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“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember the man that Charles Hensley once was…” The preacher’s voice trailed off as Malachi began to get restless. The heat of the small chapel was rising; his brown curly hair becoming nothing more than a ball of frizz. He hadn’t known this man. His parents made him come. Of course having a father who was also the preacher got him dragged to plenty of revivals and funerals that meant nothing to him.
Staying up late with Emile the night before finally caught up with him as his mind began to wonder. I wish I could get out of this funeral, he thought, I really wish I could get out of this town. Do something exciting for once. But Malachi knew that was near impossible. Never ending cornfields surrounded Almena, acting as walls from the outside world. It was the summer of his junior year. Dreams of traveling the world, living past the borders of his little town dominated his thoughts. Malachi would have already left if he had anywhere to go.
A sharp pain quickly brought him back to reality. He looked up only to see his mother, a lean woman with corkscrews of dark red hair toppling to her shoulders, prodding her skeleton like fingers into his side. An exasperated expression dominated her wrinkle laden face. Being a preacher’s wife took its toll on her once flawless skin.
“Pay attention,” she mouthed, careful not to utter a word in the silent sanctuary.
“Okay,” Malachi whispered. Gosh I don’t see what the big deal is, it’s not like I’m gonna’ offend him or anything…
“We have all seen the wonder of Brother Charles life. He was born and raised here in Almena never leaving, always helping his community,” the pleasantly plump preacher stated.
Never leaving—the words like church bells resounded in Malachi’s head. How can someone live like that, he questioned, never experiencing life beyond this town. What future do I have here? I can be a farmer or a preacher. I’ve got nothing to live for here. I’ve got to get out of here. Leaning over to his mother, grasping his stomach, he whispered, “Mom, I’m not feeling so good, can I go?”
“Fine, but don’t make a scene,” she said exasperatingly, shaking her head.
Malachi took one last look at his mother. He knew it would be the last time to see her. Her somber dark eyes, rounded cheeks and loving embrace were soon to become a memory. Bursting out of the chapel, Malachi was overwhelmed by the heat of the bright sun. The unmistakable smell of fresh cut corn filled the summer air. Okay, I’ll go home grab a few things and be out of town by the evening train. I should call Emile, say my last goodbye.
With that he whipped out his phone and dialed Emile. It wasn’t hard she was on speed dial. Emile had been his best friend since birth, they’d grown up together, and they were closer than most siblings. They were Constant companions always there for one another. She would be one of the things he’d miss in Almena
“Malachi? I’m at work, what do you want? Aren’t you supposed to be at the funeral?” Emile asked her innocent voice filling the receiver.
“Something came up,” he explained. “Listen, I need to meet you at my house.”
“Umm, alright. I’ll be right over,” she hung up the phone, getting back to work.
A clean, white-walled house greeted Malachi; green shutters glistened in the sunlight. Quickly he swung open the gate of the picket fence and rushed inside carefully avoiding his mother’s begonias. The door was unlocked. No one ever bothered locking there doors in Almena. Stepping into the house emotions overwhelmed him. Here he took his first steps, celebrated his birthdays, and stayed up all night waiting for Santa. He was leaving his life behind.
Maybe I shouldn’t do this, he thought, Mom and dad will be p***ed. This just might drive Mom crazy. Never leaving—his father’s words again echoed in his head. No! I have to do this or I’ll never be happy here. I have to leave.
He rushed down the hall into his room, pulled out his duffle bag and haphazardly began to throw together what he thought he would need. Underwear, socks, toothbrush, the basics. Money, I’m not going to get anywhere without money. Looking around the room Malachi spotted his solution. A piggy bank, a gift from his great aunt on his second birthday, glistened in the corner of his room. Grabbing a Louisville Slugger he cracked the portly pig over the head and quickly counted the money. Seventy-two forty-eight. This isn’t enough to last very long, but it should be enough to get me out of town. A voice came from the kitchen breaking the silence. Emile had let herself in.
“Malachi?! This better be important. I had to get Leisha to cover for me. I’ve only got fifteen minutes,” Emile declared. Khaki pants and a red polo did little to conceal her curvy features. Her auburn hair was pulled back, revealing her crystal blue eyes.
“I’m running away” Malachi retorted as he continued to pack his bag.
“What?! Malachi...I don’t …why?”
“I don’t want to end up like everyone else that lives here. I want to have a life”
“What will your parents think? What about the church?”
“Screw them. Emile, you’ve known this was going to happen for a while; you just didn’t want to admit it.”
“Malachi I know I can’t stop you so I’m not going to try. I’d ask to go with you want but you know I can’t. Someone has to stay here and take care of my mom.”
“I understand. Emile, I want you to know I’ll never forget you. You’ll be one of the things I miss about this place.”
“Malachi, I hope you know what you’re doing. Send me a postcard wherever you end up,” Emile said as she fought back tears. Malachi slung his bag over his shoulder and headed to the train station.
Malachi strolled into the train station. His pace was growing more and more rapid, fueled by his desire of freedom. Hand-carved wood lined the inside of the station. A vast map lined one wall, lit with arrows going to and fro, all places Malachi could start his new life. Santa Barbara, that’ll be nice. Sun, beaches, and surfers, that’s the furthest thing from Almena. Confidently he bought a one way ticket to Santa Barbara with his parent’s stolen money.
“Last call for Santa Barbara!” a voice boomed over the P.A. system. Hearing this put a sudden speed in Malachi’s step. He didn’t want to miss his train. I guess this is the last time I’ll see this town. I think I’m going to get out of here without a problem. That is if Emile didn’t tell them. Yet he’d known Emile for too long. He knew that she would tell his parents. Her concern for him was too big to ignore.
As Malachi stepped onto the train his parents, stricken with worry stumbled their way into the train station. Sweat rolled down the chunky clergyman’s forehead while his wife staggered along behind. Turning a corner they spot Malachi’s curly brown hair hidden under his favorite cap, duffle bag under his shoulder. As he boarded his train the doors shut, sealing his fate. He turned around only to see his father, waving a final goodbye, crying wife at his side. At last, freedom.