War leaves a refugee family in a new home, with only their faith to remind them who they are. They feel trapped and persecuted and long for a prophesied Chosen One who will lead them back to their homeland. But maybe the Chosen One was not what they were expecting...
The morning light rose over the desert subtle and soft. It was a welcome and yet unsettling contrast to the not-yet-forgotten steady roar of battle. Maia woke with the dawn and dressed quietly so not to wake her brother and sister on the mattresses next to hers. She climbed out of the cool basement and blinked as her eyes adjusted to the light streaming in through the dirty main floor windows. She heard her parents stirring in the next room and set the kettle on the stove to boil.
“Good morning, Father,” she whispered as light but solid footsteps sounded behind her. She could smell the soap on his still wet hair – the same dark and curly mess that she and her brother had inherited. He kissed the top of her head. “Good morning, Maia. Are your brother and sister awake yet?”
Maia shook her head as she cut an apple into quarters. “I wanted to let them sleep a bit longer.”
As she spoke, her sister Rachelle emerged from downstairs. Her hair was straight and golden brown and neatly gathered in a ponytail. She smiled and whispered, “Good morning, Father.”
Father kissed her forehead. “Help your sister make breakfast,” he said, and left to wake his eldest.
Rachelle obediently began to make coffee. Neither sister spoke, though Rachelle made a face at Maia, who returned a sillier one.
Father returned from the basement with a very sleepy-eyed Isaiah in tow, his hair still mussed. He tousled it with a yawn, his long arms still moving a bit awkwardly since his growth spurt over the summer. They sat at the table and read the newspaper together over coffee, while Rachelle and Maia made oatmeal. Once in a while father would ask Isaiah how an English word was correctly pronounced. Father’s understanding of English was quite advanced, but he still had trouble with his accent sometimes, so he practiced with his children whenever he could.
The girls served the oatmeal, but nobody ate until Mother came and sat down. She was beautiful, as always, her eyes dark, with only small lines beside them betraying her true age. Once all five were seated, they bowed their heads. Father prayed in the tongue of their ancestors: “Ayam, thank you for this land you have given us to live on and the food you have supplied us to survive. We pray that your strength will wipe out our enemies and your name will be praised forever. Amen.”
They ate quietly and quickly, as people who remembered what it felt like to go hungry. Maia finished first and cleaned her dishes, then packed her lunch for school. Rachelle and Isaiah did the same. Mother prepared a lunch for father, who went into his room to put on his work boots.
The children then kissed their mother goodbye and left for school through the front door. The Sun had barely risen, but the day was already warm and the air smelled dry and dusty. The sidewalks were cracked and covered with litter, but they walked fast, afraid to be late for school. Isaiah, with his long legs, took the lead and the girls soon fell far enough behind that he wouldn’t hear their conversation.
“So have you decided what you will tell him?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll see what Father says.”
“Okay, but if Father was not in the picture and the choice was only yours, would you say yes or no?”
“It doesn’t matter. Father is in the picture, and he decides who I marry.”
“So you don’t love him.”
Maia was quiet for a bit. She knew that Western culture put a high priority on love and romance. She enjoyed the movies where the boy and girl choose one another forever. But she had grown up in a world of violence, where the only thing that had kept her alive was family and faith. She had learned that love was a luxury. Not a feeling, but a choice.
"I didn't say that. I barely know him. I'm saying I trust Father."
"Some romantic you are. This is your life - don't you want to choose your own path?"
"I am. I owe my life to my Father and I'll choose the path that he suggests. Why do you care so much?"
"We're living in a new home, we have to follow the new culture. If you tell people you are in an arranged marriage, they'll think you're weird."
"Our culture is the only thing we have left of our old home. So go ahead and forget everything you know if you wish, Ayam bless you, but I prefer to keep the old ways."
With that Maia sped up her steps, leaving her youngest sister to trail behind in the mounting morning heat.