, no one can, but you can see his works. Look at yourself; he made you, me, others, and the whole world. He is good and he loves you.”
“If he is so good,” I scoffed, “why did he make the world so ugly?”
Pastor Obedience eyed Assister. This was a lot to handle. And so soon too.
“It wasn’t his fault,” he said, “It was our fault.”
“Me!” I backed up, “what did I do?”
“It ain’t your fault baby girl,” Assister stroked my beak, “It ain’t any of ours fault. It be the Deceiver’s fault. He done tempted Eve and her husband Adam in the garden, he done tempted them alright. They done fell for it, and sho’ nuff, we be that way since. The Masta’ done didn’t want it, but he got it, and done lived with it ever since. That be that and he gonna come back someday, you watch.”
I sat back, thinking. So there was a Master who loved me but let me live in this ugly world, why? Was I going to believe in him? Not yet, I was still uncertain.
Pastor Obedience looked at the clock on the wall. It was late, just about seven o’clock.
“C’mon baby girl, I be walking you home.” Assister led me out the doorway.
“Bye Fearful, come back anytime, and Assister, I’ll see you tonight for service.” She nodded. We began walking home.
“This be makin’ since?” She asked me.
“Sort of.” I shrugged, “Assister, can I ask you something?”
“If the Master loves me so much, why did he let me live in this ugly world? Why does he let me live through the pain, why does he give me pain?”
“Baby girl that be a toughie. I ain’t him, and I don’t know what he be thinkin’. He got a purpose for you, for the Pasta’, for me, and for all the others in this world. He done know what gonna happen, that be for sho’. We ain’t never gonna know what comin’ only he does.”
I nodded, trying to think. The Master loves me, lets me live on this earth. All I have to do to be saved is believe in Pastor Obedience and that’s it?
“Can the Pastor read minds?” I asked. Assister laughed real loud.
“Course he can. He done does what he wants to. Do you know of the story?”
I shook my head. Assister smiled. I was listening now. I was ready.
“The Master done has a son, who was sent here through a virgin to live and breathe with us. Some say to help us somehow, but nothing is set into stone. And I done believe it be the Master’s son be Pastor Obedience.”
I thought. Pastor Obedience said believe in me, he didn’t say, ‘believe in the Master, or the Master’s son’. Curious…very curious.
We arrived at my house. Worldly and mother were inside trying on sparkly jewelry. Assister bade me goodnight and left.
“Oh there you are!” Mother exclaimed, pulling me onto a stool. “Where were you?”
“With Assister.” I sort of lied, but not quite. Mother yanked my feathers straight and harshly clipped some beads into my wings.
“Guess what Fearful?” Worldly jumped up and down enthusiastically. She was too perky for me.
“What.” I groaned softy.
“We’ve all been invited to Luster’s party tonight.”
I groaned. Luster’s parties were the worse. It was all the latest dancing, drinking and other stuff (I’ll let your imagination do the rest). Every time they had a party, I pretended to be sick. Not tonight though. I couldn’t.
“We’re going to make you gorgeous.” Mother smiled a little too big.
“Can I just not go?” I asked. Mother and Worldly shook their heads. Great…I thought to myself. I was stuck going to a party, where I didn’t know anyone.
I thought to myself, my first prayer to the Master:
Master, if you are hearing this, please keep me safe as I go to the pit of serpents. I want to believe in you, give me a sign please.
I looked up from my prayer to see mother and Worldly getting their finishing touches done, which they really didn’t need. They had on enough makeup to make the ugliest pig in the world look gorgeous. Mother dragged me out of the house, shut the door behind me and locked it. The key she put in a special pouch she wore snugly around her waist.
“You are going to have fun,” Mother firmly whispered into my ear, “and don’t think you can get back in the house either. I’ll be watching you.” She knew that the first chance I got I would head straight back here. She slung her wing around Worldy’s and the town of them strutted like that down the road like they were the closest friends in the world.
That made me mad. Did my mother care about me? I now knew the answer was no. No, no. no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, NNNNNOOOOO! That woman didn’t not give poop on a stick about me at all. Compared to Worldly, I might as well have been trash on the curb, forgotten, alone. It might have been better for me anyway to have been trash on the curb, because then I wouldn’t have been in this mess. But, if I had been trash on the curb, then I couldn’t have met Assister, or Pastor Obedience, or even the Master. They were special, and what was that service they were talking about? I didn’t know, because before I snapped out of my thoughts, we were already at Luster’s house.
The house was big and decorated. Loud music burst through the walls and there was laughter. Luster, seeming tipsy, escorted us into his house.
