Originally appearing as a submission for the ROSA Award, Jason Fink writes a short story about peace – about the world’s greatest pacifist, that is both poignant and humorous. Lending his trademark style of moving between the profane and the profound, Jason imagines what it might be like to inhabit the mind of a true leader, well before he is old enough to know his calling.
So It Begins
A Short Story about Peace
by Jason Fink
“I shall not move” was what I was trying to say. The words failed me. Words always fail me. I was not as eloquent as I’d have liked. I was not as educated as I’d have liked. I assumed this would change; at this moment I had to make do with the tools afforded me.
“But sir,” I said, trying reason, “Sir, brother nor sister do not do what you are want me to do.”
The large, stoic man in the white suit looked at me with solemn appraisal. His moustache, black as grey streaked coal, twitched. “You would say no to me?”
I nodded. I am on the front line. More, I am the front line. What was being asked of me was the pinnacle of injustice, for it was asked of me and me alone, and it was a task that no one would have relished. It proved to me that in the eyes of the man in front of me, I was the lesser person in this relationship. The great and noble master man standing before me would be not satisfied until either I did as I was asked or I was severely punished for some imagined crime.
Therefore I was not surprised when the stick came before the carrot. Not that I enjoyed carrots overly much.
“You refuse me?” The large man loomed over me, the question on his lips giving rise to a burning in his eyes. He was quick to anger. I nodded. Nothing more. Curiously, this seemed to stoke the fire of his anger. “So. Then let us see how you survive with no food. Perhaps your hunger will cause you to think upon your decision and perhaps choose the correct path.”
In hindsight, this was probably not the response that the lord of the manor, the most high official of the state, the master of lesser men, wanted. Nor was it the response he anticipated. In his position, he had seen men cry, he had seen men scream, he had seen men beg, and he had seen men capitulate. But to sit? To sit and do nothing – nothing at all in the face of assured punishment? This, I was certain, was something he had not seen, nor was he expecting.
“You realize, of course,” the esteemed man said, voice flat and harsh and low all at once, “you realize what this means, do you not?”
I nodded again, my head down. My brow was unfurrowed as my conscience was clear. I knew what I had to do. If not for me, then for those who followed. My resolve strengthened, becoming the bedrock upon which my defiance was built. And what a respectful defiance it was.
The man sighed, rubbing his temples. “This thing, this small insignificant thing I ask of you, it is not as if this has never been done before. This is tradition; it is the way things have always been. Once you have finished the task, you will be able to be free to do whatever you wish, so I swear.”
Tradition. As if this was something that would or could persuade me. Though I did not know for certain if the course I was taking was the wisest one, or that there was not some error that I did not see, I knew that I needed to see this battle, this contest of wills through to the end. Strong though my opponent was, I held the faith that he may weaken in the face of his own miscalculations as to the strength of my tenacity.
I did not respond to his cajoling. I merely… sat.
“What? You do not wish to eat?” The semi-jovial tone had been replaced with one of learned patriarchy, as if his voice were the same as a god’s.
I shrugged. Hunger was fleeting. Resolution and the strength of my convictions were filling enough for my belly, as well as my soul.
This was when the giant of a man began to shout. “Do you think I jest? Do you think that I have the entirety of the day to waste on you?”
Again, I did not look at him. I followed the journey of an ant on the ground with my eyes. I did say this, however: “Is not there more to life than doing things fast?”
I sighed. My words did my thoughts a poor service. There would be a day when I could rely on words. That day would not be today. Today, however, today I would not let this gentlemen’s gentleman’s coercion dissuade me from what I knew to be right. The man spoke the law. The law decreed by the ruling lady. The law stated that it was my obligation to perform the assignment. It was an assignment, and therefore a law. That was incompatible with what I knew to be good. It was for more than my own needs and desires that I resisted; it was my duty to resist.
My father picked me up and threw me over his shoulder, carrying me to my bedroom. He was not happy. “Gandhi,” he said with a hint of a smile in his voice, “you will take out the trash, and you will have dinner. You need to eat. You are only four.”
Some day I won’t be four.