Faithwriters.com challenge entry 19th January 2017 – Intermediate – Topic: Brand – 1st Place
Their arrival passed unnoticed; the rustle of the bamboo blind no different to any other breezy night. A tap on my shoulder just like my little brother. “Go away Raheed,” I mumbled, shrugging the hand away, my eyes firmly closed. But the touch came again, more insistent. I rolled over, a curse forming on my lips. A firm hand, not Raheed’s, clamped over my mouth, pressing my head into the lumpy mattress.
My eyes flew open searching for a face, but finding only a shadow among shadows. A badly wound turban completely obscured the head, apart from two eyes almost as dark as the midnight sky. I squirmed like a chicken in the butcher’s hands, and sought a finger with my teeth until a tiny glint of light revealed a knife which quickly moved to my throat.
Raheed was not so easy to subdue. Young, agile and full of life (except when sleeping) he almost escaped from a second figure leaning over his bed. But his small size was his downfall; the attacker scooped him up with one hand and clamped the other over his mouth, though not before Raheed sank his teeth into the man’s thumb.
Moments later, outside our two room hut, we found our parents in a similar plight. My father must have put up a fight; he was lying on the ground, the worn black boot of his assailant pressing firmly on his chest. Father’s face was as set as stone, but to me his eyes betrayed his pain. In contrast, my mother stood to one side, straight as a spear, back to her guard and head held high.
For the first time, my attacker spoke. “You will come with us and give us no trouble or we will kill you, starting with the boy.” He waved his knife at Raheed, still wriggling in the arms of his captor and grunting uselessly into the hand that gagged him.
Father was hauled to his feet and we set off towards a path through the trees. In the darkness we tripped on roots and stumbled over rocks until we reached a clearing with a fire in the centre, shining on more captives guarded by black-clad figures.
Perched on a tree stump sat an old man in a white robe with grey hair escaping his turban. “You have left the true faith and are blasphemers,” he growled, “and will be marked as such.”
One of the men near the fire brought over a metal rod that glowed red at one end. Father stood still as the hot metal burned into his forehead. When the rod was removed, a letter was seared into his flesh. “With this brand, everyone will know that you have left the faith. Your life will be over!”
One by one, each person received the mark. Some cried out and pleaded to be spared; others received it silently, though it must have been painful. When my turn came, I bit my lip and fought back tears; Raheed let out a yell. Afterwards we were taken back home, but our small house had been destroyed in our absence.
Next day, mother went to market to buy food, but no one would serve her. Father went to the fields to work, but he was turned away. Children laughed at me and Raheed and threw stones at us in the streets. We had to leave our village and look for a new home.
We spent that day and the next going from village to village, looking for food, water, shelter. But in each place we were sent away.
We thought the next village was abandoned. But a voice called out, “Brothers, welcome.” A tall skinny man stepped out of the shadowy doorway into the sunshine. I gasped as I saw the brand on his forehead. Gradually people emerged from every house, each with the same letter marked on his forehead.
We made our home in an empty house and ate our first proper meal for three days. The people were so friendly; soon we felt part of the community. Everyone in the village worked together and shared what they produced. It became a much happier place than our old village.
I wondered what the man who branded us for being blasphemers would think if he discovered that, instead of ending our lives, the mark had helped to give us a new life that was better than the old one.