The smell of all kinds of alcohol reached my beak and I almost gagged. I hated alcohol, especially lots of it. Peacocks were everywhere, laughing, drinking, smoking, dancing. It was like a party from Hades. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Deceiver himself and some of his serpents were there too.
Mother and Worldly joined into the mob of drinkers, who all were sitting around and laughing. They all were tipsy, and I could smell the beer standing five feet away from them.
“Hey, sweetheart, you want a drink?” A gruff voice asked me. I turned around and a big peacock standing behind a counter looked at me. He had a cigarette in his mouth and the smoke curled from it into different shapes. He looked at me impatiently. I stared at him, nervously, like he was going to attack me. I didn’t belong here. I didn’t belong here at all. I didn’t want to be here. This wasn’t me. I wasn’t a bad girl, at all. Strange maybe, but not bad, that was not me.
“I’m gonna settle you for a drink.” He puffed, and the smoke caressed my beak, urging me to puke. He leaned down, wrinkling his fat stomach feathers. I stepped closer, cautious of what he was doing. He stood back up and blew whisky and cigarette smoke into my face. I coughed ever so slightly. Everything around me seemed to be saying, “We hate you, you don’t belong here, get out.”
“Here, drink up. It’s my own recipe.” The glass held dried spit on the edges, and I could see some faint lipstick lines. The amber liquid bubbled and the smell was overpowering. “Get out now!” It gurgled.
“Well?” He blew more smoke into my face, and pulled his cigarette out of his mouth, “Aren’t you gonna drink it?” I threw up. My stomach riveted. I shivered. No one noticed except the peacock with the cigarette, who didn’t even bat an eye.
I backed up. I turned around, bumping into Luster.
“Whoa,” he said soothingly, the smell of beer rolling off his tongue. “What’s you got there?” he eyed my glass with sleepiness. He was tipsy all right, and it didn’t take a genius to figure that out. And it wouldn’t be long until the others got tipsy as well, I just had to wait. I didn’t belong here. This wasn’t my town, these weren’t my neighbors. What had I done to get in here? I was over my head.
My mind reeled. I gotta get out of here. Luster eyed me with suspicion and ordered another shot of whisky. I backed up some more. My wing fell numb and glass shattered on the floor. Amber liquid exploded onto my feet. I turned and ran. Anywhere but here, I thought to myself. The doorway wasn’t packed at all; I turned the knob and flung it open. As I ran outside, I could hear yelling behind me. I stopped a couple blocks from the house. The moon shone like a lighthouse in a stormy sea, a sea full of horror. I panted; my lungs burned. I hadn’t run in a while, I was out of shape.
Suddenly, I heard gunshots, two to be exact. My feathers stood stiff, my ears perked up. My eyes scanned everywhere. But I heard nothing more than the loud music and laughter of Luster’s party.
I kept running. My house was locked, but what about Pastor Obedience’s? Would he let me in? I just had to go there, there was no other choice. My feet pounded up the dirt path, into the poverty, into the darkness. Was that what my life was now? Darkness? Was there any light? I was confused. Where did the Master fit into this?
Where was the Master while I was in that Deceiver worshiper’s house? Where was he when I entered into an alien world? Didn’t he care? That evoked what Assister said earlier to me. She said I have a purpose in this world, and only the Master knows what it is. Then I thought to myself, if that is so, maybe the Master wanted me there to learn something. But what? Did this mean I believed in him? I guess so. I prayed to him, so that had to count for something.
Pastor Obedience’s house was barely lit up. I slowed to a stop, panting. Looking in through the porch window, I saw Pastor Obedience talking with Assister and two other Peacocks who I didn’t know. Assister saw me and beckoned me in. I slid the door open inch by inch. I creaked a little.
“Come on in Fearful.” Pastor Obedience called. I shut the door behind me. They scrunched up their noses when I walked closer.
“Whoa ee! Baby girl, what you done get into?”
“You smell bad, like cigarettes and…sniff…whisky…and…sniff…vomit.” Another peacock whom I didn’t know stated.
“Lord, you weren’t over at that Luster’s party were you?” the other unknown peacock asked. I nodded.
“Baby girl, theses my friends. This be Frail, and her husband, Worker. They done lived by my house till it done burned down today.” I nodded to each of them. For being married, they were complete opposites. Frail was a small, puny, thing who spoke in soft tones and slowly. She was paler than the rest of us, and skinny-like. Her husband was brawny and tall. He had a bulky face and dirt on his beak, like he had just been working in the mud. They sat next to each other on wooden chairs that surrounded the dining table.
“Baby girl, why don’t we done go clean you off?” Assister got up out of her chair and escorted me into the back bathroom. She let me soak in the tub of a few minutes, telling me about her life as a slave on a plantation. Little by little, we washed the grime off me till I didn’t smell at all. IT felt good to be clean and get that stuff off of me.
