This is the final part of a short piece which came out in book form earlier this year. Part one is here – you should read it first!
To read more about this piece, have a look at this post, which has links to all manner of things about it, and the book of which it is part… The illustration at the head of the page is a detail from Rima‘s accompanying pencil drawings, to which the previous post also has links.
Part three: His Silence and The End of Time
My enemies grew strong in fifteen years. The world changed. The rulers of men’s lives have always been the rich and the empty-hearted, but now they were emboldened. Greed rose from their mouths like grasping snakes of smoke. I closed my eyes and tried to ignore it. All around, I heard the world groaning. I plugged my ears and moved one foot in front of another.
I had believed that God was with me. Even in the depths of my exile, I had believed that He was still there, that He still might sneak a look now and then in His crystal ball to see how his favourite angel was faring. I was wrong. Like a lover long-forgotten by the Rake in His Progress through Eternity, it seems I had no place in His memory. One foot in front of another. One more mile on the penitents’ road.
I began to forget my face. Seeing it in glass or on the surface of water, I squinted at it, this stranger. I swear that this reflected face would have abandoned me if it could. Its own curse was to be inseparable from me. Like two bastard twins, we haunted each other.
If you think you have the measure of those fifteen years, think again. Every minute of it, I cursed my foolishness and vanity; every minute of it, I heard the crowd as it turned my circus to flames. Fifteen years of that is a longer time than any mortal heart can bear.
I did not know that they were hunting for me until the day I was found. In some naïve quarter of me, I supposed that they might have cast out all memory of that terrible night and my own retribution against the murderers. Wrong again. I thought that it might be enough to walk, deaf and dumb, silent and secret and harmless, amongst them. Broken as a dream or a heart or a promise. Dull as a blunt knife. God had forsaken me – surely the hate-mongers could do the same.
It was in a garden, in summer. I had been travelling for months with a small group of silent, consumptive penitents – when you can keep your mouth shut, word gets around that you’re good company to keep. We had, at last, come to the island that was the destination of our holy
journey, nothing really more than a hill in the sea, a stone house and little else but the leper colony beyond. A red-headed ferryman had laughed as he rowed us to the island. He looked familiar, but my eyes were too tired to see and my heart too weary to understand.
We had just eaten our evening meal when my companions left me. I was used to this – the gravity of my brooding could suck the joy from the heart of a skylark, after all. I preferred the peace of my own cursings. If I was wiser and hadn’t cast all my skills into the fire of self-
loathing, I would have seen more, but…
They stepped out of the shadows, each holding a net or a club or a sword, and I, dumbed by regret and anger, was too slow and too tired of the game to resist. They seized me, bound me and clubbed me and I saw enough fear and hatred in their eyes to fill a hundred lifetimes in
hell. They were priests. I thought that they would try to kill me there and then in the garden; the lushness of life swept over me, the fragrance of jasmine flowers and the sound of the evening wood-pigeon high in the tall pines. I smiled and they beat me unconscious. I hoped to die there, but it was not to be.
I was kept locked in the empty stone pantry of the house and guarded by night and day. We waited for a ship of jurors to arrive on the shore – high officers of the Church, politicians, scientists, businessmen, kings. They rushed across the sea to witness my demise.
This life is long, but no longer than the others. There have been so many and so varied and all the same. I have tried my best and I have been cast out and kicked and forgotten again and again and again. There is nothing new, no indignity that I have not suffered, no pain I have not
endured. Why? I was God’s favourite. I was at His hand when all of this was created; I saw the brightness in the eyes of your fathers’ ancestors and your mothers’ forebears. They strode the Earth like heroes and spoke to the stars; they sang with the wind and held conversation with the universe. Ah, they shone! How they shone! I have watched through millennia, watched greatness become grandeur and grandeur become glamour. Finally, when glamour fades, what is left? This. Your masters are cruel-hearted tyrants and petty billionaires. You are shadows of yourselves. You should be ashamed.
I am tired.
When all the others deserted you, I stayed.
Does this count for nothing?
I could have broken my bonds, but for the brokenness in my spirit. I had nowhere left to go. I waited for oblivion and wondered how I had thought it might end otherwise.
According to my guards, I was to be broken with iron rods and burned and scattered and forgotten.
When I was a child, my dreams were all of butterflies and swallows and dragons that scarcely weighed an ounce. You could have taken a year of my dreams and scattered them in the wind: they’d still be floating like dandelion dust in the air. Now, I dreamed only of silence and His face.
Each day, the ship of my judge and jury approached. Each day, I prayed. Each day, as before, there was Silence. Was it His Silence, or simply the Silence of emptiness?
At last, the ship of Judgement laid anchor in the bay of the tiny island and fate held its breath. I resigned myself to die.
The day my trial was to begin, there was a storm. I watched it brew from nowhere, like the arrival of a whale from the deep. Here’s something: the ship sank.
She went down with stocks and stores and the judge and all twelve of the jurymen sent to try me. The waves ate them like ship’s crackers, without delight or comment but only the necessity of sustenance. I watched them sink. The sea closed over them like history.
I didn’t do it.
(But I may have been an accessory.)
As the waves ate their fill, a blinding light filled my cell. I’m no stranger to altered states. My mind’s been twisted more times than a politician’s conscience, after all, but light like this…
Everything that is forgotten when we take form; everything from Before, when we knew the taste and texture of it All. Everything that is too simple, too delightful, too honest for minds to comprehend. All of this, I remembered then.
No demon, no devil, no catastrophe, no Hell. No division, no Fall, no punishment, no crime. Only the unfolding, the unfolding, the unfolding. Neither His will, nor Mine. Only the perfection of it All in the instant upon instant upon instant. I laughed and cried at my foolish-
ness, to have acted the pantomime horse in this ridiculous story of holy war. I remembered and I let it all go.
This, then, is my story, hobbled and crooked as it is. I was born an angel, but tried to be a man. All along, I was with God.
Time is the endless struggle between an eagle and a bull. I understand it now.
He is the eagle.
I am the bull.
Together, we turn the world.
It will always be so.