stranger

And it was in this time that the Stranger appeared.  Travel-worn upon a dun and tired horse, trembling and bent, he rode through our gates.  He was a feast to our fears, allowing us outlet to the shadow that had been lying over us in those days.  We closed our doors and our hands.  We did not halt our children from throwing stones and names.  We ate him with our distrusting eyes.  We battered him with our condemning pace.  A devil would have been no better welcomed.  No.  No, we probably would have loved a devil.

Our hurtled hurts met no defense.  Blood smeared a cheek where a stone had met purchase.  His eyes never raised to see our hands.  His belabored mount only quickened to escape the bite of dogs upon its leg. And in his humiliation we were fed.  Our mouths were opened and we echoed our shadows.  His weakness was our strength and he was given all our fears, all our wrongs.

Through our city, he traveled, but word traveled faster.  People came running to meet the Stranger: all castes and all conditions.  All to see this stark evil, this betrayer, usurper, this tempter and hellion.  We were united at long last.

Our words rose with our fists.  We were the storm, the purging storm.  To wash this iniquity from our street.  We lifted in joy, we were released.  All this pain and labor we could focus on this one man.  And he was nothing before us.  If he did not leave, his blood would bless our streets.

And yet was this his strength?  For he did not turn away.  While he was mute, he acted not deaf.  You could see our weight bow his shoulders deeper.  I believe I saw tears, to match the tears of our fervor.  We slavered, we nipped, but he did not flee.  Eventually we were able to stop his horse with our bodies' wall, and so he dismounted, or he fell from the beast's back.

He rose from the dust and he pushed upon our unity, seeking his way.  His touch was our invitation, it told us we were now free to touch him.  And so we did.  Fists and slaps and kicks.  All our enemies were this man.  We could finally strike them.  As one, we beat him until we were breathless.  As one we stamped upon this alien.  We stamped out this uprising of the strange and other.

Our joy, our exultation, overrode the hurting and bruises of our fists and muscle.  We lost ourselves in the manifestation of every thing that ever cast us down.  We would now cast this man down in our stead.  Oh gift of heaven, this Stranger was, we had never known such relief.

Finally our blows retarded.  The noise upon the street was the hard breathing of labor.  We had done a good citizen's work.  But yet the bloody rags stirred.  With a push upon the ground, they rose.  Unsteady feet, outcast hands for balance, the man was unrecognizable.  First a wavering step, and then another.  Leaving a trail of blood and teeth, he was able to cut through us.  We finally let him pass into his unfathomable quest.  What could lead this man on?

Now we were silent.  Watching.  Waiting for the Stranger to fall, waiting for him to end.  His bloody trail took us all to the center of the city.  We were approaching the home we had left vacant so so long ago, remembering old paths and old words.  A new fear began to rise in me.  Where was he headed?

Yes, it was the Fear.  He was making direct for the center.  The home.  A couple whispers crept through the throng.  The weight of the mob began to draw to the rear of the man, but still we followed as if chained; he our ox.  We were dragged, by the blood and dirt of our hospitality unto the long-forgotten.

To step onto the street before the gate was as stepping through a mighty cobweb, which left a film of memory upon our face.  Beyond the gate you could see the rotting house.  Boarded and broken, fading gray, the wind was dead upon the street.  Our breaths held in, we remembered.  And our shame cut open our hearts.  Our host began to spiritually cower before this man, the Stranger.  He, weak and trembling, stood shoulders above us.

In deathly silence, our Stranger we all now knew lurched to the gate.  He came to rest, holding himself upright against the iron.  After ten breaths, he began to fumble with the mechanism of the gate.  His bloody, crooked fingers could not effect the clasp.  Some stifled tears began to echo in the street.  We watched our exile attempt to enter his home through the injuries we inflicted.  We desired to run so far away, but our feet were seized.

Yet a boy I did not know broke from the crowd.  He was released from our shackles, freed from our slavery.  But he did not run, no, instead he approached the Stranger.  Head bowed, the boy put his hands to those of the man.  The boy lifted their collective hands gently.  Putting the broken hands upon his shoulders, the boy returned his attention to opening the gate.  And with a rusted whine, the old gate swung open, as the sad song of years escaped their lock.

The boy attempted to help the Stranger through the courtyard.  Our mass pushed itself to the line of the gate as if struck upon an invisible wall.  We watched the unlikely pair limp and drag each other towards the building.  Their pace slowed until finally the Stranger fell to his knees.  No urging or lifting of the boy's could spur the man.

We found ourselves questioning if we wanted the man to rise or to fall.  What would his returning mean?  What would it mean for us?  Us who had beaten him?  In which outcome was our victory?

And then one of our numbers, a grayed old man, burst our wall and ran to the Stranger.  He and the boy were able to lift our alien to his feet and restart their march to the door of the old home.  And then another ran forward.  And another.  Soon a small group was helping push them on, or walking expectantly a pace behind.  The fear, the hope, the despair, all of it started flowing from the fountain of our hearts.

They were at the steps and still a few more ran to join them.  It felt like the world was suddenly hurrying to its end.  They were at the door.  The bruised and battered kindly cast away his carriers.  He raised his dripping hand.  Rest it upon the door's handle.  And with a loud broken cry the Stranger pulled.

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