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Jonathan Barley by Carin Marais
SUMMARY: Entry for December FF - "Tradition"
The lamplight threw stark shadows on the dust-streaked whitewash of the bedroom walls. Jonathan Barley – a scrawny five year-old – shut his eyes and screwed his face into a little ball, making sure that no light seeped between his eyelids. He repeated after his mother, his hands clamped under his chin. "Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name..."
Jonathan ran through the deserted streets of the shanty town that had sprung up around the newly discovered gold fields. His lungs burned and a stitch in his side threatened to send him stumbling over his own feet. In front of him loomed the biggest structure in the town besides the mansions of the Gold Lords. The church was nearly two hundred years old and had been built with the money of a rich benefactor who had owned the grounds which were now defiled with the presence of tens of thousands of greedy humans. Where a few pilgrims once camped, the lawns, flowers and herbs were trampled and left wilted and dying between the tents and rickety wood and tin structures of its new neighbours. Behind him, giving chase through the dark alleyways, he could hear shouts of warning and dogs barking at the sudden commotion. A few shots fired in the dark.
"Sanctuary," he breathed as he pushed the heavy wooden door open and closed it behind him. The semi-darkness inside the church embraced him. He dared not pause, but made his way between the pews. In the stained windows candles burned as they did every night, hoping to turn the hearts of those afflicted with gold fever. The first showed children crowding around the tall frame of a white clad Jesus. Jonathan's heart ached. O, to be a child again in his home town - to laugh and play and safely sleep in his bed after saying his nightly prayers. How the wanderlust of early youth burned out quickly when he saw the wide world and its shanty towns of filth where men braved deep holes and tunnels in search of stone and metal to pay their way into an Earthly state of bliss. Not that he was any better. He looked at his left hand. It looked older than its twenty five years, the skin on its back like browned leather and his palm calloused from panning and digging.
With world-weary eyes he gazed at the windows depicting the ark on the great waters, the Garden of Eden, angels, shepherds and, at last, before him, a hill with three crosses. To his right a lit window showed fishermen hauling nets. The sea had not been good to him. Charlie was the first friend he found after stowing away aboard a ship at the age of twelve.
Jonathan felt his chest restricting, but whether it was because of a lack of air from his panicked running or the tears that spilled uncontrolled down his cheeks, he did not know. He started mumbling a prayer as he willed his feet forward. With his left hand he plucked the felt hat from his head and kneaded it in his palm. "Our Father," the prayer spilt forth, "Who art in heaven, hallowed ¬be Thy name –"
His mind raced. It was stuffy in the tavern and he had had a couple of drinks, clanking down newly earned coins as if they would last forever, as if the nugget he had found that morning would be found anew every morn.