The Martyr's Song
The setting: Atlanta, Georgia. The year: 1964. An elderly woman approaches a typical, non-descript high school on a seemingly non-consequential errand. Oblivious to the students standing around the school, and with a will of its own reckoning, Eve's thoughts turn to a scene in Bosnia many years earlier. She has recounted these ominous words so many times that they've become part of her body and soul. Its recollection is a scene of impending disaster, terror even, yet Eve is compelled to relive its memory time and again. Shaken to the present by someone's shout, Eve is drawn back to the moment as she remembers the reason for her presence in this schoolyard: the delivery of a dozen rare roses. And still, there's more here --- a deeper, more beckoning call. Eve spots her, and the likeness is uncanny. It can't be...and yet it is. Who is that girl and what is her story?
Marci, a high school junior, stands rooted to the spot, paralyzed by fear. If she moves, she loses. If she stands still, she loses. It doesn't matter what Marci does. She's a loser, and the whole school knows it, confirming it with every callous, cutting remark. Yet no one can remain inert forever, and so Marci summons what meager resource of courage she has and enters the school. The taunting is merciless and the humiliation now complete.
With her roses Eve approaches Marci, and to the already emotionally damaged girl speaks the words aloud that Marci has been replaying her entire life: "You hate yourself because you don't think you're beautiful, is that it?" In the next moment, Eve offers an invitation of a lifetime: "Come to my flower shop tomorrow, and I will make you beautiful." How could she? Marci ranted, anger now swelling. How could this stranger be so cruel? And yet, the next morning, there she stands at the old woman's flower shop. And after a short attempt at spewing vindictives, Marci accepts Eve's invitation to be transformed and made beautiful.
Eve opens the door to her home. The gauntlet is laid down, and the real story now begins. Eve tells Marci to listen carefully and discover which of the tale's characters she is. Marci is in the story --- there's no doubt --- but she must pay close attention to discern the truth of it and the mystery it holds. Eve's mental recitation from the day before is the same as the opening words to the book she now shares with Marci. This is the story of five ruthless, desperate soldiers, and a small town filled with women, children, and their beloved priest.
On this particular day, 13-year-old Nadia was celebrating her birthday with those who made up her corner of the world. Father Michael --- he with his hunched back, tender in his concern for Nadia, with her plain looks and disfigured leg (due to polio) --- was the first to notice the soldiers' approach. His spirit clenched and he prayed, "Dear Father, protect us." It wasn't long before mercy deserted the scene and the soldiers followed the orders of their crazed inhumane leader to carry out unspeakable acts of cruelty. Nadia's secret wish was that these soldiers would not ruin her birthday party; little did she know how eternity would enter the formerly picturesque scene.
Eve continues to turn pages while speaking and remembering. Marci listens, then understands and believes. The truth is haunting and the song piercing. It is true. Eve has accomplished the unimaginable --- Marci is now beautiful. It's a miracle. Still, both Eve and Marci have paid dearly for the change. Lives have been sacrificed and torn asunder. Yet there is a promise to be embraced, shared, and bestowed. It is enough, and really more than enough.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on August 30, 2005