Sunday, April 09, 2006

Miracle at Siloam

Excerpt (pp. 86- 95) taken from the Time of Miracles, English translation by Lovett F. Edwards; copyright © 1976 by Hartcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. Northwestern University Press, 1994. Originally published in Serbian –Vreme čuda, © 1965 by Borislav Pekić.

BARTIMAEUS, son of Timaeus, closed his eyes swollen by the summer heat; he didn’t dare to move from his rush mat where the Savior had left him, still less to push out from this secure raft into the open sea of alien, distorted and threatening objects which pounded his newborn sight waves. He stopped looking as soon as the wonder-working spit had dried on his cheeks, and he had to rely on his unerring ears to confirm where the stranger had gone to after healing him so offhandedly and without questions. The cheering of the Jews convinced him that the Galilean was a descendant of David, overloaded with mercy as the mules with ore from the Ephraim mines, and that he was still running through Siloam, spitting on cripples chosen at random for salvation.

And he shouted: “Hosannah to the son of David!” while devoutly shaking his stomach in front of his nose. Astounded by his stomach’s bubble-like appearance, he firmly closed his eyes. (…)

Closing his eyes again, he decided, not without a sense of shame, to ask Vakvuki to leave the tomb that the two of them had shared unselfishly. While blind, he hadn’t cared what his roommate looked like, but now, out of respect for sight and for him who had restored it, he didn’t dare expose it to his superfluous and repulsive reject of what must be a more perfect world. He would, indeed, lose his best friend, but what was that in comparison with his restored sight!

He felt much better with his eyes closed, as if he saw better that way and without looking could give form to the objects among which he would live, without fear that they would disillusion him or offend him by their clumsiness. It must be, he thought, that under the protection of this advantage God himself walked the earth he had created from nothing; that God felt like a man blind from birth, who in his creations didn’t have to follow any examples, laws or prohibitions. (…)

(…) No one reproached you because everything in your world was without edges, tops, angles but nonetheless rasping as scales, wrinkled like palm-tree bark. No one reproached you because the faces in the black world, themselves black, never had a beginning or an end but were interwoven in black unanimity and formlessness, yet even so maintained their own imaginary dark boundaries. No one had ever reproached him that the black distances he covered had no measure except the measure of his strides; that the objects among which he moved had no shape other than that shared by his own quasi-divine fingers; and that the events in which he took part made no sense until he had adjusted them to the strange, black, subtle and comprehensible dimensions of his own black world. (…)

You got your eyes so you could see, he thought as he lay beside the pool, in which now only the imbeciles were lingering, sticking out of the mud like saplings struck by lightening. You shouldn’t blame eyes for seeing everything they light upon; no eyes have ever created lunatics. The lunatics always stayed in the water longest, and had the most faith in that son of a bitch of an angel, who didn’t fly down every day but only when it suited him or he had nothing better to do. All right, thought Bartimaeus, obviously this isn’t a matter of eyes alone. The fault isn’t with my eyes alone, either. It wasn’t enough to spit on my eyes; the world those eyes see should also have been spat upon. But for so much spit one Savior isn’t enough. Not even a thousand! (…)

You must get used to it, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, he said to himself, you must begin with the unimportant, safe things that you know through your fingers; this beggar’s mat, for instance, which was your cradle and will be your death bed. (This mat was as grey as the skin of a dead rat.) You didn’t think it so awful before. You thought it was clean and it was, until you saw it. You thought it was beautiful and it was, until you saw it. You made it filthy with your eyes – with your own stubborn, conceited, untrained eyes. After all, he consoled himself, how does the appearance of a beggar’s mat compare with your ability to see it? (…)

He hoped to avoid the misfortunes which had befallen him through his salvation by refusing it, by simply seeking no advantage from it and continuing to live as when he had been happily blind. (…)

But first he made a bandage for his eyes. Mercy had been done, a miracle had been wrought – the beggar said to his friends – “but it’s up to me, not God, whether I use the eyes restored to me. So far I haven’t seen anything worth looking at. I’ll wait and save my sight for better times. I’ll wait so I don’t spoil it before I find things worth looking at, or until such things find me.”

For days Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, the beggar from Jericho on the Jordan, prowled around Zion hoping to come across something that would make it worth his while to open wide his newly healed eyes. But he didn’t find it – as if all shapes had turned their ugly undersides to spite his eyes, as if the whole capital conspired against his restored sense, showing the worst and most repellent sights. (…)

On the day following his return from his travels about the world, Bartimaeus was brought into the Council Hall and the son of Timaeus stood before the leaders of Beth Din Hagadol, Annas and Caiaphas.

“What’s your name, my good man?” asked the Av Beth Din, or father of the court.

“Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, honored sir.”

“Where do you come from?”

“From Jericho, sir!”

“How long have you been blind?”

“From birth, sir! Hashem was merciful to me.”

“And who healed you?”

“Jesus the Nazarene, known as Christ,” replied Bartimaeus gruffly. “He made clay, anointed my eyes with it and told me to go to the pool of Siloam and wash. And when I went and washed, I could see.”

Then the religious leaders asked: “What do you have to say about this man who opened your eyes?”

Bartimaeus was silent; why should he bother such learned gentlemen with his petty misfortunes?

“What do you think about your Savior, Bartimaeus?” they repeated.

Bartimaeus was again silent, and it wasn’t until they asked him a third time that he said angrily:

“I hope I’ll meet him again, sirs!”

“Where is he?” the high priest Caiaphas asked slyly.

“I’d like to know that myself.” (…)

“Let’s throw him out of the Council Hall,” Caiaphas urged.

“Whip him! Whip him!” yelled the priests and the Beth Din Hagadol.

Bartimaeus submitted calmly to the guard summoned to take him to the column of shame. On his way out of the Council Hall he stumbled at the threshold and fell.

“Are you blind, you ix?” snapped the guard, poking him with the spear.

“Sure as hell, I am, my son! What did you expect?” said the beggar. Opening his eyes, he showed the Pharisees, instead of pupils, two black holes like cold doorways to some mysterious black world.

“But you told us that your so-called Messiah opened them,” Caiaphas said in astonishment.

“He did open them, sir, but since I found nothing to look at, I closed them again. I poked them out, to make quite sure. In this epidemic of salvation an honest man must protect himself.” Bartimaeus smiled. “Didn’t I tell you I’d become his disciple? I saved myself.”

Closing his empty eye sockets, he went out peacefully. The tapping of the staff with which Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, marked his last journey echoed for a while under the arches of the Council Hall.

No comments: