For my little brother/Evangelism
Friend In Me
|For my little brother by Enoch Leung
The wind was blowing, ruffling through my hair, my shirt flapping in the breeze like a flag. The toxic smell of garbage was almost pleasant to me, as was the sunset blinding my eyes. In the middle of that sun stood a small boy, his back turned towards me, looking into the distance across the ocean at a horizon filled with red.
"Evan!" I called out.
The boy turned around, his face still concealed by the glare of the setting sun. "...Garrett?" he said softly, so soft that I wasn't sure if he actually said it or not.
"Evan! It's me, it really is me!"
The boy began running, running towards me. His arms reached out in front of him as he rushed to touch, smell, embrace the one person he longed to see again. I started to run towards him, but as we neared, the gap between us became more and more profound. He was just barely out of reach, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't close the distance, couldn't reach whatever was in front of me, as if invisible hands were holding me back. I was running, moving my legs, but not going anywhere, like a runner on a treadmill at full speed. No, I thought, not this again!
I took a flying leap and tried to cross No Man's Land, tried to break free of my restraints and bridge the gap. The ground met my face, hitting me with an abrupt slap, the boy having seemingly vanished into thin air. There was a sharp sting of pain, and with it, I opened my eyes in shock.
I looked around. The ground had receded away from me, leaving my head dangling precariously above a significant drop. Below me were the legs of three sleeping bodies, none of them matching the description of the boy I saw just moments earlier. And speaking of bodies, my own...
I gripped the shelf and pushed myself back. Soon, my head was back on the right side of the edge, a solid surface to rest upon. The two boys next to me were still sleeping. Surprisingly I had failed to wake them up.
It was that dream. Again. I had it again.
I stretched my legs and tried to go back to sleep. Sleep evaded me, wouldn't let me hold on to it. I couldn't toss and turn due to the cramped nature of the room. Too many sleeping bodies, too much heat, too little comfort.
Too many thoughts.
I tried to roll over and accidentally kneed Ricky, who was sleeping beside me, in the back. "Sorry," I whispered, "I didn't mean to."
"That's fine," he responded in a groggy voice. "I can't sleep either."
There was a quiet shuffle. I looked up to see a small boy on the opposite side of the room, making his way over the pile of bodies towards the slop bucket. He misstepped and set foot on someone's arm. There was a sharp "Ouch!" which cut through the night air like a knife, jolting everybody awake.
"It's too hot up here," Ricky continued. "Too crowded, too packed, too compact. Can't move around, can't turn my head, can't even get out. I feel like I'm suffocating in an open box."
I rubbed my eyes, trying to clear the image of my brother in my eyes. So close, yet so far. It hurt knowing that it was a dream, a painful dream even though I always longed to see him.
He tiled his head slightly, as if he were trying to look at me. "You ever get used to this?" he asked.
"I've only been here for a few days. I don't think I'll get used to this even if I lived here for a year."
He sighed. I felt like I had just shot him with my words. "And years I'll probably be in here for."
There was a great deal of squirming and fidgeting around us as the boys all tried to go back to sleep unsuccessfully after the uninvited wake-up call. When things had settled down a bit, I felt the soft tickling of light as it landed on my eyelids. It was white like the moon, the moonlight I saw yesterday. When I looked up, I thought I saw it for a split second before it disappeared. Was I hallucinating again?
He sat up, or at least tried to. "Screw it. I can't sleep tonight."
The flash of moonlight came again. Do it, a voice said. He needs time to accept me. Better sooner than later.
"Hey," I whispered, almost into his ear, the same way I whispered secrets to my little brother. "You wanna... you wanna talk?"
"It has to be one in the morning right now," he said.
"I thought you said you couldn't sleep."
He responded by giving me a kick of his own. My squeal came out as a muffled but audible shriek, and the two of us laughed, much to the annoyance of our neighbours. Some covered their ears, others turned to glare at us. We stopped and waited, waiting for everyone to go back to sleep, or at least to stop looking at us. When I no longer felt the tingling of irritated stares burning holes into my back, I got serious again. "Seriously though..."
Ricky looked around. "I don't mind, but... is there a place we can talk in?"
The cell was packed, clearly well over its design capacity. All the shelves were filled to the brim with bodies, so tightly packed together in some places that a mouse couldn't have found a place to sleep in. The floor looked a bit better; though the influence of the older boys wasn't enough to get the entire place to themselves, there were some islands of empty space amidst the oceans of arms and legs and heads. If the guards brought in more people, soon even those tiny pockets of cool refuge would be gone. The only other candidate was the area around the slop bucket, which generated a force field of stink that was clearly marked by the boys unlucky enough to live on its fringes. Aside from whoever needed to take a leak, the spot was only occupied by the boy whom the cabal of older prisoners forced to sleep by the bucket. Obviously that was out of the question.
