Life in the barrio was not too bad.
The thought drifted in, then out through the fog. I wonder how I can think about trivial things at a time like this. Strange how consciousness is somehow above the fog. Barely. Like a lone, ragged gull, buffeted by wind currents above a roiling wall of fog..
Memories slip out from the fog.
Being young had definite advantages. Funny how I did not appreciate them until they had faded to black, disappearing into the background tapestry of my existence.
Now I am running through the market, dodging vendors, grabbing the occasional apple.
Splashing in the puddles, laughing at the flying mud.
Hiding with … can’t remember her name, it was…
A sudden awareness of sweat running in my eye distracts me from the pleasant memory. Probably won’t ever finish that memory. I muster energy and try to rebuild the fog wall. It works.
Faces swirl in, mother, kind, always busy, doing what she can to keep us eating under a roof, out of the rain. Father, stern, but concerned, rarely with time for anything, trying to keep things together during difficult times. At least I now know they were difficult, then I did not notice. The bigger reality started to force itself on me when I first noticed that…
Damn, that surge broke through my fog wall of memory. Damn. That is not just salty sweat running in my eyes.
Failing at my efforts to resist, I slide out from behind the wall. The reality of my predicament is brutal, but I can’t really see very well to take it all in. Some people are milling around mostly staring off to my left. Damn barbarians have some other unlucky devils to mess with. Good. Keeps them off me, for now.
Using the techniques I learned to defend my self, I gather strength and focus on getting behind the fog wall.
Try to get back to fairytale years, but can’t make it. Too bad, great things back there. The wall of fog protecting me from searing reality, I drift into later eras.
The world got too big too fast. The game changed under our feet. One minute we were carefree, no consequences. The next it seemed there were dire consequences for almost everything. The things that were just fun, became hushed, then hidden. We were all joyously bonded together, then, overnight, there were barriers. Companions began reading in motives Mistrust grew.
The old folks and the Heroes were tolerant one day, then disgusted the next. I always called them Heroes because they did everything right. I knew they were the right role models.
Heroes. I wanted so much to be like them, but I knew me. I couldn’t bring myself to pretend, so I just resigned myself to a non-Hero life. That’s probably when I started feeling outright disgust from them. Before I had just guessed.
A tsunami of desperation breaks through the fog wall. The agony in my feet screams for relief from supporting my weight. I give in and relax my leg muscles to achieve a slight reduction of torment in my shattered ankle bones.
With my unwanted focus on reality, I become aware that most of the hundreds gathered below me are looking to my left still, mostly quiet with a few outburst of angry taunts. Few look my direction. Whoever is off to my left is no insignificant asshole like me.
The crowd is like a giant beast, here to feast on the agony of its current sacrifices. The individual faces, lustily taking in the blood drenched spectacle, merge in my mind into the Beast.
What is the Beast so interested in? I force my head to the left side, attempting to stifle a cry of pain. With the motion, the flayed flesh on my back makes me brutally aware that it destroyed. A scream escapes and gets the same response from the Beast as the last time. “Shut up asshole! You deserve worse.”.
Through the blood and sweat in my eyes, I see another couple of poor devils in my predicament. They must have dragged them in while I was hiding in the fog.
The Beast is fixated on the man closest to me. I gather strength and look at him. He looks just like the other guy, probably just like me; naked, akimbo, dripping blood, gasping for breath. I’d feel sorry for him, if I could feel any compassion at this point. He does have a sign by him that says something about being a king. His face is covered with fresh blood running off in constant streams. The Barbarians have put some new torture device on his head. The Barbarians seem to enjoy ravaging everything. And they have clever ways to do it. Not that anyone else is different.
In a bid to escape, I gather my strength and pull my soul back through the fog bank…
Had great times in those early years after childhood, even through the growing sense of impending disaster. Great times with companions that seemed so close. How could one know that they would all fade away? Exquisite times discovering the joy of sex, such wonderful connections with girls that seemed so full of love and desire for me! I could feel their love for me! Deep meaning seemed so permanent in the love that their sweet bodies and minds gave me, as we glorified in our exchange of the ultimate love. But then that too dissipated like fog in the sun, adding tremendous force to the sense that something was terribly wrong in this world as sex became a strange and beautiful dragon that mangles while it nourishes those that suckle at its breast.
Life became such drudgery – every day trying to do things right, trying to find meaning in the mundane. Friends that are close, but always the awareness that I am alone. Loves that are a mere distraction from the pain, not the answer to the pain. It always seems like they could be an answer, but it never works out; they are always distant, always a chasm between. Always alone. Always aware that my life violates the rules one way or another. The Heroes remain my role models, having long since quit as friends. Mostly I had Hero role models because there are no other options. True, the Barbarians had brought their beliefs, and imposed their rules in addition to all the rules from the Heroes. But the Barbarian beliefs do not connect. I am stuck with the Heroes as role models, but it may as well have been God himself as the role model – I wasn’t making it anyway.
Images of that fatal day flood in. The Barbarian goons bursting through the door, pinning me to the floor. The agony of the trip to the prison, dragged by arms, wrist tied behind my back. Yelling, Why? Why? With a simple fist across my face as the answer. Weeks waiting for a trial. Almost no food, filthy water. Beatings for any reason. I understand why many Barbarians carry suicide kits: ropes or poison. It would be far better to have ended it early.
