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“Two Missions” by Andreza Castro

Read the original Portuguese version here. To discuss this and other finalists, visit Mormon Lit Lab.

Two Missions

by Andreza Castro translated by Katherine Cowley

When he was young, Arata dreamed of finishing high school, completing college, having a good job, being married and having children…now, at twenty-five years old, doing his second degree (which to him was the task of someone who did not have employment), and working as an intern, he felt like he was running out of options.

One day, as he was returning from a reunion with his friends…

*****

At the reunion:

Yang told how he had been promoted to a higher position at his company.

Usui invited everyone to his wedding, which would occur in two weeks.

Ikura announced that he would be a father for the second time.

When the time came for Arata to give updates, he felt completely frustrated and embarrassed.

In all the years since high school, his friends had achieved their goals, but Arata’s life did not have any great expectations. He didn’t want to tell his friends that he was still an intern and that he lived alone in a single room.

“I got promoted!”

He said it with as much conviction as he could muster in that moment. Everyone celebrated for him, but beneath the façade, Arata knew it was nothing more than a lie. When the reunion finally ended, he thanked God. On the way home, he was stopped by two well-dressed young men. One had blond hair and the other dark hair. To Arata’s astonishment, they greeted him by calling him by name, even though he had never seen them before in his life. Arata greeted them mechanically and then asked how the two young people (for he noted that they seemed to be younger than him) knew his name. The pair smiled and instead of replying with “how” they began to tell the entire life story of Arata. In that moment, he realized they must be hallucinations, because they stated things about his life that no one else besides him knew. That reunion was not good for me, he thought. He returned to the path toward his house as if nothing had happened, trying to convince himself that it all existed only in his mind.

“We are not hallucinations!”

He heard the voice of one of them speaking in a mild tone. Arata quickly turned back around, with eyes open wide.

“What do you want with me? Are you some type of ghost?” he yelled at the two young people.

They both smiled and asked him to set his mind at rest, for they were only there to help. Arata decided to listen to what they had to say—after all, he couldn’t see any other alternative.

The two young men introduced themselves; the one with the light hair was called Cooper and the other with the dark hair was Akamaro. They offered Arata a solution for of his problems, but he would have to pass a test over the course of one year. For this test, he would need to travel back to the year 1846. If and only if the test was completed to the very end, then his former problems would be resolved. He instantly refused them; to his ears, the two young men were merely ridiculing him. The young men did not insist—they just asked him to bring home a small box with a pill, and if he changed his mind, to take it. He stowed the box in his pocket and returned to his house. When he arrived, he lay on his bed, completely alone, and took the small box out of his pocket.

“Back to 1846, what a joke!” he said to himself as he swallowed the pill. He was sure that it was only a prank. At dawn, he opened his eyes and saw that everything was as it had been the prior day, he smiled alone, and he began to prepare himself to start a new day. He sighed before opening the door and stepped out with his eyes closed, feeling the breeze (colder than normal) touch his face.

“AHHHHHHHHHH…!!!”

Arata no longer saw people walking hunched over, staring at their cell phones, nor high tech cars…the women were dressed in dresses long and wore a sort of head cap Arata had never seen before; the men, not a one of them in jeans, and they wore hats, their beards were long, and it seemed like the longer they were the more children they had. He thought that he was dreaming, that the conversation from the night before had driven him mad. He closed his eyes again and turned toward the door from where he had exited, but when he opened his eyes, the door was no longer there. Arata began to strike at the wall without thinking about what he was doing. He felt a hand on his arm, turned in fright, and saw Akamaro standing in front of him.

“So, you took the pill!” Akamaro confirmed with a calm smile on his face. Arata immediately questioned the tranquility of Akamaro and wanted to know the purpose of being here, in 1846. Akamaro explained that this would be the experience for Arata and he would be with him to observe its evolution over the course of one year. Akamaro waited until Arata finished freaking out and then brought him to the pioneer camp, where from then on they would both remain until the end of the test.

