Thorns of Roses

June 19, 2011
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“Aysha! Aysha!” Momma called in a soft whisper. “Aysha, it is almost time for the meeting. Wake up Shia and come help me finish the bread.”
“Okay,” I answered. I looked down beside me to my little seven-year-old sister Shia. We shared a bed together.
She looked so peaceful as she slept. Her black hair tumbled over her brown eyes and even browner skin.
I was fourteen years old and looked almost exactly like Shia. She was almost a copy of me, Except for the hair. My hair was a light brown. If she was older, we would be hard to tell apart.
“Heh, wake up, sister,” I said, as I softly shook her shoulder.
“Go away!” she said loudly in her sleep.
I quickly clamped a hand over her mouth.
“Shhh!” I hissed. “Do you want to wake up Hashim?”
That quieted her. We both glanced towards our baby brother whom was twitching slightly in his sleep. We remembered how he stayed up several nights, unable to sleep because of his belly.
I didn’t really understand his illness, but I know it is serious by the way Momma and Dadi speak in silent voices about money and how to get the medicine he needs and praying to God for healing. They would repeat the words of hope from the American missionary.
Nothing is impossible for God. Prayer can change lives. Past, present, and future.
And pray we did. Even inside our heads so the officers cannot hear us, we pray as hard as we can.
I shuddered at the thought of the government finding out about our Christian lives we led. We lived in Pakistan. The law clearly states all must follow Allah. To break the law means death or imprisonment in the Black Jail.
If you ever have a choice between death or the Black Jail, chose death. The Black Jail is infamous for torturing Christians until they recommit to Islam; sometimes even after that point they are tortured.
But still we believe in God. Man may take our Earthy life, but never will they take our eternal life.
“The meeting is soon?” Shia asked in a low whisper.
“Very. Momma needs our help to finish the bread we will break,” I said.
Shia nodded and together we got dressed and walked to our kitchen.
Our house is very modest. A dirty hallway, six or seven small bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Many of our relatives share the house with us. Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandfather Blacker, Grandmother and Grandfather Osier, Auntie Hessa, Uncle Rove, and cousins Asma, Chaka, and Diya.
Momma was standing by our oven with an anxious look on her face as she watched the bread bake. I knew what she was thinking. We were making much bread. Too much for a simple day out as Dadi claimed earlier last night. He had said we are going to the market first thing in the morning.
We were in danger of being turned in; in danger our family would choose to turn us to the authorities to stay loyal to Allah.
We stood there for five minutes watching the bread brown.
“Help me put them in baskets,” Momma said as she pulled them out of the oven.
“Yes, Momma,” Shia and I said obediently answered.
We filled three baskets almost to overflowing with bread and then we covered them with a cloth to hold in their flavor.
“Are we ready?”
I jumped. I hadn’t noticed Dadi standing in the doorway. He looked very impatient.
I scolded myself silently. What if someone had woke up and was watching us make the bread? What if they had deduced we were going to the middle of nowhere in the desert to have a secret, illegal meeting with an American missionary? What if it had been, God forbid, one of my younger cousins whom was being taught to have utter loyalty to Allah. Ten-year-old Diya would not hesitate to tell anyone and everyone in this house about our leave.
I forced myself to calm down. After all, they already knew we were going somewhere. But how long would they stay in the dark if they looked at the fact we took meeting like this at least once a month?
“Almost. We just need to get Hashim,” Momma’s answer shook me out of my thoughts.
“Good. Aysha, go fetch him as quietly as possible.”
“Yes, Dadi.”
In about ten minutes we were packed inside Dadi’s tiny little pickup truck.
We drove through the crowded streets of our hometown Quetta and out to the desert.
Dadi drove for more than an hour before turning into an oasis filled with bright green trees and stopped the car.
After we got out, he covered the car with sticks and other debris to hide it.
He took Hashim from Momma’s arm so she could carry one of the bread baskets. He took her free arm and led her into the forest.
Shia and I followed, each holding a basket of bread.
Many times the dupattas Shia, Momma, and I were wearing caught on branches and thorns. We had to stop, untangle them, and rearrange them on our heads before we continued.
Needless to say, it was a very difficult trek through the undergrowth. But it was worth it just to hear the missionary speak.
As we got closer to the circular clearing where we were meeting today, we heard several whispered, muffled voices.
Then voices suddenly stopped. I assumed they could hear our footsteps.
Dadi entered the clearing first.
“Wafa! Welcome,” the missionary greeted my father.
“Hello, Mr. Smith,” Dadi said warmly. Mr. Smith turned to Momma.
“Hello, Saba! How is Hashim?”
“Even worst, I’d afraid. He still sleeps poorly. Not quite as poorly as before, but he still gives me worry.”
“Rest, sister. God provides. We shall break bread when the other come. Thank you greatly for making us our meal.”
“It is the least we can do for the kingdom of Jesus,” Dadi said.
“No, it is not,” the missionary said. “The most anyone can do is pray and follow God’s word. God has told us to break bread. You have given us the means to.”
Dadi simply smiled. It is impossible not to smile when speaking with Mr. Smith.
We took our seats on some of the logs arranged in a circle for comfortable sitting. There was a large rock in the center of the circle where the missionary would stand and preach to us.
