the short story project


The Carpenter

Michael had been working on a piece of pinewood, nine days ago, when a splinter entered his right eye. Today, his vision from that eye was a smoky blur at best. The pain and irritation were constant, and so were the tears. Now, he even struggled with the piece of furniture he was crafting: Mr Aaron’s dining table was due for delivery in two days, and that was when Michael would get the money he needed to see a doctor.
Michael was a carpenter like his father before him. He owned a woodwork business, but times were rough; his country was in recession, and he had to let all five of his workers go in the last three years. No one was buying anything—forget new furniture—there was never enough food, and there was unrest everywhere.
The monarchy had proved itself useless; the king was reduced to a mere figurehead. He had ceded control to foreign invaders without a fight. And it was they who controlled the country and administered it as one of their provinces.
These foreigners didn’t understand the locals, nor did they make any effort to do so. Instead, they turned to the country’s right-wing leaders to subjugate citizens with their self-serving brand of religion. Now, the people had to pay taxes, and also a tithe to line the pockets of the “spiritual guides”.
But there was talk of an uprising. People had begun to attend rallies outside the city where young revolutionaries were challenging the foreign government and the self-professed protectors of the faith.
But Michael didn’t have time for protests and marches. He was a man trying hard to make ends meet. His wife, Rachel, on the other hand, had attended a rally a few days ago. A young leader had entered their city in a show of defiance, and an enthusiastic crowd had welcomed him and his band of followers with songs and speeches. It was on the same day that Michael’s eye was pierced by the splinter.
When Rachel had returned that evening, she spoke excitedly about the leader. “He isn’t much older than us, you know?” she said. “I had expected him to be in his 40s at least. And his followers include all sorts of people.”
She constantly talked about how everyone seemed hopeful at the gathering, even as she gently rinsed Michael’s eye.
Rachel is an idealistic sweetheart, Michael thought, but he was glad she was his wife. She never ever complained about their situation. Instead, she did her best to manage with what little he could provide.
Michael couldn’t quite see how the young revolutionary and people like him could bring about a change, but he didn’t want to squash Rachel’s hopes, so he listened patiently.
As for the splinter, the daily rinsing didn’t help; Rachel couldn’t see it regardless of how much she peered and inspected his eye every day. But Michael could feel it. And the pain kept getting worse.
By the third day, Rachel began suggesting that he visit the young leader’s camp. “Who knows, he might have a doctor among his followers who could help,” she had said.
Michael always made an excuse to not go. His wife was too optimistic, he thought.
But today, his eye was really troubling him. He didn’t think he could wait two more days till he got paid. Besides, he doubted he could even work on the table anymore. He had almost fainted from the pain at his workshop earlier in the morning.
He put on his coat and headed to where he heard the young leader was camping. Perhaps Rachel was right; perhaps the revolutionaries did have a doctor in their midst.
But when he reached the spot, his heart sank. There were no crowds that Rachel had spoken about; just four men sitting on a large rock, deep in conversation.
He approached them tentatively.
“Can you help me?” Michael asked.
One of them, of lean build, with a scruffy beard and shaggy hair, but with the kindest eyes Michael had ever seen, stood up and looked at him. “What do you need?” he asked.
“I was told I’d find a doctor here…” Michael said, feeling foolish even as he mouthed the words, “…a splinter entered my eye last week… I was at some woodwork… it hurts…”
“Let me have a look,” said the young man, as he looked into Michael’s eyes.
“I used to be a carpenter too, you know?” he said, warmly. “…but no, there’s nothing’s wrong with your eyes.”
“No, but there is… Wha… eh? I no longer feel pain!” Michael said, surprised, as his vision cleared almost immediately. He mumbled his thanks; his happiness tinged with confusion; he wanted to rush home to show Rachel his eye and tell her what had happened.
“The table can wait,” he thought.
The young “revolutionary” looked on—with tears welling up in his eyes—as Michael excitedly raced down the hill toward the city. He knew it was time; he had a supper appointment to keep, and a promise to fulfil before the day’s end.
Late that night, Michael and Rachel were rudely woken up by local authorities: Three men are to be punished for their crimes, they said. “Two for robbery, and one for inciting a rebellion.”
They needed a carpenter to work through the night to make crosses to hang those men upon.

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