By M. J. Bekelian
This Story Won Third Prize in Our Contest
The soldiers flaunted their green uniforms and paraded the soulless arms of metal strapped to their backs. As our enemy went down the line, all I thought to myself was what was God’s purpose to give us this trial of persecution. The walls of our churches crumbled into dust, and the red blood of my neighbors nourished the soil. All the suffering brought an oppressive weight in my heart when an outcry stretched along the horizon. I prayed to Our Lord for the soldiers to leave us, but I was met with silence.
I gripped my brother’s hand beside me to provide him comfort when a strangled gasp ripped through the air, and a woman fell with blood oozing out of her stomach. It was my mother who had fallen; tears welled in my eyes, but I didn’t cry. I refused to give them the satisfaction. After all, ever since Baba went to fight for Russia as a guerilla, he left me to take care of my family and our home as the man of the house.
One of the soldiers approached us wearing a fez like it was a crown, and the medals on his chest shone against the sunlight. He held a bowl of matzoon, licking his lips to savor the sour yogurt that he stole from one of the houses. A crescent of teeth curved into an alienating imitation of a smile when he sauntered over to me.
He dug two grimy fingers in the bowl and held it out. I dared not look him in the eye, so I stared at his boots, praying to God that they would disappear, but they didn’t. He moaned into his mouth, enjoying the matzoon he stole, before he took my chin, forcing me to meet his eyes.
“You don’t want it?”
The mossy green shade surrounding his iris gleamed, ready to strike when I refused to answer. His face twisted into a grin with rows of uneven yellow teeth. He took more yogurt in his hand and shoved it in my mouth. My poor brother sobbed and looked away from me as I gagged and retched it all onto the ground with my knees giving out. Knots formed in the pit of my stomach when he belted out a cruel laugh along with his soldiers. The kind that saw humor in misery were the worst people.
My heart stopped when he towered over me and dumped the yogurt on my head. My thick brown hair quickly turned white, and my nose wrinkled in disgust when the stench brought tears to my eyes. At that moment, he heckled like a cackling crow, while I questioned why God wanted me to suffer from the hands of the corrupt. I would give anything to stop this, but Baba once told me God pushes us to test our limits, and I froze in fear when the soldier turned to my little brother.
He slipped a hand under my brother’s shirt. He then pulled out a wooden cross secured with a rope around his neck. At that moment, something flashed in the soldier’s eyes. He tore it off with a quick tug, forcing my brother to wince, and threw it to the ground just to stomp on it. His boot twisted around the cross while he stared my brother down like a dangerous insect that needed to be squashed. He spat on it to show his pure hatred toward our religion.
The soldier said something in Turkish to one of his fellow comrades. It had to be a command because that man went behind my brother just to force him on his knees. My head tilted just to catch a glimpse of my brother.
“Spit on it.”
When my brother stared at the cross, he bit his lip and shook his head, so the soldier behind him pushed his face into the dirt where the cross was inches away from his face, almost forcing him to defile his sacred cross. After a few seconds had gone by, he was forced onto his knees again, and my eyes widened when a cold blade reached his neck. I tried to stop him, but the soldier with the fez took a few steps towards me before he backhanded me. My cheek stung, and all I could do was watch as the soldier slit my brother’s throat.
A pang rippled through my body. I didn’t care who saw me because all I wanted to do was cry and be held by Baba like a sobbing schoolboy, so I prayed. I prayed with all my heart, but it did nothing to alleviate the scars in my mind as God stayed silent. When my vision came back from my watery eyes, the hairs on the back of my neck prickled when the soldiers’ leader approached me again.
“Spit on it.” My spine shivered, knowing what was about to happen, and when I made no motion, he took my chin, forcing me to look at my little brother’s corpse while he pressed his blade against my cheek, drawing a thin red line. “Do you want to end up like him? If so, I’ll gladly give it to you.”
Turning to the cross one last time, my nails drew blood when they dug into my skin. My little brother paid the price for his faith just like the others in line. They all suffered the same fate with their bodies laid out in ruins for God to witness. Terrible, merciless sacrifices were offered to him, and yet he still remained silent. My last prayer was that he would forgive me for my sin as I slowly leaned in to spit on his son’s aching face.