by Art Bupkis
Naarah and her mother started the journey south with the others after they ate their last goats, but it wasn’t long before they fell behind. The two stragglers took water from a muddy well, and the mother died of dysentery. Naarah escaped that illness, but was now traveling alone, and near death from starvation.
Night approached. A small mud-brick church appeared in the distance. A church offered special promise of protection for Naarah. The girl’s family had converted to Christianity when she was four. Naarah had nearly died of measles then, but lived after the family called on Christ at the suggestion of a friend. She pushed to make the building before dark.
When she arrived at the church, Naarah saw that fire had gutted it. All that was left of the roof were rows of blackened beams. With the last of her strength she pushed the heavy twin doors open. There was little inside but ashes, and certainly no food. Still, she decided to sleep there with the doors shut against the creatures of the night.
Naarah collapsed on the hard dirt floor next to the white stone altar. Gazing up through the dying light of eve she could barely make out the silhouettes of a raven being pursued by a mob of crows. She tried to sleep as the night cold of the desert plain settled upon her.
‘Are you in need child?’ a voice asked.
Naarah shook her head, but still the image of a large raven persisted on top of the altar.
‘Yes, Father,’ she whispered. ‘I am without family or friend, and am about to die of starvation.’
The raven looked the girl over carefully.
‘I can lead all my flock from this place of death to lands of ample water and rich harvests, but first you, child, must pray for salvation.’
With the raven’s words Naarah felt desperate pains of guilt, for she had cursed God at the time of the villagers’ flight. But she also felt hope, for she was ready to repent and be saved.
‘As penance you have but to pray through the night,’ reassured the raven. ‘Just as Jesus prayed in the garden before his time of glorious sacrifice and triumph, so too can you ensure life through this simple act of reverence.’
Naarah knelt by the white stone altar. Eyes fixed on the raven, she chanted her prayer in the moonlight.
‘Savior in darkness, Father of Light,
Whose Son before torture did pray like me,
Keep safe my spirit, by Your great might.
The new land of plenty, grant we may see…’
The raven listened approvingly, cocking his head first left, then right.
Hours later, when the first light of the rising sun poured over the white stone altar, it glistened off the feathers of an ancient raven and a small congregation of black carrion crows noisily celebrating the feast of Naarah’s corpse. They gorged themselves for days before heading south, as their provisions were secure within the church.
– Philosopher, poet, and small-time humorist, The Rt. Rev., Professor, Dr. Art Bupkis, is a literary ward of L. R. Baxter, a professor at the University of Florida.