From Afar, I Saw This Strange Man Dying
I came to this town early morning, last Sunday.
Having settled in a fancy hotel, the only one with hot bath in this poor, poor town, I immediately took a nap. Was I dreaming? There were shouts outside. I slowly got up and opened the shutters to the windows of the room: below me was a massive crowd: children and old men and women were jostling each other, waving leaves and twigs and scarves at a man, now far, trudging on.
His hair blown by the wind and the wild dust coming from the arid ground and rocks, the man’s shoulders from afar looked heavy. A peasant or a laborer, I told myself. The procession was long and winding that I did not think there would be peace and silence soon enough for me to go back to bed.
Why would the village bother with a peasant or an ordinary worker?
The bartender would have an answer even as I ruefully looked at the strange drink he placed in front of me – a clear wine with one olive floating in it. He is a carpenter, Sir. The more I could not understand the crowd’s adulation of him. A carpenter, I repeated the word. Yes, Sir. But, he is also… The voice of the young man trailed, the timidity and fear in his apparent. He is also a what? I asked the man.
I was already back in my room but I still could not believe what the bartender from Nazareth had whispered to me. The man is a Messiah. It is a strange name. It meant someone who could save people. Back in my own country, we would talk of men and systems that could save. There are those who help you save money or resources. We have special people who could write about saving grace in arts and poetry. But a Messiah? Naah.
There was another thing that made me sleepless that night – the lovely olive in my drinks. The bartender confessed that there was so much supply of olives in their gardens that they concocted that drink – liquor with olive.
The next days were just the kind of adventure I sought. After that wild parade, the fortune of that Man was reversed. The local authorities started to look for him. The local leaders felt the Man’s power over the people was getting stronger and virulent. He must be investigated.
The next days were creepy. All throughout the day, the storm came in between the brightest sunshine and the dullest rains.
One night, the bartender was acting even grimmer. He was not smiling. When I asked him for the special drink the bar was noted for, he gave me one but no olive! I had to ask him why there was no olive. That tiny, round, green orb floating in the glass could redeem anyone from loneliness. He was not responding. I would not stop, of course. He looked at me, and in a grave, deep voice, said olives are cursed fruits. The rumor was that Man, the so-called Messiah, went to a garden with many olives and there spoke with his father who was God! It was said that the Man cried, laughed, tore his hair, and beat his chest, and even wept blood. This was bad for business.
That Thursday, the streets were empty. People were scared to go out because a creature called the Angel of Death was releasing air and droplets from the sky that could kill.
A curfew was imposed. Even foreigners were warned not to go out.
It was mid-morning of Friday. I woke up to a stillness that seemed to have stopped the world. The birds stopped singing. The dust ceased to swirl. Even the wind went on stasis.
That Friday, I was informed the Man would be executed by crucifixion. I was flushed with excitement and anxiety because I had never witnessed a crucifixion. The would take place on an elevated area called the mound of Skull. I told the hotel owner I would not miss this event for the world. The old man said no one was allowed there except the soldiers and the immediate families of the Man, and those of the two common thieves included in the edict.
But you could try, the owner informed me. You are a foreigner…maybe they would allow you.
Whereupon, I put on my jacket, cap and sunglasses. I walked and half-ran to the small hill. There were people below the hill. From afar, I could see three men on what looked like crosses. When I reached a checkpoint, the man with a huge knife and gun, asked me what were my intentions. I was about to say “anthropologist” but I changed my mind. I removed with ease my glasses, and looked into the eyes of this burly man in front of me and said: I am a philosopher.
A believer, eh, the soldier stressed the word as if initiating a debate. A doubter, I answered with a smile.
Do you know that man says he is the Savior of the World? The soldier was crafting his words carefully. We can always test that, doubt that, I answered back. Without saying any word, the soldier allowed me to pass through the barricade.
The sun was whirling, it seemed, and the wind was catching the world spinning aimlessly into outer space, or so I thought, when I reached the foot of the cross.
There was nothing there except the soldiers taunting the Man about his claim to be the Son of God.
I could feel nothing except sadness. We all feel sad whenever someone is dying. That is expected.
I looked up again, ignoring the young man embracing a woman all doubled up against the earth, her body convulsed because of weeping. I felt like weeping also. The whole event was affecting me.
I looked up again and spoke to myself in silence: if this is the Son of God, why is he being allowed to die? It was a simple question and the soldiers were right in demanding the correct response.
The man looked down and spoke. He gazed upwards, his lips in tremor. He was pacing himself as he spoke. I wanted to tell him: Die in peace. That was the most I could tell him. I need not believe in him. To doubt would be the philosopher’s option. In that way, the path to knowledge would continue. You cannot say God is dead. That is a dead end. A losing proposition.
Going down from the hill, I assured myself that, with my doubts and questions, the interesting story of this Man on the hill would go on forever. That is good enough.