The cart ride into the City was slow and difficult. It had rained steadily for days, and the mud on the road was thick and deep. So frequently were they required to dismount and help push the cart out of a swampy rut that it seemed they helped the old horse more than it was helping them along their way. Early on in the journey, it became apparent that they would be very late to their appointment, and it in fact may have been quicker, and certainly less strenuous, to have walked themselves into the City, but they could not abandon the poor cart driver who would have been stuck in the mud if not for the pushing by his two water logged passengers. When the cart driver finally arrived at the University, Julian thanked the man and gave him a few coins for his troubles, which the man gladly took.
So taxing and demanding was the journey that Julian did not have the opportunity to talk to his son along the way. He had intended to use the time to explain his cause in going to the City with the drawings. As the cart driver drove off, Julian began to hurriedly speak as they climbed the long stairway to the entrance of the University.
“Do you understand why we must do this, with your drawings?” Julian asked, as his wet clothes hung heavy from his limbs.
Bilal shivered from the cold damp air and turned toward his father. The boy curled the left side of his mouth sharply toward the sky and drew both eyebrows in toward the corners of his eyes. His expression gave Julian pause. They stopped climbing. Julian took both of his son’s hands in his and shook them as he spoke.
“Bilal, listen to me, all these years alone, up on our hill, your drawings they speak to me, they are your voice. And they are your ma’ma’s voice, for you hold part of her spirit in side of you,” he said, touching the boy’s breast. “They are a gift from God. I believe that.”
Bilal said nothing.
He continued, “but, my son, in the cold, in the darkness, when we have no food, I ask myself, how can we go on, hungry, all alone, and with nothing?” He looked down at the stone stairs. The wind whipped against their damp garments.
“So many times, many offers we have turned away. You know that. But, now, my boy, but now, I am so sorry, I have had too much taken away, too much, and now for this tiny sliver of what we do have, I can take back part of what I did have.”
“It’s alright if you do, Papa, it’s fine,” Bilal replied.