Today arrives. I am dragged, wretched and putrid before the Barbarian Governor. He asks “What are the charges?”. Through dim vision I see a woman stand and yell out: “He stole my necklace!”. Sudden recognition results in confusion. Her?! Two years ago, It felt so fortunate to have caught the wandering eye of the Hero daughter dressed like a Barbarian, revealing every detail of her tantalizingly feminine form. The fling was short, intense. We both agreed it was just for fun. But then 2 months later she saw me in the market with another girl and completely exploded. Now here she is, the daughter of a Hero, accusing me of stealing. I don’t even know what she is talking about. If this was just under Hero rules it wouldn’t be too bad, I’d just have to pay back seven times the value of something I didn’t steal. But I could tell from the tone of the Barbarian Governor that he was going to use his absolute authority. Now, after a 40 lashes scourging, here I hang on stick, naked, putrid, covered in blood, gasping for breath and fully aware that this is the end. If only it would come soon.
That memory led right to the present. The agony of now and the tableau of yesterday slam together, like two massive iron doors slamming shut.
I try again to slip behind the wall of fog in my mind. I cannot. The agony is too intense, the hopelessness too monstrous to ignore any longer. I am a prisoner of the horrible present until this suffering gives way to whatever comes next.
A crescendo of panic rises above the agony. What comes next? The Heroes and the Barbarians both believe in an afterlife filled with torment for those that don’t measure up. “Not fair!” my mind screams into the void. Please just let me disappear. The empty promise of life, striving to be a Hero but failing completely, deserving punishment for so many things yet here, dying now, for something I did not do. And then to be facing eternal torment. The fierce intensity of such hopelessness is greater than the agony of suffocated breathing while I hang by my arms. Why would God allow such things to happen to me. Me? Hell, I have seen this kind of thing happen so many times to so many people. Why should I be different? After all these years of life, I know quite well that I am nothing. God does not care, it is plain to see. If he pays attention at all to this world, it must be with disgust.
But I don’t want to be nothing. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to die here surrounded by hate, alone, writhing in my agony.
A glimmer of hope: maybe God is merciful. Maybe he is like that story of the Hero king who did some really bad things and then God stepped in and set him free. Didn’t even have to get a beating. Too bad it didn’t work out like that for me. But maybe that story is true. Maybe… I hope so…
Angry yells drag my consciousness back to the external world: the Beast is taunting the poor wretch on the middle stick: “You are so powerful now, aren’t you? If you had any real power, you’d get off there and teach me a lesson. Oh I’m sorry, was that rude?”.
So this guy in the middle thinks he has power? The Beast is right. If he did, he’d do something.
A surge of anger gives me the ability to put weight back on my shattered heels so I can take a deep breath. I use it to yell out “Come on, asshole! Get us all off these sticks.”
This time the Beast cheers me. That made me feel better until I remembered the Beast was just there to feast on my death agony.
The poor devil on the far end yells something similar. The Beast applauds him.
The agony of my heels makes my legs shake with severe convulsions. I drop back down, with my weight now hanging on my arms, suffocating slowly, unable to draw but the smallest amount of breath.
I listen while the taunting continues. Suddenly, the man in the middle calls out “Father, forgive them!”.
I am astonished. Surely he is seething the same feelings as I! Justice is what is needed! I am suddenly aware that his cry is for mercy for the Heros, Barbarians, the Beast and me. Like a clear dawn, this is the antidote for all that has gone on in my life. Forgiveness! Mercy! All the broken rules, all the broken loves, all the broken. The unsolvable problems solved. That slight hope I had could be TRUE!
The other poor devil keeps shouting the taunts between his gasps for air.
I moan as the agony of raising on my heels courses through me. I use the agony bought air to yell: “Can’t you see asshole? We’ve all been bad. You and I know it better than any here. This asshole in the middle is the only good thing that has ever happened!”
I think my shout stunned the Beast. It was silent for a moment.
I gathered another pain-bought breath and shouted “Mr King Sir, remember me when this mercy happens. I believe you when you said that.”
To my surprise, he lifts his head and looks right at me. I don’t know if he could see through all that blood. He says “Today you and I will be in paradise.”
I am so completely astonished I don’t even notice the agony for a few minutes. There could not be better words to say to me. I know I am beyond physical repair at this point. I will go through more pain. But eternity is on the other side of the pain. I now have seen God showing his mercy to the most vile scene on earth, and have felt words of Life penetrate through all the years of torment, all the intense torment of today.
Today! The day of agony and hopeless death alone. Today, the day when I first see hope.
The king guy says some other things, but my consciousness is filled with pain and suffocation, so I didn’t really hear what he said. But now, instead of the fog of old memories, I am hiding in the Hope that Today I will be in Paradise with that king guy.
I am vaguely aware that the king guy has died. Lucky that he didn’t go on too long.
The Barbarians just came and broke my legs. I noticed the extra pain some, but now I cannot raise up to get breath. Good, wish they had done that just after the king guy spoke to me.
It will be soon, just a few minutes more.