The old priest hesitated. Optimism? He drew back his hood and adjusted his round, thin wired spectacles. The small boy’s eyes were white against his dirty face, looking up and waiting like a starving buzzard for nourishment. The priest leaned against his staff and bent down, his knees cracked and popped. The child, face void of emotion, just watched, and the crowd murmured. Surely the Sage was offended.
Wisdom and innocence locked eyes, and the Priest spoke. “What did you say was your desire?”
“Optimism,” the boy said, the word fell from his lips like a heavy yoke, burdening all whose ears it touched. It caused the priest to wobble and he gripped his staff.
Now he understood. Despite his protests, they had continually begged him to see the child. He is possessed by demons, they cried. You must bless him. He’d refused many times because no child needed his blessing. Now, unfortunately, he understood. He sighed but did not avert his gaze, even as the eyes of the child drained happiness from him like smoke drifting from the alter. So this was the one that would destroy their world. This was the one that would expose the lies.
“I’m sorry,” he said to the child. “But I cannot help you.”
The child blinked, but showed no emotion. No disappointment, no sadness, no longing. “Then I will leave our village forever.”
The Priest slumped against his staff. He old eyes sagged and his warm smile vanished into lethargy. “No, it won’t help. The prophecy is upon us,” he said.
The child turned his head, his eyes begged for tears but instead remained dry and hollow. He looked back to the Priest. “I am sorry,” he said.
The weary priest reached out and embraced him and the boy’s head rested on his shoulder.
“We created you boy, do not be sorry. Your burden is greater than they can ever know,” he whispered.
The boy straightened, knowing the old man was near his limit. Several others nearby had already fallen to their knees. He pointed to them. “That is my burden.”
The boy departed and the Priest fell to the ground breathing heavily, pained in his heart yet thankful for respite. The crowd pointed in condemnation at the departing child, certain now of their erroneous conclusions. “It is our burden,” he tried to tell the boy. But it was too late.