And They Shall Know My Name (A Short Story by Tyler Scott Hess)
Every Day I take this boat across the waters, traveling from shore to shore, determined to reach my destination. I come from a small village of little importance and my family is the least important among them. I do not care. I will not be stopped.
I drive this boat to make a living. It’s not much to look at, but it’s more than I ever dreamed I would own. And it keeps me away from the whips and chains on most days. Those are the days I am told to fear. They are the only ones worth my time.
Sometimes my back aches. There’s a hitch in my ribs when I walk. My lungs become heavy on the hottest of days. But I continue with my duties because there are no other options for me.
Today I am headed to the north western side of the lake. There is a village of some prominence among those who speak the same tongue as my family. They are not wealthy, and live in the same manner as us, but are esteemed like royalty by their neighbors. After all, that’s where the priests live.
I jump out of my boat when I can feel ground at arm’s length and drag it to shore. There is no dock here, unlike most places around the lake, but the tide is soft, and theft would be of no honor to this tribe. The water soothes fresh wounds on my thighs and for a moment I wish to stay where I am standing. I cannot waste time today, however, and I must move on.
I am well known in every village. They greet me by the name I was given, not by my father, but by those who would wish I were dead. “He is a babbler!” they say, and thus I am called Pra-ti anywhere I go. It means he-who-babbles. It used to bother me. Now I take it to mean that I have done my job. But it is not my name and I do not respond with any emotion to their attacks. They are of little consequence when I consider the majesty that is set before me.
The heat is coming upon us early today and my pants are nearly dry by the time I reach the center square. It always starts the same. I stand in the arena with the beggars and hustlers as we all look for attention.
Everyone around me calls out for something different. Most need food. Others look for work, protection, or care. I don’t have to say a thing. They all know why I’m here. And they all need my help on occasion, even the ones who are the first to call for lashes.
“What will it be today, Pra-ti?” a man shouts from the doorway of his home. “Will you keep your mouth shut and earn your keep or will you go home with cracks in your skin? I can offer you either.”
“I offer you my humble services as always,” I say as he considers his options. He is the likeliest of all men in this village to offer me one or the other, as he has the greatest wealth, and the hottest temper. He is willing to listen to me speak on some occasions, when I amuse him, but conversing too personally often meets his scorn.
“I need you to take my son to the southern villages,” he says in a more serious tone. “But I don’t want you filling his head with your nonsensical babble. Do you understand? If he comes back home and speaks one word to me about your rubbish I will take the whip myself and will not stop until my arm falls off.”
“I offer you my humble services as always,” I repeat. I do not acknowledge his threats. I never do, though I know he means every word he says and will carry them out.
The man grabs his son by the collar of his shirt and brings him down to me. He is just a boy, being sent to do a man’s job, but it is of great necessity. There are no other options for most villages such as this. Only the tribes on the eastern bank can afford to waste time instructing their children before sending them on such missions.
This boy reminds me of myself at that age. Young, scared, and desperate for a better life. He won’t get it by following his father’s orders, but he has little choice.
I help him into the boat, hop in, and push off on our destination. We sit in silence, each of us knowing the consequences of any other action. I do not remain quiet for my own sake, but for his. Whips will come sooner than later for me and it is expected. But he does not have the strength of a man to endure his father’s wrath.
We reach the southern shore where I am able to dock my boat without charge. Of all the villages, I am most welcome here. I always come with the understanding that these merchants are ready and willing to make trades of goods and services without hesitation. They value the marketplace above all else here and rarely does my voice come in conflict with these men to the point of aggression.
I lead the boy to where he is supposed to acquire a small goat for his father’s business. He has never been here before, which I know because I would have been the one to take him, so I must help him along his way as part of my services. But I always have a greater command to follow.
“You are back so soon?” asks the merchant as I introduce the boy.
“I would stay here always if necessary,” I tell him.
“Are you here to babble or to make your wages?” he asks, not wanting to be delayed any further.
“I am here to serve my true master,” I tell him. “I will tell you the same as I have always told you. I am here to speak of the one who gives wages from heaven. I will tell it to everyone in this village. And they shall know my name is “Ab-di” and I am the servant of he who pays.
“You will be the one who pays if you babble any further today,” he says, motioning for authorities.
“I will pay everything,” I say. “For I have nothing of my own. And I will not be silenced by whips or stones or closed fists. Not in this village or any other, for I am at peace.”