"I can't imagine anyone ever being able to sleep here," he lamented. I felt his body beginning to shuffle as he attempted to roll over. He was closer to my side, knowing that I was already awake. He stepped on my legs a couple of times, his hands mere millimeters from my nose as they gripped the shelf for support. After some effort, he managed to get onto his left side, facing me. "Sorry if I squashed you or anything," he whispered.
"It's fine." After a few days I was pretty sure anyone in this cell would've been used to the forced intimacy in this environment. Everyone was breathing, sweating, and inevitably stepping into each other. Being on good terms with other inmates was not an optional choice. And already we both made at least one enemy in here.
"I never knew how cool and refreshing the night air was whenever I had to take my brother out of the house... until now." He sighed. "The taste of freedom — to be able to just go outside — it was something I took for granted. I thought living on the streets was bad, but at least I could technically go wherever I wanted to go."
The night air. The cool, refreshing night air. I looked up at the ceiling, and again I thought I saw the moon and the stars. I blinked, and they were replaced by the dull concrete ceiling again. I am the one who created the moon, the stars, the universe that you see, the voice echoed through my mind.
"Ricky," I said quietly, "have you ever seen the stars before?"
It was a bit of a random question, I admit, but neither of us really had much to say at this time of night anyways. "No," he replied. "Never have. When I was still in school I saw little pictures of them in some of the books we read, but nothing else."
Should I... Should I...?
"Well... neither have I. But last night..." I paused. "...I did."
His pupils moved to look at me. I could sense the disbelief in his expression. "Really?"
"I know it sounds corny, but last night it was about as real to me as the shelf I was sleeping on."
He didn't respond. I wasn't sure how he was taking that in.
"It was beautiful," I continued. I closed my eyes, trying to get that image back, trying to reimagine the breathtaking scene I saw yesterday. "I've always wondered what the most beautiful thing out there was. I look up at the night sky and find great beauty in the heavens."
I could hear the sound of him breathing. He was still looking at me, still paying attention, I could tell. I thought he would've tuned me out and ignored me at the first mention of my absurd account the night before, but he was listening, just like I was there to listen to him talk earlier that day.
"There's no doubt about it. It's better than anything humans have ever built. But it's not the most beautiful thing out there. I think... the most beautiful thing in existence is not the stars, but whoever made those stars."
He did not reply. His breathing was deep and heavy, interrupted only occasionally by him swallowing.
"When I was four, shortly after my younger brother was born, my mother took me to church. They taught me about someone named God who created everything — you, me, this universe. They taught me how the first people God created disobeyed and turned their backs on Him, creating all the misery in the world. They taught me that, in order to solve the problem, He had to find someone to direct the punishment for sin — death — onto. He decided to take that punishment on Himself, coming down to earth in the form of Jesus, knowing that He would eventually be killed. And He was. He did it for us, so we wouldn't have to die ourselves. I guess I never took the story or the idea seriously until the night my father left."
Ricky raised his eyebrows. "What did you do?"
"When my parents were arguing, I huddled in my bed, hoping for it to end. I prayed to Jesus — the first prayer I ever took seriously. It wasn't like saying Grace before meals, nor was it the bedtime prayers my mother sometimes made me say. For once I said it with conviction, with sincerity. And funny enough, I didn't ask for anything cheesy, like for Him to walk through the door to fix everything. I didn't ask for money to bring us out of poverty. I didn't even ask for Him to get my parents to stop arguing."
"What did you ask for?" He stiffened, alert and attentive. "Wouldn't you ask for any of those things?"
"I instead asked Him to talk to me. I asked Him to explain to me why my father wanted to leave. Above all else, I asked Him to help me discover myself, to find my purpose in life." I swallowed. "And yesterday, He did just that. He answered my prayer."
Ricky was rigid. I had his full attention now. "But... how?"
"He showed me the night sky in the way I described to you. I thought I was delirious, but it seemed so real at the time. Funny enough... I almost forgot I said that prayer. It would never have crossed my mind again. But He remembered."
He was quiet, though his eyes told me he was he was still awake. Suddenly, he smiled. "I never knew you were a preacher in disguise," he commented.
"That was a joke, by the way." His smile vanished. "But I honestly find that thought a bit hard to believe."
"Did your parents ever take you to church?" I asked.
His gaze fell. "No... not really. My mom never said much about it, didn't tell us anything. My dad claimed he was baptized as a child, but I could hardly believe it when he started drinking. I couldn't imagine how he, a former church-goer, could become such a monster to the four of us. I thought little of church after that; I couldn't believe someone like my father could come out of such a place."
"Do you think God is real?"
He made no response to that.
"What needs to be done to prove to you that God exists?" I asked. "You can say it's all just an illusion, something that you trick yourself into believing. Or you can really believe that God exists. But believing existence is one thing. Believing in all the stories, the promises, the gifts... that's something different."
