Nothing’s worse than famine. It is the sensation of death reserved for the good man and the bad man alike.
Soraya understood this. It had been eight full days since her last meal of boiled corn and bread. She collapsed on a short flight of stone steps that led into a temple, not out of hope for charity but because that’s where her legs gave out. She stopped, and the world continued its motion around her, right down to the two lowly street cleaners brooming the dust.
A tattered awning whispered above her. At least I’m in the shade, Soraya thought. The sun was murderous that day and the shade gave her some respite. She was glad she wouldn’t leave the world parched and sweaty. Only famished. It was a good day for dying. That was one of the last coherent thoughts she had.
On the edges of her consciousness, she thought she heard voices. Men’s voices, coming closer and closer until the door of the temple opened and seven priests sat on the stone steps, barely a few feet away. She took it a sign from God, that she’d have such saintly company during her last hours on Earth. It gave her a measure of calm.
“Nonsense, nonsense.” said one of the holy men, his high forehead gleaming in the sun. “To be a good man means to give alms and care for the poor.”
“Of course, my good Tzomas, of course.” said another whose voice came booming from the mountainous body wrapped in brown silk. “But the soul needs alms and care too. No point caring for the poor if your own soul is not taken care of. To be good, we must give praise and pray to the Lord, every minute of the day. Thank you, Lord.”
Another holy man, who was sweating beneath a white cap and a wiry black beard stood up and spread his arms as holy men do. Then he spoke in a smooth voice.
“Belief comes first, my good men. The believing befriend and protect one another, and shun evil; they perform the prayer, pay alms, and obey God and His messenger. As the few men of God, we must proclaim it to the many so no one walks in ignor-”
“Sit down Hamad, there are no minarets here to shout your goodness from. To be a good man is nothing more than to relinquish all possessions and walk this Earth as simple as a grain of sand, helping those who come and forgiving those who do not.”, a bald man dressed in orange interjected.
“True brother Lhamo, true, but we must also go out of our way to help those most broken.” said a small man clad in a white robe who went by the name of Rangarajan, and the discussion began anew, each man vying for his opinion to emerge victorious.
During that time, Soraya sat at the edge of the abyss of death, her thin feet dangling in the liquid darkness. Her body had already eaten its own muscles and, having finished, began digesting the dead child she still carried in her womb in a vain effort to sustain itself. Her eyeballs turned into her head. She was soon to be no more.
“Good men only want guidance. People can’t think for themselves. Here, I’ll prove it to you. Hey! You there! Yes, you!” Hamad yelled, his thick finger pointing at one of the street cleaners. “What do you think a good man should do?”
The street cleaner, named Haroun, turned toward the saintly men but his eyes caught sight of Soraya. He dropped his broom and ran over to her. Old, gnarled hands opened her lips and pushed a few crumbles of wet bread into her mouth, hoping it’d be enough to bring her back from the brink.
“So? I’m waiting.” repeated Hamad, flanked by the other’s, but Haroun ignored him despite knowing he could get whipped for it. He cradled Soraya and, in his poor powerlessness, simply chose to be a good man, rather than to sit and discuss what it means to be one.
Inspired by a quote from Marcus Aurelius:
„Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.“