Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: India (02/12/09)
TITLE: Redemption in Mumbai
By Charles Toscano
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These men, however, lacked military discipline. Their movements were not calm and efficient, but instead were agitated and excited, like a pack of hungry hyenas approaching an injured zebra. They wore khaki parachute pants and dark, solid t-shirts, and as they pulled their large, heavy rucksacks from the boats and slung them onto their backs their discomposure grew. Evil and psychotic grimaces distorted their once handsome faces as they started toward downtown Mumbai.
In Hindi, the leader reviewed final details to his compatriots in a hushed tone. With a wave of his hand, the band split into groups of six and five and each hastened in different directions toward it's predestined targets. Soon, as the first group approached the Taj Mahal hotel, the leader waved his hand yet again and this group split into teams of three. Abu, the twenty-five year old leader, led twenty-one year old Ajmal and his fifteen year old brother, Azam toward the main hotel entrance. The faces of Abu and Ajmal displayed hatred and rage. Their nostrils flared and their teeth bared like wild dogs. Azam's face, on the other hand, showed fear. He was very much afraid.
Near the southeast corner of the building, Abu and Ajmal withdrew AK-47 assault rifles from their rucksacks. Ajmal commanded his brother, "Go to the back of the building. Kill anyone who tries to escape." Like a puppy who's spirit has been beaten from him, Azam obeyed and scurried away. He rounded the corner of the building and his fear overcame him. His legs went weak and he fell to his knees and vomited just outside the first portal.
A voice called to him from the darkened entryway, "Azam!"
Azam jumped to his feet in surprise and peered into the shadows. How could Ajmal or Abu have reached him so quickly?
"Brother, is that you?" he asked. Suddenly, explosions thundered inside the building. Gunshots sounded like firecrackers, pop-pop-pop. Frantic screaming ensued and sent shivers through Azam's body. His knees weakened again and he began to fall, until the stranger emerged from the shadows and caught him.
The man was dark-skinned like Azam, yet, a light seemed to radiate from within him.
"Who are you?" Azam asked weakly. "How do you know my name?"
"I am a friend," the man replied, "and I have come to save you. You are not a terrorist, Azam…you are just a boy. You do not want to slaughter innocent people.”
“Innocent?” questioned Azam. “They are not innocent! They are my enemies!”
“Enemies!” declared the man, shaking his head. “That is the teaching of your brother, Ajmal.”
Azam’s mouth hung open like a cave in the landscape of his face. His eyes widened with fear. “What do you know of my brother?” he asked.
“I know that he has rage in his heart, but you do not. If you follow him, then you will die. I have a brother, too, and His name is Jesus and He is the Son of God. He says that if we follow Him, then we shall LIVE! And He tells us that we should pray for our enemies. Now I ask you, which takes greater strength and courage…to kill your ‘enemies’ or to pray for them?”
Azam hesitated. He did not want to kill. His sin felt heavier than his backpack and his guns heavier than millstones. He dropped them to the ground and surrendered. Immediately, Azam’s hatred and anger drained from his soul like dirty bathwater.
“My brother will kill me. I am a dead man.” he said despondently.
“No! I will take you someplace safe. You will meet my Jesus and many brothers and sisters. If you trust Him, He will save your life! Do you want to be saved?”
Yes! Yes, I want to be saved!”
“Then let’s hurry! I will take you to the underground church!”
Amidst the sound of gunfire and explosions, they hurried from the alleyway into the frantic, chaotic thoroughfare. And like two granules of salt falling into a raging river, the pair dissolved into the current of screaming, choking, and crying men, women, and children.
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