“I lived in the small town of Bethany with my mother, LaRue, the local brothel owner. I don't know why she chose that life. She spoke well and knew how to read. She spent several hours a day teaching me.
I grew up without friends except for a little boy named Abdiel who often ran and played with me. Meanwhile, he didn’t tell his parents.
I had blue eyes, a legacy from the Roman who visited my mother on a sunny morning.
One day I raced to the woods to sit on a tree stump with the yellow sunflower sage plants. Birds, like the gray jay with a blue stripe on his wing and a black cap, came to eat the sunflower seeds I carried.
After a while, three large boys who enjoyed games in which I served as victim, circled me and shoved me. They hated me for my mother’s work, as though I chose that sad destiny. As the game became more brutal, they laughed and pulled my hair. One picked up a pointed stick and stuck it in my eye.
Another of the three said, 'we'll burn his face. He won't show it when we finish.'
His accomplices laughed at the thought. He snatched another stick and lit a fire while his friends held me down. He put it up to my face. I felt the searing agony as the stick touched my chin.
Then, arising out of nowhere, a cart jolted to a stop; the blue-eyed Roman driver with short-cropped hair and a short tunic chased the boys away with his pole. Through the years I daydreamed that my father came to protect me.
He seized all three by their hair and slapped their legs with his rod. 'If I ever see you again, it will be worse for you.' His shout followed them as we watched them limp down the road. 'They will remember this day. Big isn't always the biggest.'
Then he scooped me up and set me in his cart. He asked me where I needed to go.
'I'm the son of LaRue.' I dipped my head. I thought he might dump me in a ditch.
But he glanced at me, patted my hand, and took me to her door.
I never grew hair where the hooligans burned my chin. Forever after I had one blue eye and one hazel eye. My vision remained the same.
The next day, I hunted for two large companions bigger than me, and menacing. It wasn’t hard. I chose two huge scruffy boys, usually hungry, who lived by begging. Then I took them home for bread and fried locusts--a bowl of fruit at their elbows.
LaRue, despite her notoriety, had a kind heart She gave them a home and food for the rest of their lives so far. In gratitude, they protected the small Gersham. Also, they adored LaRue and served her in whatever she needed. Hence, they became my brothers. We roamed the countryside, inseparable.
My tormentors stayed away from me and my friends after that. One day they chanced to meet us in the lane. My friends chased them for a Mil. If they hadn’t been swift runners, they would have found themselves in poorer health.
When I entered my teens, I recruited girls for LaRue’s house—mostly young girls with no support or family. I didn’t go after Mary, sister of Lazarus. Angry with her sister’s husband, she rejected marriage. Instead she wanted wealth. She approached LaRue‘s girls and thought it a grand idea for her to join them. It didn’t occur to her to ask what they did to earn their pay. She only saw them buy fine fabrics and perfumes. So I urged her to join the House.
After two days, she wanted to leave. But the brother-in-law and her brother came to take her home. Livid, he yelled, spit flying out between his two front teeth. Mary stayed with LaRue because she had no choice. She thought the man would kill her.
Livia, another girl—who she sat and talked with when ever they didn’t have work—became her comforter.
I loved Livia with her ebony hair and happy spirit no matter her circumstances. No one knew of my feelings. LaRue forbade me to stay with the girls and, usually, I complied. If I showed too much attention to any girl, it could be bad for her with the other girls. Life would shift to chaos.
It didn’t matter. A man visited the house. LaRue said his crossed eyes and a scar up the left cheek gave him a fearsome presence. He forcibly took Livia. Three days of worry later, we found her in a ditch, murdered—her sweet laugh gone.
She fought him, kicking and biting. She planned to leave the House for good. “I met the Messiah. He preached on the street and I experienced new life.”
But the devil slammed a coin down and carried her out by force. LaRue, alone, couldn’t stop him.
I cried alone for weeks. No one searched for her murderer. She was a harlot. To the constabulary she had no worth.
It shocked us all when Mary went home. She blamed my friends for Livia’s death and believed her fate might mimic Livia if she left. But she stopped to watch a street speaker one evening and, like Livia, decided she couldn‘t stay. He told her to “sin no more”.
She returned to her sister and brother to beg them to take her in. The brother-in-law had abandoned them by then. I followed her several days later to bring her back, only to find Martha and Lazarus swooping down on me with rods, ready to take my head. I ran away from them, but threatened to come back.
The next day, Lazarus, Abdiel, and an army of bearded men dressed in yarmulkes and church garb came and bought her from me. I took the money. Lazarus‘ eyes told me he wanted to kill me.
No one knew I developed a sore and then a skin rash. But Rabbi Marcus met me on the street one day and decided to visit me. He thought my eyes showed ill-health. He’s a good man. Entering the House with its red velvet covered walls and the lightly clad girls didn‘t faze him.
Alone in my room, he told me I’m sick. Only Dr. Marcus, God, and I know that I have few days on this earth. I told my mother the rash came from some bushes I rubbed against.
Some days my body rebels in pain and some days there is no sign. I’ve already lived three years since the diagnosis. It’s been a busy three years.”
Disclaimer: The two-color eyes is not science fiction. I worked at Fort Leavenworth where we made training aids for General Officers at the General Staff College.
Before computers, we made slides by printing images on plastic sheets. We cut apart and formed new pages before we took the slides. One day, my supervisor absent-mindedly scratched an itch on her eye with an X-ACTO knife. She hit the iris and changed the color of that eye. She then had one blue and one hazel eye. Her vision remained the same.
It’s easy to concentrate so hard you might do this. In college I once drank the unappetizing paint water I dunked my brush in instead of the coke sitting next to it.