Monday, August 06, 2007

Death at Golgotha-1st part

Novel published in Serbian as “Smrt na Golgoti”, Prosveta 1965, © Borislav Pekic, English translation © by Lovett F. Edwards

for the 2nd part HERE

And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
Luke 23:26

WHAT HE EXPERIENCED that day was, no doubt, death.

Death in the shape of four pains, sharp as thorns, driven through his tendons into the wood, and he was crucified on the four-branched pain as if he were on a hot beach looking at the sun, which, like the fiery tow hurled from a Balearic sling, fell along the sky at Golgotha,

Francis Bacon-selfportA thin shade like the palm of a hand dipped in water passed across his eyes and was then dispersed in the scorching heat. On the bushes and stubble the shadows dried like black laundry.

To the southeast, from the cliffs on the hill of Zion, Jerusalem rose against the new God, to whom after so many offences black Friday had come at last.

To his left, a knotty voice was cursing in Philistine; to his right, the breathing of the crucified man sounded like the undertow of the tide on a sandy shoal, below the soles of his feet, in a cleft of shadow the dice rattled in the helmets of the procurator’s guards, and very distant, almost hopelessly remote smooth silhouettes crouched and wailed in the aloe thickets.

Only above the crosses all was quiet; above the three crosses the sky emptied itself, without the birds which the summer pestilence had long ago destroyed.

The place of execution boiled in the sunlight. Death was well illuminated, quite clear through the heat haze in which the three crosses turned like three spits.

Death didn’t hurt just his hands and feet crushed by the iron nails; death pinched him between the thighs because there, wrapped in cheap cloth, was the wooden wedge supporting his body.

The fifth snipped of death was also the most unbearable: comic and insulting, it didn’t belong seriously to dying, except that it humiliated him and transformed the torso of the condemned man into a huge, stabbing blister.

Would his God come, he thought, as he listened to those vulgar men from the west quarrelling over his clothes? He knew they weren’t grabbing them because of the value of those stained and bloody rags, but because, like the tuft of a dead man’s hair or a piece of his broken tooth, they brought luck, especially if the executed man was important.

It really gave him pleasure that they thought him important and that his relics, hung about the neck as amulets, could ward off illnesses, the evil eye and the whims of destiny. He snickered maliciously.

“O God, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing!”

Those Roman fools didn’t really know what they were doing and would only grasp it when it was too late and the crosses were carved out for them also; an endless row of spits for the orgy of heaven.

He felt a flash of rapture that he was wasn’t the only one deluded, but it passed quickly: it was a stupid accomplishment to deceive others by his own death?

From the cross, as if from an observation post, he could see the roof of the Cyrenian’s house, a tiny fist with callous-like red tiles. What was Temna doing now? Maybe loafing on the sheets sprinkled with scented waters, only to call later in the afternoon on a friend from Accra to spin out over supper the most recent Jerusalem intrigues?

Maybe asking herself why her Simon was late for lunch, he who was always so careful and punctual? Or maybe – but what was the point of thinking in such a heat - was she supervising the servants, who were stumping their sandals, dragging themselves through chilly porches and cleaning the silver with ash from copper vessels?

Would God come as he had promised to him? Or, rather, would it be wiser to ask himself – neglecting Yahweh, who certainly didn’t even know him – would his God come, who really hadn’t promised anything, but he had to turn up sooner or later, if not because of a bungler, at least because of the original sin of the world?

But God didn’t come and it was late in the afternoon and the guards were snoring in the meager shade of his still trunk.

God hadn’t come and yet you believed him, Rufus had sworn by his name and Israel had amused itself greatly with his miracles, for whatever the Pharisees babbled in the synagogues and stubborn old men in the market place, they were more miraculous than the neck-breaking feats of the Babylonian magicians and Hadean sorcerers, more miraculous than the tricks of the Temple charlatans in the land of Chema, more than the titillating miracles of Astarte’s maidens, more miraculous even than the miracles of Moses, about which one knows only through the narratives in the five volumes of Hamish.

As for the wonder-worker himself, he was self-taught. His miracles were new and original. Whether they were useful wasn’t crucial, since one doesn’t really expect miracles to help, but to change, and from the greatest not to distort the present, but rather by tearing down to build the future. In the end he was totally convinced.

The water from Cana of Galilee had gone to his head. He knew that the stone vessels for the ritual ablutions contained nothing but rainwater, nothing but slush, but even that knowledge hadn’t been enough to keep him sober.

He and the rest of the wedding guests had sung either psalms and or popular songs, whereas Rufus, devout and toadying even when drunk, had drawn crosses with his fingernail on the thigh of a girl from Cana. Only a powerful God could have performed something so incredible. Or perhaps some dexterous innkeeper.
for the 2nd part HERE

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