“Oh good, you’re both back.” Pastor Obedience smiled. We sat down.
“Fearful, why don’t you tell us what happened? We’re very curious.” Pastor Obedience asked. The others nodded.
“Well, it all started with my mother.”
My story, as unique as it is, may not be that different from yours. Perhaps you too are trapped and want an escape? Perhaps you have a cruel environment you live in. I felt the same way. But I chose to do something with my life, listen to Obedience. Perhaps there is an Obedience in your life that you can listen to.
As I told my story to strangers I may have known, or just met today, I noticed Pastor Obedience listening intently. When I finished he leaned forward,
“Come with me, I have to show you something.” It was about midnight, and from Pastor Obedience’s house, you could still hear party music going on. The full moon shone like a spotlight on us, and it casted eerie shadows around us. My brain spun, trying to stay alert. We were walking towards Mayor Prejudice’s house, and I hoped that old coot didn’t see us. We trudged up a hill in his back yard.
“Stop.” Pastor Obedience whispered. We stood on top of the hill looking down into the town. You could see Luster’s house from here, all lit up with lights and sins. You could see my house, and the houses beyond. You could see to the horizon, all the beauty the world beholds.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” Pastor Obedience asked. I nodded. “Too bad it isn’t permanent. This could all be destroyed by fire in an instant.” He looked at me.
“Now you believe in the Master, don’t you? You prayed and he answered.”
“How did he answer? I was dragged to that demon pit over there and endured the world.”
“Precisely. His answers are not what you think they are. Consider what you just went through a test. He was merely testing you to see if you really believed in him.”
“Did I pass?”
“I don’t know, I am not him.”
We stood silent for a while, looking at two separate things. I watched Mayor Prejudice’s house as the lights turned off one by one. I guessed it was close to one.
“Fearful, every bird who is meant to fly, must take their first step. The little birds run as fast as they can, open their little wings and try to fly. Same with us. Being followers of the Peace means we too must take our first steps: accepting, baptizing, and loving. You have already taken the first step. Can you trust the Master to help you through another?”
I stared out into the dark sky speckled with shimmering stars. The Master made this, all of it. He made me as well. But was I, a prideful peacock, even close to worth as the stars?
“I know what you’re thinking.” Pastor Obedience broke my thoughts.
“Oh I’m sure you do.” I stated. He chuckled.
“So are you going to let him help you through your life?”
I stared at the ground. Every little inch he designed, to show me and others he made it, especially for us. Why us? Why me? Assister told me I had a purpose, but did everyone? Why couldn’t someone else have my purpose? Why me? I scolded myself. I am privileged to even have a purpose, so I should take it no matter what.
“Yes.” I held my head high. I was a child of the Master. He was going to be my escape. I could count on him.
Obedience sat down.
“Listen.” He said as he pressed his ear to the dirt. I did the same.
At first, I could hear nothing. Then when I had waited long enough, I heard it. What was it? Oh I couldn’t possibly say. It was too special to even describe. Okay, I’ll tell you what it is. What my ear heard was what no peacock could ever say, what no sunrise could ever sing: the earth’s heartbeat. It is true, the earth has a heartbeat, but only those who care or are willing will hear it. What my ear heard that night was the beautiful melody of the earth. A th-thump, th-thump was a drumbeat in my ears. The earth was alive. Pastor Obedience smiled at me. I laughed. It was the most beautiful thing I heard. The Master had made this, everything, just for me. Was I a spoiled peacock or what? Pastor Obedience nodded, reading my thoughts as he always did.
“I want to do it.”
“Do what?” He looked at me in surprise.
“Take the next step.” We laughed.
“Let’s go then.” He helped me to my feet and we ran back to the house, laughing all the way. I didn’t care if Mayor Obedience saw me. I was a Peace Follower! I was a Master’s child! Who cared if people saw? I didn’t!
We ran inside the house, throwing the door open wide. Assister, Frail, and Worker all looked at us in surprise.
“Fearful wants to get baptized!” Pastor Obedience yelled. Everyone jumped up and down, laughing and crying.
“Oh baby girl!” Assister cooed. Frail and Worker squeezed me between them, even though Frail was very delicate. Pastor Obedience patted me on the back. This was my new family; we were all crazy according to the town. But I liked it.
I sat in Assister’s bathtub. Pastor Obedience stood outside of it, holding a book. Worker and Frail were crammed in beside me in the tub, and Assister was crying her eyes out.
We love you with all our hearts. Help us to grow Fearful into the peacock you want her to be and with this holy water, may she be purified in your sight. Amen.” And after saying that, he gave Worker the signal to dunk me.
The water surrounded me, how blue it was. When I came back up I was drenched, but happy, happier then I had been in a while. I was now a daughter of the Master, and I loved it.
I stayed the night at the Pastor’s house since my own was locked. In the morning, I trudged my sleepy butt back to my own house. Mother greeted me with too much energy. Let me rephrase that: she was too bubbly.
“Good morning Fearful. I missed you at the party last night. Wasn’t it wonderful dear?”
I mumbled a yes. Mother frowned.
“Where did you sleep last night? I found the house locked and no one inside.”
“Worldy’s house.” I lied. Mother’s smiled instantly disappeared.
“Sweetheart, Worldly was shot last night.” Mother sniffled. I couldn’t believe her. But I couldn’t believe the news either. Worldly was gone. Even though she and I didn’t really click, I still didn’t want her to die. I got mad at mother. She wouldn’t have cried half as much if I got shot. But that did explain the noise last night. I yelled at myself inside my head to not be jealous, I had something better.
“Mother, I’m sorry.” I stretched out my wing to comfort her, but she pulled back. She sniffled and sighed.
“No matter, but I have a surprise for you.” Her smile was back. I raised my eyebrows.
“I’m pregnant! Isn’t that wonderful?” Mother practically burst through the ceiling with happiness. I rolled my eyes. She went from a weeping woman to a pregnant prima donna. I was surprised by this news. My mother for the longest time hadn’t wanted another kid. But I guess people change.
“Oh by the way dear, I need you to try on your dress for the ceremony on Thursday. Chop chop.” I followed Mother to her sewing room, where Assister sat at the bottom of a beautiful copper colored dress. She smiled at me, I smiled back. The fire was coming up and I totally forgot. That meant my time was running out. Luckily for me, I had met the burning house before this week. I was saved, so to me it wouldn’t matter if I died or not.
“Now, try it on for size.” Mother commanded. I stepped into it cautiously. My wings fluttered around until I found the arm holes. It zipped up in the back.
“You will look marvelous.” Mother smiled.
“One last thing.” Assister placed a tiara on top of my head. Isn’t every girl’s dream to be a princess for a day? Well it certainly wasn’t mine, unless it was to become the Master’s princess, which I already was. But I posed for Mother as long as she wanted me to.
After getting baptized, Pastor Obedience handed me his old book, and commanded me to read it. The book was very thick and after reading the first story or creation, I fell asleep. Pastor Obedience also talked to me about this place called Haven, where Peace followers go after they die. I really wanted to go there and see the Master face to face, but I had just started my new life. I couldn’t die now could I?
But I could and I was going to at the Fire celebration. Speaking of the Fire celebration, after I finished trying on my dress, I strutted over to Mayor Prejudice’s house. I just wanted to see exactly whose side he was on. He was sitting in his office, looking at the schedule for the ceremony.
“Mayor Prejudice,” I began after I sat down, “remind me, what are your thoughts on the Peace again?”
He sighed and pulled his glasses off his beak.
“Why Fearful, what an odd question, are you just randomly curious? Or is it for you to be even more curious after being spotted on my property last night. Silence is respected for now, but I will still answer your question. My dear, there is one thing you need to understand: those ‘followers’ are crazy. The ‘Peace’ is nothing more than a hunk of lies and myths, created by drunkards.”
“Can you prove it?” I asked cautiously. Assister warned me that Mayor Prejudice had a nasty temper.
He raised his eyebrows and said:
“You don’t believe me, hah! Well I’ll just prove it to you, just to show you how right your Mayor is.” He stood up and walked over to his chest of drawers. He pulled out many until he found the drawer he was looking for. After coughing a couple times, he handed me a giant book, bigger than the one Pastor Obedience gave me. I coughed dust out of my lungs and flipped through the many pages. He sat back down.
“That book proves the ‘Peace’ is nothing more than dried poop. Look on page…what was it….oh yes, 345.” He waited for me to find the page and continued: “Read that page out loud and tell me what it means.”
I stared at the fraying page and the faded ink.
“On October 20th, 2000 years ago, Julius Roguish founded the town of Pride. He had only four citizens of the town at that time, and one of them was a man named Obedience. Obedience was an avid ‘Peace follower’ and tried to convert the other citizens of the town.”
“Finally, they had enough. They challenged Obedience to a competition. They claimed that if there was a Master, he should make it rain for three days straight, and if there wasn’t then Obedience would be kicked out of the town and never could return.”
“On the eve of the first night of rain, there was no rain. Obedience watched but no rain came. Then, after he prayed anxiously, the rain fell. It fell in sheets for three days straight, and after it was done, the people of the town were amazed. Two of the people believed, except for the Mayor, Julius Roguish.”
“He wanted to keep the town safe from a religious outbreak, so he devised a secret meeting with the two other peacocks. They decided, they would have to murder Obedience that night, and blame it on natural disaster.”
“So that night, Julius crept to Obedience’s house, along with the other two peacocks. They opened the door, grabbed the sleeping Obedience, tied him up, and threw him into a nearby river to drown.”
“The next day, they had a celebration, but up the road walked Obedience, alive. Julius was furious, but there was nothing he could do. So as he grew a family, he taught them how to hate Obedience, and they did just that.”
“And still today.” Mayor Prejudice nodded.
“Sir? Why do you want me to read this? This story proves the Peace is real, Obedience prayed and the rain fell, Obedience did not drown in the river. Why do you claim these stories are myths when the evidence is right in your very face?” I stood up fast, my wings clenched into fists. Mayor Prejudice rolled his eyes and stood up as well.
“I guess it’s a good thing you’re going to be the Opal this year, because then you’ll be gone and life will go back to normal.”
“Why are you keeping this from everyone?”
“Truth be told, after my great-grandfather and the other two peacocks saw Obedience, they swore an oath not to tell anyone the Peace is real, and I guess you will have to do the same, until you die that is.” He walked towards the door.
“You will not tell anyone about this meeting understand? Or I will kill you before the ceremony.”
I laughed at him.
“What if I’m already a Peace follower? What if you can’t kill me the same way your great-grandfather couldn’t kill Obedience? Then, you will be the one laughed at, instead of us.” I stomped out of his house and down to mine. I wanted nothing to do with this town, not anymore. But now I knew who he really was. A liar who was keeping the truth from everyone.
“What?” Assister exploded. I nodded. Pastor Obedience sat across from me, he said nothing.
“Baby girl, how could you? What happens if he be comin’ to your house tonite and he gone shoot you. What then?”
I shrugged, “I’ll just have to pray.”
Pastor Obedience smiled: “You better do that.”
The night of the Fire, I was on edge. Mother had showered me at least three times and done my feathers at least twice. Assister helped me into my dress. Mother put the tiara on my head.
“Darling, you’ll be perfect.” Mother smiled. I nodded nervously.
Please keep me safe, and if possible, please don’t let me die. Amen.” I whispered a short prayer under my breath. We headed out the door.
The Mayor’s house was decked out to the extreme. Fire was billowing everywhere. There were refreshments and fruit served and everyone ate something. After a couple hours, Mayor Prejudice raised his glass and exclaimed,
“And now for my favorite part of the celebration: the Opal!” Everyone cheered and I was escorted outside up to the hill where the Earth’s heartbeat was. They lit the fire pit and tied me to the wooded platform. I was sweating and screaming at the top of my lungs.
“Wait!” A loud voice called out above the din. The crowd parted and there stood Obedience. They all laughed and whispered.
“What is it Pastor? Come to preach to us again are you?” Mayor Prejudice shrieked. The crowd burst out laughing.
“No. I only asked permission to switch places with the Opal.” He looked at me. I stared back at him in amazement. How could he? I wasn’t worth that much compared to him. He couldn’t do it. He was too valuable, he was too valuable. He was…
“You want to die! How wonderful, I’ve wanted that for years! But you can’t can you?” Mayor Prejudice asked.
“I have given myself up.” Was all that Pastor Obedience said. He knelt to the ground. The other untied me and flung me away. I landed to the left of the platform in the dirt. They grabbed Pastor Obedience and beat him. They threw him on the ground and spit their tobacco juice on him. They tied him up as tight as possible, almost squeezing the life out of him. Assister found me and we held each other. They beat him some more and he screamed. I rushed forward, but Assister held me back. We held each other in pure terror. They hurt him so much I wanted to kill them all.
Obedience was dragged to the wooden platform and tied to it. They then set the platform a fire. As the flames grew they chanted and sang and danced around the fire. Mayor Prejudice raised his glass.
“A toast, to my friend Pastor Obedience, a wonderful man just like us.” He icily yelled. Pastor Obedience groaned as the flames licked his feet. I wanted to run up to him and untie him. I hated the way Mayor Prejudice was making fun of him. I wanted to shoot my Mayor.
“Oh come Pastor, if you really are in the Peace why not save yourself? We could all use a good laugh.” Luster sneered. Pastor Obedience groaned.
“What was that? Too weak? Well I guess we all knew you were like that all along.” Mayor Prejudice mocked. Everyone laughed. Pastor Obedience was silent. Assister and I stayed in the shadows, crying.