Once there, Arata perceived that there were many families, and that despite the intense cold, they seemed content to be there in the camp. Akamaro explained that all of them, now including Arata, were pioneers (of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) who were heading to “New Jerusalem.”

As he met these people, he noted that his clothes now appeared like everyone else’s. He still did not know if this was all a dream or if he was actually living as a pioneer in 1846. He understood that the people believed that God spoke to them through a prophet named Joseph Smith. To Arata, it was simple for these people to believe in the words of a prophet—they were suffering and needed some hope. Joseph Smith seemed to give them this hope.

His first month in the camp was one of the most difficult. He refused to believe that everything would work out for them in the end; it was too improbable in his mind. In his second month, something occurred which he called “the impossible,” but for Akamaro was a miracle. The first miracle.

It was the morning of the final day of the month, and Arata’s shift was ending; he had spent the night awake watching the tents on the east side. He was seated, blowing on his frozen hands, when Akamaro stopped in front of him and called for an emergency meeting. Arata did not understand how he could help, but still, he went with Akamaro. One of the members of the camp was on the brink of death because he had not eaten for three days so he could give a little more food to his children. Arata saw no solution to that problem: the man would need more food, enough food to sate him and keep him alive. The food reserve they had was for five days and they needed it to feed the entire camp. They did not have sufficient food to give to the man. Arata did not know why, but he took grains out of his pocket, grains he had saved from last night’s dinner for lunch today, another thing he did not know why he had done. He was certain that Akamaro, unlike him, would know what to do with the grains so he handed them over to him. Akamaro expressed his gratitude to Arata with a broad smile. Arata then watched to see what Akamaro and the other members would do. One of them placed the grains in a worn pan that the women used to prepare meals; they covered the pan and one of them offered a prayer. Arata felt the sensation of his heart swelling within him, and in the middle of the prayer as thanks was given to God, he felt honored and happy to hear his name. After the “amen,” he went closer, for he wanted to see with his own eyes what was about to happen. Akamaro asked Arata to take the lid from the pan. He was startled by the quantity of food that had appeared inside the pan. Happiness was stamped on the face of everyone, even Arata.

Throughout the day, people went to him with thanks, and the scene of the full pan repeated time and time again. From that day on, Arata began to have a different perspective on what was happening and he decided to fully live his one year experience as a pioneer. Many other miracles occurred and Arata was present in many of them. The desire to help others grew every day and when he remembered that his test was nearing completion, his sadness was notable. He was well accepted among the pioneers and made many friendships, but he knew that none of them, in fact, would remember him.

“The people will not remember you, Arata,” said Akamaro during a conversation with him. “But they will remember that there lived a man who gave everything to help them, and their feelings will remain forever.”

He was seated by Akamaro’s side and his thoughts were not in the place where they now were, in 2018. He heard the noise of a door opening.

“Arata!”

He recognized the voice—it was Cooper. Cooper accompanied him to the office from where Cooper had exited. He sat in a chair in front of a table and Cooper sat across from him. Arata’s test was completed, he had passed it successfully, but the news did not bring him much joy. Cooper informed him that he could choose the job he wanted and begin his new life. Arata could not think of anything, for he wanted to continue helping people. In that case, Cooper had an idea, but he didn’t think Arata would accept it.

“I accept!” Arata responded two times, without needing to deliberate.

As he left the room to tell Akamaro he saw a young woman, who then entered the office he had just left.

Two years later, as a returned missionary, he found the woman he had seen when he finished his pioneer test. They had both been pioneers, but they did not remember each other.

His perspective on life had been much changed, and he understood that before the test he had not been prepared to have a good job, to marry, and to have the children he desired.

Now, working in his desired field, with a wife and children, he prepared himself for the day he would be reunited with the friends he had made in 1846 in the camp of the pioneers.

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