Published Book or Work by:
A Straight, Level Path
|Published by Bridge Publications
|A STRAIGHT LEVEL PATH
Fallen teak lined the edges of the tight path that runs from the border of the road and into the hills of the refugee camp in rough, muddy sweeps. On the barren outskirts of the camp, Ethan James stood staring at the teak logs, smooth and sandy-brown and dead but still beautiful.
“Stop dreaming and get yourself back to the work,” a voice called. “Those trees’ll still be there when this road’s finished.” Ethan turned back to see the boss, red-faced and exhausted, his shirt soiled.
“Sure,” Ethan answered. “It just won’t look the same.”
“You’d think boys never got outta the city the way you look at trees.”
“Just good to see it Mr. McCoughlin, that’s all. Just a good sight.”
“Your happiness is a depression,” the boss said.
The sun dipped closer to the stark mountain outline. The green, massive mountain marked the camp’s western border that fenced out the quiet horrors crashing inside Burma.
“Hey where’s he going?” The boss pointed up the road where other men worked bent over digging. “Tell him to get back to work.”
Ethan squinted to see Ar-long across the road in the short grass talking to a small boy.
Ethan stopped working again when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Did you bring that Bible?”
Ethan pulled out the small, worn book from his pants pocket, watching as Ar-long worked quickly to translate some words into Karen on the small paper.
“We’re an NGO not some holy handout,” McCoughlin sighed, lighting a new cigarette while Ar-long ran back to the boy.
“I look at all those trees and get teary too,” McCoughlin started. “Then I see the dirt and poverty sticking to those kids. And the men up the road there without arms or legs. It’s sad sure enough. But those trees could be used for something nice, a table, some chairs. These people are wasting away.”
“They’re starving,” Ethan said. “Ar-long told me he got laughed at in school every time the teacher said his name out loud. I suppose he just wants to give the kid some hope, that’s all.”
“A man wants to help his own people.”
“Ar-long’s not Karen, he’s Akha from Chiang Rai. He just studied Karen when we got assigned here.”
“Listen, Ethan my boy, you’re a good worker but you’re still young. Take a job and do it but don’t go loving all these people. People say nice things in public to look sympathetic. We’re here to build a road. Remember that. Someone else will deliver the bread.”
When the work was finished for the day and the sun only an orange explosion behind the mountain, the men walked slowly back up the road, heavy tools on their shoulders. The large trucks rumbled. Dust kicked up as dusk fell down softly. Ethan climbed into the boss’ pick-up for the long ride back into town. The men in the wide truck beds were thinking of cold beer and missed wives and showers.
“Remember my boy what I told you today,” McCoughlin said.
Ethan thought about the teak left on the roadside and the few words translated onto the boy’s small paper.
“Maybe we’re building a road for something bigger than the job sir.”
“We’re finishing this road so people can bring in supplies.”
“People hunger for something more than bread,” Ethan said as the truck pulled onto the long highway. “Someday people will travel our road and never think of how terrible it once was.”
, Short Story
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