“Come on you old man!” Luster yelled, “We want some fun, save yourself!”
Another peacock kicked the wooden platform and it fell forward into the fire, crushing Pastor Obedience. Everyone laughed, even mother. I loathed her, I wanted to kill her, set her a flame just like she did to Obedience. But I didn’t want to go against Obedience’s rule that we must forgive our enemies. How could the Master do this to us?
“Baby girl, let’s go. We’ll come back later for the body.” Assister whispered into my ear. I didn’t feel anything, not even my head nodding. Just nothing. It seemed like my world was suddenly set on fire and laughed at. I couldn’t breathe.
I remember following Assister to Pastor Obedience’s house. Worker and Frail were inside already, talking to themselves. Assister and I walked in, quietly, as not to disturb anything. They looked at us in surprise.
“Where’s Obedience?” Worker asked. Assister crumpled to the floor sobbing and screaming. My eyes teared up and I whispered: “He’s dead.”
Frail fell to the floor with Assister and Worker joined her. They pulled me into the circle and we sobbed together. It felt good to sob with others, even if it meant over a dead friend. I don’t really want to write the rest of this chapter, but I will.
After a while, we stopped crying. One by one we fell silent, praying to ourselves and the Master. Assister offered to make some coffee and we sat around the dining room table.
“What was your favorite thing about him?” Frail asked me.
“…He could always read my mind, and he showed me the earth’s heartbeat.” I stared at the table.
“My favorite was his dedication to the Master, he never faltered.” Frail nodded.
“I always liked his compassionate heart.” Worker whispered.
“Me too. That is my favorite thing.” Assister sadly smiled. She glanced at the clock and nodded at me. We stood up and walked back to the house.
By 11:00 pm, the party was still going strong, but the fire was done. We snuck over to the wooden platform and untied Obedience’s body, which apparently was not burnt at all. Someone yelled at us and we just took off, speed walking, toting the body between us. It was hard work, but we finally made it to Obedience’s house.
While speed walking, my mind ran to a line in Obedience’s book:
“Trust in the Master with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your paths.” To me, that just said: “Give it to the Master, he knows what to do.”
We laid the body on the table and uncovered it. There were wounds and dried blood, but also someone had cut into his skin the word: “sinner”. We tried to wipe it away with a wet washcloth, but it wouldn’t come off.
That very night, the four of us went behind his house and buried him right there.
“I know you didn’t know us all that long, Pastor, but you were the greatest example the world has ever known. You nurtured us, you protected us, and you showed us the right way to go. Thank you.” Frail sniffled into a tissue. I leaned against her. Assister wrapped her wing around me. Worker did the same to Frail. And there we stood, the four of us, leaning and holding one another. This was my family. I belonged here, no matter how bad things got.
After a few hours, Assister and I walked home. Mother was talking on the phone to someone by lamplight. Assister spent the night over, and I helped her get comfortable. I crawled into the bed, thinking, what now? Our leader was gone, and what now? Mother was still chatting away on the phone, and I fell asleep to her voice.
The next morning I woke up mad. I was mad at the world for killing Obedience. I yelled at Mother that morning, then stormed off to Mayor Prejudice’s house.
“Ah, the doubter returns.” He chuckled. I fell into the chair. I glared at him.
“Where’s your Pastor now?”
“You killed him, you murderer.” I whispered between clenched teeth.
“Me? Why Fearful, we’re on the same team, you and I. I would never kill someone. No, it was others who killed him.”
“Oh really? Then why do I recollect you toasting to his death as he burned on that platform. I refuse to believe that you didn’t kill him.”
“You can believe what you want to believe, but remember this. Not everyone in this town will believe you.”
“YOU remember sir that you and I both know the Peace is real and I would be more than willing to share that information with the town.”
It was his turn to glare. He opened the drawer to his right, pulled out a gun, and pointed it at me. I was certainly surprised. He wasn’t going to give this up was he?
“Where is your Pastor now?”
“Go ahead, shoot me. But sooner or later, people will find out. All it takes is one little rat.”
“I can make people believe what I want them to believe, and I can make them hear what I want them to hear. You are no threat.”
“Oh believe me, it’s not just me.”
“Oh I know that. You and your stupid maid too right?” He inhaled sharply and put the gun back in the drawer.
“I have an idea. Why don’t we settle this the old fashioned way? We will have a trial to see if the Peace really does exist. If you can prove it does, then we will all believe you and stop making fun of you. But if you can’t prove it, then you and all your friends will be kicked out of this town forever.”
I laughed: “Prejudice, we both know that I can prove it. Just look back in your book. Oh and by the way, the Peace is not just simply believing, it is a commitment.”
“Oh I know that. But as I said before, I’m willing to take you down, are you ready? Even without Obedience?”
“And what threat do you impose?”
“I already told you, I can twist people’s minds.”
“Really, then we’ll see you at the trial.”
“Twenty-four hours, then you’re gone.”
I walked out of the building smiling because I knew, he didn’t stand a chance. Or so I thought. It was true he did have the town behind him, but we had something even bigger behind us. We had the Master.
“What?” Frail nearly choked on her tea. We were all sitting in Obedience’s house, which seemed even quieter now that he was gone.
“Yep.” I blushed.
“Oh Baby girl, why?”
“I was mad, I was foolish.” I then thought of a poem I had once written earlier in my life:
“No matter how bad things will be,
No matter how bleak things seem.
As long as you have the will to get out,
Then you will get out.
I was foolish, I was stupid.
I was mad,
But hey, what’s done is done.
And as long as I want to get out,
Which I do want to get out,
Then I will get out.” I looked up from the floor and into the mud colored eyes of Worker. I had never seen his eyes up close before. I now saw that besides them looking like dry mud, they told me that he was desperate. He wanted an escape just like me, just like Assister. I saw that he was scared, even though he was a big peacock. I saw a face of a child in his eyes. The child was alone and scared. I wanted to help but how.
“Oh Master, come down and save us.” I leaned my face upward and sobbed. Plunk, plunk, plunk. Tears dotted the floor and they weren’t just mine. Worker was sobbing too. Then Frail, and lastly Assister.
We be thankful for this child. She done showed us what beauty you have. Even if Obedience be gone. Master, we be small and weak, but we know that only you can save us. So please, save us. Tomorrow be the trial and we need your help. We need your guidance. Save us Master. Amen.”
We looked at each other, feeling better already.
“So, what about the trial? We need some evidence to prove our side.” Worker shrugged.
I smiled: “All we need to do is pray. We need to pray that the Master will make something appear or disappear.”
Assister bit her lip: “Fearful, what if the Master doesn’t want that? What if he doesn’t want to be seen as some magician? What will happen then?”
Then it dawned on me, this wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Would it really be like Assister said it would be? I didn’t want to find out.
Before you read this chapter, think about the situation your reading about. Does this parallel anything in your life? Anything at all? I know for a fact that there is a Master out there, who does love you very much. What are you going to do about it? Take this story to heart, because there may be something coming around the corner.
I was up before the sun. I couldn’t sleep. Word had gotten out about the trial and after Mother heard about it; I swear people in China probably heard her yelling at me. I didn’t care. I just wanted the Master to win.
I made mother some breakfast and walked into her room with it. I had hardly ever been in her room, but as I walked into it, I realized how plain it was. There was just paint on the walls and carpet on the floor. Then just her bed. No makeup tables, no giant mirrors. It was just plain and simple.
“Fearful?” Mother sleepily asked. I walked over to her bed and set down the tray near her feet. She sat up and reach over and turned on the lamp. With the light on, I could now see how plain it was. But it wasn’t as plain as I thought. There were dents and holes in the walls and stains in the floor. Mother watched me look around her room.
“I guess you now know why I never let you in here.”
“Your father…No matter how bad you thought I was, he was even worse. He married me and we were happy for a while, but then it got bad. After you were born, he just went off and married someone else. At first I was crushed, but after a while he began seeing me again. He decided to move back here, and I thought it would be perfect. But then the alcohol took over.”
My mind imagined images of what mother was saying. Then the last piece fell into place.
“Luster.” I whispered. My mother nodded, holding back tears.
It wasn’t what I thought. My dad was imperfect and came back here for the alcohol. Did he even care about me?
“Now that you know, does it hurt you?”
I could say. All I thought about and saw were the holes in the wall, and stains in the carpet.
“When you were born, I loved you so much, I never wanted you to see what your father really was, so I lied and told you he left. I never wanted you to leave me, but I know you want to. So I will let you.
After the party last night, he started acting like everything was back to the way it was. And the fool I am, I believed him. And now look what happened.” Mother rubbed her growing stomach. I nodded.
“Don’t take it out on him Fearful, he just doesn’t know.”
I nodded, not thinking. I began walking out of the room when mother called after me.
“Thank you for the breakfast.” I nodded again and numbly walked down the stairs. My father. The words tasted like poop in my mouth. I clenched my fists. How could he hurt mother? But I relaxed my fists. It was mother’s choice, not mine.
I met Assister in the kitchen, who was kneading bread. She barely looked up when I came in.
“How be your mama?”
“Good.” I said it just like Frail would say it, quiet and cautiously. Assister cocked her head at me and raised an eyebrow. I glanced at her then looked out the window.
