Do the Right Thing
Barak stood outside his home and stared at the mountains in the distance. Bright sunlight glinted off the peaks and colored the crevices with a blue tinge. Pointy evergreens lined the west side. He could almost feel the breath of the big cat, as it chased his clan from their ancient homelands, curl up his nose. A mad desire to run into the mountains shivered down his spine.
His shoulders slumped. “Do Aram and I share the same fate? I can’t make sense of anything, but I’m supposed to lead others! Hah!”
A high, childish voice echoed. “Hah!”
Barak spun around so quickly he tripped over a root and fell backward. He searched wildly for someone to fix upon, but all he saw was the same thin air he had been talking to a moment before. Rising, he tapped his ears and shook his head.
At the base of the tree in front of him, a brown foot gripped an exposed root as if clinging to it for dear life.
Relief flooding his body, Barak heaved a sigh and grinned. “All right. Who are you? Heath?”
“No? Then Lamech. Come on out, son.” Barak took a step closer.
Barak stopped. “Eber? You know I’m not really mad.” He frowned. “Yet.”
“All right, Shad? Rula? Come out here, or I’ll come get you.”
The foot retreated behind the tree.
Barak tiptoed forward and leaned around the tree.
The child backed up and bumped against Barak. He screamed.
Barak clutched his chest and spun around, ready to grab his miniature tormenter. He froze. His mouth fell open. “Who are you?”
The little boy wrapped his arms over his head and burst into sobs.
Barak closed his eyes, mumbling, “I will be calm,” and then inhaled a deep breath.
Continuing to cry, the child’s whole body shook.
Barak laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder and led him to a bench. He went inside, poured a cup of water, returned, and put the drink into the child’s hands, guiding him to drink between sniffles.
A few hard sniffs jerked the boy into apparent calmness.
Barak crossed his arms. “So tell me…who are you?”
“And why have you come, Caleb?”
“My brother told me about you. He wants to talk to you.”
Barak rolled his eyes skyward and rubbed his forehead. “And who is your brother?”
“Amin. He’s older than me and very wise. He’s talking to Namah. He wants to work everything out, but I want to talk to you first.”
Barak tapped his fingers to his lips, holding onto his calm demeanor by sheer force of will. “So, what do you want to tell me?”
Caleb laid his cup aside and propped his head on his hands like a weary old man on the brink of despair. “Amin and I should go far away—maybe follow our father into the mountains. When everything is better, we can come back. But for now, we should leave.”
A sharp pain stabbed Barak’s chest as he plunked down at Caleb’s side. “By Aram’s soul—you’re Ishtar’s son.”
Caleb blinked. “Father left. Mother died. Only Hagia wanted us—” He swallowed and shivered.
Barak rubbed his eyes. He patted Caleb’s shoulder. “Well, about your leaving… Ishtar might come looking for you. Or you could get lost…or hurt…or something.”
Caleb peered at his feet dangling over the edge of the bench.
Barak glanced into the blue sky. Help me. He tapped his fingers together. “Listen, Namah is a good woman, and perhaps she and your brother will—”
Caleb shook his head. “Amin said that Namah wants to sell us into slavery. Not everyone is nice, you know. Some people are very bad. Amin told me.”
Stroking his short beard, Barak’s eyes narrowed. “But not everyone is evil. Many people will do the right thing if given the chance.”
“The right thing.”
Barak opened his hands expansively. “I do pretty well. My family seems to think so.”
“And your clan made you their leader.”
Barak ruffled Caleb’s hair and grinned.
Two voices meandered close.
Barak and Caleb turned.
Namah and Amin strode around the dwelling ignoring the mother who suckled her baby, a young girl tending a stew pot, and four men who hefted a boat on their shoulders and headed toward the lake.
Amin stopped in mid-motion and scowled at Caleb. “What’re you doing here?”
“Talking to Barak.”
After offering Amin a reassuring pat on the shoulder, Namah strode forward and met Barak’s gaze. “I know you’re busy, but we need to discuss something important.”
Barak glared at Namah and snorted. “I’d say we do. The last I heard, you were bringing food to these two. Now, I hear they’re being sold into slavery?”
A rather alarming smile spread across Namah’s face. “Yes, you’re right. I admit my mistake. I apologized to Amin for my interference, and I ask for your forgiveness as well. As clan leader, you should’ve been consulted. These boys need a home, but very few people—”
His pent-up frustration flaring into rage shot Barak to his feet. “What? One can never have too many sons! Any man would be blessed to have these boys at his side.” He patted the top of Caleb’s head.
Amin leaned against a post and folded his arms.
Barak puffed out his chest. “Tell me. Who’s the lucky man to inherit such stalwart sons?”
Namah pointed at Barak. “You!”
Barak froze. He glanced from Amin’s cold stare to Caleb’s beaming face.
Caleb’s eyebrows lifted as he stood and clasped Barak’s hand. “So? Will you do the right thing?”
Barak closed his eyes. After a long silent moment, a chuckle bubbled up from deep within.
He opened his eyes. Without warning, two boys raced around the dwelling and careened into Barak.
The first boy, laughing, pointed at the second. “I won!”
A sudden, surprising joy flooded through Barak. He tousled the two boys’ heads.
Milkan strode into view, caught Namah’s eye, and nodded. “My friend, how good to see you.”
Namah smiled and bowed her head.
The first boy shuffled over to Amin. “Are you hungry?” His gaze remaining steady, waiting,
Amin glanced at Barak.
Barak locked eyes with the boy.
Milkan gestured to the door. “There’s food enough for all. Go inside, and I’ll arrange things.”
Still gazing at Amin, Barak cleared his throat. “Take Caleb and get something to eat.”
Amin nudged his little brother and the two boys followed the others inside.
Milkan watched the children tromping into her house.
“Will they stay long?”
“As long as need be.”
Patting Barak’s arm, Milkan followed the boys. “We’ll need more fish.” She stepped into the house.
Exhaling a sigh of relief, Namah clasped Barak’s hand. “You don’t know what this means to me. My heart can rest easy tonight.” She waved goodbye.
Barak watched Namah stroll away and listened to the happy chatter inside the house. He glanced into the bright sky and shook his head. “Hah!”