Momma sat with the other women, Dadi with a group of men, and Shia with her best friend Beca. I sat with Maryanna, the missionary’s daughter.
After about ten minutes four other families arrived and the missionary said it was time to begin.
I was always amazed by the sheer number of Christians in our tight-knit little group. There was almost twenty! Mr. Smith claims that in America there are hundreds of followers per church, sometimes thousands. Oh how I envy people whom can actually choose what they want to follow without going into hiding or fearing ridicule. He told me Americans can choose who to follow, or even if they wish to follow no one. I do not understand that. We are risking everything just to be here.
Why choose not to worship God when you are free to do so?
Maryanna shook me out of my thoughts by handing me a basket of bread. I ripped a large piece off and passed it to the person next to me.
The missionary was already standing on the rock. Everyone but me had watched him.
“This,” the missionary said, holding up his piece of bread, “is His body. Let us eat it and be in remembrance of Him.
“This is His blood,” he continued as he held out a large cup of wine. “Let us each share a drink of it in remembrance of His sacrifice to save our lives.”
He drank a sip from it.
He waited until we ate our bread and then handed the cup to a man. He took a small sip and passed it to the next man.
Around in a circle the cup traveled.
Momma had instructed me and Shia not to drink, only touch the wine to our lips.
“Wine does strange things to children,” she had said.
When the wine was passed to me, I obeyed my mother. But, perhaps sinfully, I licked a small bit of the wine off my lips. It tasted odd and very bitter.
 I held back a shudder. How could people like something that tasted so horrible?
“Today we will be reading from John, chapter 1,” Mr. Smith said. “In the beginning was the word--”
He broke off. We had just heard a lot of rustling in the woods behind us.
The sound of my pairs of heavy boots were sounding us. Someone in the forest cocked a gun. We caught a glimpse of a large man in a law-enforcer’s suit.
Momma screamed and grabbed Hashim off the floor.
Chaos was everywhere. The police shot bullets into the air as we scattered.
I grabbed Shia’s hand and ran to the woods. Someone grabbed my arm before I could get there. I tried to twist out of the officer’s grip, but it was like iron. The man had a disgusted, hate filled glare as he held my arm.
I could tell what he was thinking. I was nothing more to him than a pile of filth. I had abandoned Islam and was going to be punished harshly for it. I imagined his opinion of Shia was close to his opinion of me.
There was many officers in the clearing chasing us. At least thirty. We never stood a chance.
We were led to a black bus. They made everyone get in. An officer sat silently beside each person.
My mind was going a hundred different ways as we drove back to Quetta. I was panicky, but also guilty about the fact I had broken the law of man and choose Christianity. Then I felt guilty about my guilt. And angry. They had chosen to worship Allah. It was unfair that I could not choose my God.
I had imagined what it would be like to be caught. I imagined officers running into our clearing and taking everyone just like they had. I imagined being tortured by blows, kicks, and jeers on the way back to town. I was right about being tortured, but not by the way I imagined it.
The officers sat beside us in grim silence.
The real torture was the quiet. The not knowing what was going to happen next. Thoughts of pain and fear entered my head during the long drive.
When the bus stopped in front of a large building painted black, I was almost ready to faint.
The bus-driver opened the doors and an officer holding a clipboard entered.
“Everyone will stay seated unless I point to you. When I point to you, you will tell me your name and then go inside,” he barked.
One by one the officer pointed to each person and one by one each person left and entered the black building.
Then it hit me. We were in front of the Black Jail.
I trembled as I waited for my turn to stand and speak my name.
I looked over to the row behind me. Shia was sitting there, tears falling noiselessly down her face.
Not knowing what else to do, I prayed silently in my head.
Why me, God? All I’ve ever done is serve you! Why do you torture us like this? We are your children! I thought you loved us.
I paused in my prayer. I had meant to ask God for help, not to curse him for His will.
I’m sorry, God. Your plan is better than mine. But I don’t understand. Why do you hurt the people who love you? Why not attack the Muslims who won’ t let us worship and praise you? Why do you hurt real children, like Shia and Hashim? Why, God, why?
It was as if God had placed the answer in my head. He wasn’t torturing us. He was using us. We were all going to die eventually and go to heaven to live with him. We may as well take more people with us.
God wanted us here for a reason. Maybe he wanted us to spread Christianity to the jail’s hundreds of inmates. Maybe he wanted us to reassure the tortured Christians already living in jail.
I remembered something Mr. Smith had told us. If you want the rose of heaven, you must endure the thorn of life.
The man with the clipboard pointed to the missionary.
“John Smith, American missionary,” he said.
The clipboard man scribbled down a note and Mr. Smith left the bus.
The man pointed to me next.
A verse popped into my head, almost in response. If you deny me in front of your friends, I will deny you in front of my father.
I stood up.
“My name is Aysha and I am a follower of Christ our Lord.”

The End

Glossary/ Pronunciation guide:

Aysha-- A-sha
Shia -- she-a
Hashim-- has-him
Blacker-- black-er
Osier-- O-see-er
Rove-- r-ove
Asma-- as-ma
Chaka-- cha-ka
Diya-- die-ya
Quetta-- qu-etta
dupattas (scarfs women wear around their heads to conserve modesty)-- do-pat-ta
Wafa-- wah-fa
Saba-- sa-ba
Beca-- bee-ca
Maryanna-- mary-anna
Allah-- al-la

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