“I’m guessing you finally found out who be your daddy.”
I nodded. She kept on kneading.
“Do you know?” I asked.
“I found out by accident, going through the misses things.”
“What did you think?”
“…I done hoped you wouldn’t take it out on your daddy…Have you?”
“Good, after all. It be your mama’s choice to marry him, not yours.”
I turned to her.
“Do you think we’ll win the trial?”
She kneaded the bread for a couple minutes, then stopped and looked at me:
“Fearful, I done think the Masta will do what he done want to do. Whether the rest o’ the town believes in him be their choice. Now, why don’t ya going on n get ready.” I smiled and hopped upstairs.
I put on the outfit I wanted to and did my feathers the way I wanted to. Mother could do her own grooming to herself. I grabbed Obedience’s book and headed downstairs.
I met mother on the stairs, coming out of her room. She smiled and said honestly:
“You look beautiful.”
I wanted to cry at that point. Mother had never honestly said anything like that and now she did. I gave her a big hug and together we walked down the stairs.
The trial room was hot and sweaty. All the seats were full. On the opposite side or the room from us, Mayor Prejudice and his “lawyers” looked huge in numbers compared to us. Assister was trying to calm down Frail, who seemed to be hyperventilating. Worker was sitting down and looking at the floor and I guessed he was praying. I looked around, but didn’t see any judge.
“All rise for his honor, Judge Partial.” I strained my neck to see the judge walk down the aisle and head to his podium. The trial had begun.
“Good morning. Today we are gathered here for the case of the city of Pride verses the Peace followers. Mr. Mayor, you may begin your opening statements when you are ready.”
I quivered. Master help us, please.
Mayor Prejudice stood up and walked to the center of the room.
“People of the city of Pride, I have prided myself as your mayor for so long. Over the years I have protected you and served you well. I have kept your city clean and free of fools. But alas, it seems that our own town is betraying us. They have turned their backs on our beautiful city and turned to evil ways. They come before you, to twist your minds like theirs. Do not listen my brethren. They are evil! What is our policy for betrayers? Exile my people, exile. And I do believe these people are worthy of exile. I hope you, being the intelligent birds you are, will side with me. Thank you.”
He bowed his head and walked back to his seat.
“Ms. Fearful, when you are ready.” Judge Partial nodded solemnly to me. I inhaled and stood up.
Just tell them, tell them everything. I relaxed and opened my mouth. What came out of it, I did not know. It all seemed like a dream to me. I opened Obedience’s book:
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Master, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.’ My people turn your hearts to the Master. It says right here he loves you. He has plans for each of you and wants you near him. Turn your heart towards the Master, for only he can save you. Only he-“
“-Listen to her, citizens!” Mayor Prejudice bellowed, “She is delirious, she is lying. We all know that there is no such person as the Master, there is no such thing as the…” but Mayor Prejudice trailed off as the doors of the building opened, and a blinding light shone.
Instantly I felt the earth’s heartbeat inside of me, and I knew. I watched as he walked up the aisle. Yes, it was Obedience, back from the dead, but he was a man. He walked on two legs and wore white. His face shone like the brightest star and he smiled at me. I couldn’t believe it. HE was back. Instead of the word “sinner” cut into his neck, the word “savior” was written in golden letters.
Mayor Prejudice stepped backwards, his mouth hanging open. I wanted to laugh. Obedience was alive! He was alive! He walked straight towards me:
“My child, how fearful you were, but now you know how much I love you.” He held out his arm to me and I put my wing in it. As soon as I did that, my wing touch his hand began to turn white. The whiteness crawled up my arm and all over my body, until I was a snow white peacock. He did the same to Assister, Frail and Worker.
“Your sins are forgiven.” I began crying. I couldn’t help it. I was so happy. Assister put her white wings around me. We cried together, tears dripping into our smiles.
Obedience walked over to Mayor Prejudice.
“You liar. How can you say that I don’t exist when the proof is sitting in front of your face?” Mayor Prejudice turned a shade paler and backed up into the judge’s podium where he fell backwards in Judge Partial. They both tumbled to the floor.
Obedience walked back to us.
“It is time.”
I stared up into his bright and perfect face: “How do you know?”
“For everything there is a season,
A time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8)
This child is how I know it is time.”
I stared at him awestruck. He gently picked me up and held me in one of his arms. I nestled into his shirt, feeling his radiance. He also picked up Assister, Frail, and Worker and held them all in his arms. I don’t know how he did it, but there we were, in his arms. It was the safest place I have ever felt.
And then, we were flying through whiteness. And I knew, we were going to the haven.