He tried to bring his legs closer to himself. I felt his kneecaps pressing uncomfortably into me. "I did hear about some of the stories. Stories like... The crucifixion. Turning water into wine. Feeding five thousand."
"What did you think of it?"
He shrugged. "I thought that if a god could do all those things, it's stupid that he couldn't just get my dad to stop drinking and hitting us. Or maybe he turned all of the water my dad drank into wine."
That was insulting. I gritted my teeth at first, but relaxed when I realized that Ricky never really had much exposure to the concept of God. He wasn't malicious, just ignorant. "I guess you can argue and debate about whether or not those stories were true," I said. "But not when you put it upon yourself, when you slip on those shoes and try to apply the concept of God in your own life, instead of treating them like things that happened in the past."
"I guess." He was silent for several minutes. "You mentioned 'God' speaking to you yesterday, right? What exactly did he tell you?"
"He told me about a lot of the things I talked to you about earlier today. He told me about my brother and the close, indestructible relationship we had. He told me about the meaning of my name. He told me how I was made to be brave and strong, and how I lived up to the name. He told me about how He had appeared before my father and my older brother, and how they both rejected Him. He pleaded with me, something I would never have expected from the ultimate creator and ruler of the universe. He begged me to come home and mend the heartache I caused for my mother and my younger brother, and He begged me to come back to Him and to follow Him. And... He told me a bit about what to expect in my future."
"He said that I would go through a lot of pain and challenges. My life wouldn't be easy, and He knows because He personally planned it out for me. But I won't have to go through it alone; He told me that He was always listening for me. All I had to do was talk to Him."
"So, essentially, he's planned for you to suffer?" He almost scoffed. "That sounds noble."
"He also told me that it would all be for the better," I said. "He said that I already had gone through some of his trials — by being locked up in prison. If I hadn't been jailed, if I had just gone on with my criminal ways, I would never have realized the bombshell I had dropped on my family. Now, more than ever, I want to go home. I want to apologize to my mother. Above all, I want to apologize to my brother. I didn't mean to hurt him in the way I did.
"It was also part of His plan that made me come to you. I could've easily just left you in that corner on your own, but He told me to come to you, even though I was unprepared and anything but confident. The ice was thick, and I know you let your anger flare at me. I think most people would've left you alone after that. But I persisted. I didn't give in because I knew someone was watching, and He planned for us to come together. I'm glad we did. I guess His plans are nicer than they seem; I think Him knowing everything helps with being able to see things we can't see with our own eyes."
He put a hand on my shoulder. "Whatever you believe in," he said, "thanks for putting up with me. I do get violent sometimes."
We were quiet for several minutes. Around us, most of the other boys had caught up with sleep and were dozing again. Even though it was still hot and humid, and even though we were still packed in like sardines in a can, for the first time since running away from home I felt quite comfortable. Finally, I said, "There is one thing God does want us to do, and if we do it, He promises us something we can't get on our own wit."
"What is it?"
I drew in some air to calm my tingling nerves down. "He says that, if we believe and declare that Jesus is our One and Only Saviour, that He really did die on the cross for our sins and that He rose from the dead, and that it isn't all just a fantasy, He promises us salvation. When we die, we get to go to heaven with Him."
"And that's it? A small fee for a big ticket?"
I nodded. "But it's the thought and belief that counts. You really have to believe; you can't just move your lips and say it. And it's the only way to get it, this gift, this promise. That's the hard part — accepting that fact."
He didn't respond. His eyes focused on a spot past me, perhaps finding it too awkward to stare at my face. Slowly, his eyes began to move, panning from one side to the other, skimming over the objects in his field of vision. He reminded me of Evan, the way he pondered, mulling over his thoughts, an ocean stirring underneath a tranquil surface. After what seemed like forever, he said simply, "I'll have to sleep on this."
"But I thought you said you couldn't sleep."
He gave me a playful shove. I managed not to fall over and onto the boy behind me. "Seriously? Shut up." I felt his hand on my shoulder again, not a hand that exerted authority or control, but a reassuring, comforting touch; a hand that reminded me that I had a friend now. "Thanks Garrett. You're the first person outside of my family that I was able to have a decent conversation with for a long time."
I smiled. "No problem, Ricky... Friend..."
He boxed me lightly. "I haven't had a new one in ages." He put his head down, and I could tell he was trying to go back to sleep. How successful he was in that endeavour, I had no idea.
I'm right here if you need me...
Right here if you need me...
The words I said to my little brother. The words God said to me. I swallowed. I felt like crying. Someone who loves you is always there for you...
I closed my own eyelids, letting a tear slither out. I am always there for him. For my little brother.
Friend In Me
|For my little brother by Enoch Leung