Saturday, April 05, 2008

An Encounter

(Based on a true event)

As he approached me, I did not shudder in the least since I was not at all expecting him to initiate a conversation. But out of the blue he came up to me with a tantalizing smile shining bright on his face. I was simply waiting at the bus stop having just visited my local library – perhaps the tamed look of innocence and restrained countenance left as a residue from my stay at the library was enough to make him decide I was perfectly susceptible to his proverbial shit. He was black, dressed plainly in an unimpressive set of clothes – a dark brown Reebok jacket with an unidentifiable red T-shirt underneath and a pair of distasteful indigo-dye trousers. I had a fucking modern day apparatchik standing right before me!
‘Alright? Would you like to come to church with me, sir?’ he said while handing me some kind of a leaflet, still retaining his sniggering little smile which instantly served to annoy me greatly. I would imagine he would have been more tactful somewhat and this thought annoyed me to an even greater extent. I made a prompt rejection of course. His advances were increasingly perseverant however.
‘Are you sure, sir? Come to church with me.’ he continued.
‘No, really I don’t have time and it’s not really my thing, thanks.’ There was an irritating air of politeness in my words which I took no fondness to.
‘But I can help you, sir! Jesus would help you!’
That was the final straw. Once His name was mentioned, I decided to be the ‘bigger person’ and retort...
‘I am not sure about that. I am Muslim.’ I lied.
‘Oh? Really? But it doesn’t matter, this is for all religions.’ he seemed surprised because if I was telling the truth, my appearance would have been in utter discord with my ‘religion’. He pointed out some of the writings on the leaflet, emphasising the universality of this ‘meeting’ that was scheduled to take place apparently in some church. ‘It’s free to go there, sir.’
‘I see, and is it free to stay there?’ My first derisive remark.
‘Yes, sir. Of course it’s free and I would make a discount for your membership, especially for you, sir!’
Of course, whether I got a ‘discount’ or not depended on anyone but him, I thought.
‘Interesting. And so you’re saying your organisation is quite the cosmopolitan type then...’ I could not help but smile scathingly.
‘Well yes, sir. We accommodate all types of religions and are world-renowned for our charity work throughout the world, sir. There was this instance your know when this Zimbabwean minister, errrm...I can’t remember his name now, but he actually held a banquet to address world poverty, and it proved very successful for addressing the issue of famine throughout Africa... A worthwhile summit it proved to be, sir.’
‘Did you talk about climate change as well?’ I replied, a demonic smile floating across my face, imitative of his apparent anxiousness.
‘Why, yes! Yesterday, I attended a meeting, sir. We are planning to build a new church nearby. Should be good.’
‘Really? With solar-powered candles, I would imagine...’
‘Well, not at this stage but I would propose the idea to our research department, sir. Or you can even do that yourself, if only you come to church with me, sir. Follow me.’
My humour was running dry as was my mouth. A momentary uncomfortable silence ensued, until he spoke to me again:
‘So what do you say, sir? Jesus suffered for you, sir. He suffered and died on the cross for you! Would you like to talk about the Bible, sir?’
‘No thanks.’ I suddenly straightened up and slightly closed up on him. His sneering smile was still there. I looked at his eyes and stood silent before him. He was of average height but his egg-shaped head made him appear shorter than he was. In addition, this large, bulky jacket of his did not exactly compliment his slim frame; it actually further accentuated his baldness. He was most evidently a very ‘umble man...
‘Do you believe in God, sir?’ He asked, perhaps forgetting or purposefully overlooking my earlier remark about being a Muslim.
‘No, sirrah’ I replied indifferently. My tendency to mock was suddenly, violently displaced by a feeling of inward fury which was cast out of this inexplicable, amorphous bronze material, which figuratively speaking carries the seeds of metaphysical rebellion. Like bronze, it was of a vaguely dark hue, highly-malleable and incorporated all the enmity one could possibly feel towards an odious character as the one who was standing right before me.
‘May I ask you a question, sirrah?’ I spoke first this time. ‘How many disciples did Jesus have?’
The man gave me a curious look. He stood there motionless, his smile fading very slowly from his face. ‘Well twelve, sir.’
‘So that’s twelve apostles then. Very well. But to be honest, I disregard Jesus as a person.’
‘Why, sir? He loves you.’
‘It’s just that I somehow have more faith in his disciples, that’s all.’ I spoke softly, in short sentences, deliberately not finishing them so as to mystify him further.
‘What do you mean, sir?’
‘It’s simple. If Jesus is supposed to represent an ideal, I am not going to stand in the way of that. What bothers me is that his being as an ideal belies his being as an actual person. In other words, whilst I do not disparage him as a figure, I discredit his actual existence. He is an ideal, and that’s it. Now, what interests me is his disciples. They symbolise humanity; they carry in themselves the rare human zest for unquestionably adhering to a principle – a truly magnificent quality which dwarfs Jesus’ reputed perfection. Their denials and incredulities serve to make them human, much more down-to-earth. That’s why I find them much more fascinating.’
A confused look swam across his face.
‘Sir, you should come with me! You’ll learn so much more about faith and you would be able to atone, believe me.’
‘I told you, I don’t want to.’ I said.
‘Come to the pub then, seriously come to the pub.’
I laughed.
‘Come to the pub, you might meet a girl there.’ he carried on with his lyrical bullshit.
I laughed even harder.
‘And yet I’ve met you.’ I said mockingly.
He seemed to be running short of things to say. I informed him of the fact that my bus was approaching. He smiled helplessly, clueless as to what to say, and slowly turned to leave. ‘Ok, ok, sir’.
As he was walking away, he glanced back at me.
‘See you at Emmaus.’ I said to him with indulgent, life-giving derision.
I was going to get the bus, but I was suddenly seized by an impulse that beckoned me to return to the library. And so I went back there. As I contemplated its amassed collection of books, I shook my head slightly, in spiritual despondency. God, where do I start?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Unfortunately, my Russian is not very good but I am trying very hard to read Russian poetry, especially Lermontov. To English-speakers, his only novel 'A Hero of our Time' may be familiar but apart from this, his poetic output has been largely neglected outside his native land.
He did manage to be the hero of his time but for only a while before his prodigious talents were swiftly deposited to the annals of history with his tragic death in a duel at the age of only 26.
Reading through some of his earliest works (some supposedly written as early as 14), I cannot help but be absolutely enthralled by his precocious verse which reveals a startlingly mature intellect. He is one of those Byronic figures which could immediately be impressed upon your mind with their inexplicable magnetism which emanates supremely from their various portraits - the one above, executed posthumously and arguably being the best of them all.
The poem below, written in 1831 (when he was 17) is an unequivocal example of this:


There is a blest place: by the trace
In wilderness, in a little glade’s middle,
Where in the eve, mists twine and bristle
In moony silver’s easy lace…
My friend! You know that glade, fair;
There dig a pit and let me rest,
When I will cease to breathe in air.

Give to that grave a good regard --
Let all be legally there settled
Raise on the grave a cross of maple,
And place a stone, wild and hard.
When thunderstorms will shake the forest,
The traveler will see my cross;
Maybe, the stone and the moss
Will give to him a rest at most.