Holy Men in Unholy Times
My breathing became labored as chilled air pulled through the damp cloth covering my face. It was a formality, as most doctors knew; a small comfort for the dying. Those entering their last moments though, I think they can see through my facade. I move along to the next home, a large cross of black painted across the doorframe. I open the door of the thatched roofed house uninvited. Across the floor I see the sprawled forms of 3 children. They are beyond my mercy. Huddled in the corner is the feeble frame of a man in his early thirties; the father I suspect. I move silently, approaching him without his knowledge. I reach out with a comforting hand, brushing his arm to reveal my presence.
He turned violently, terrified of my sudden appearance. His eyes, glazed over and fading, surveyed my form. A soft voice begged, “Help my children, please.” his sentiment revealed his character. He was an accident, not a victim. Men like him do not deserve this fate. “They are beyond me” I responded, in a manner more coldly than I intended. A pain lightly crossed his face, absent of tears he no longer possessed. I motioned him to take off his shirt. What I found underneath was disheartening. His lesions had begun to crack, oozing down his torso. He too, was beyond me. A whooping cough, complimented in blood, confirmed my suspicions.
I reached lightly into my bag, searching for whatever remedy I could. Again, this was only a formality to comfort the dying. His character called to me, giving me reason to treat what was incurable. I found a poultice to my liking, something disposable. No need to waste medicine on the helpless. I slowly treated his wounds, wrapping them in boiled cloth. He sighed lightly, indicating he believed he could be healed. As I left I gave him comforting words, “Call to the Lord, he will hear your prayers”. That was not a lie perhaps. He does not deserve this.
As I left, a voice surprisingly strong called back to me. “No, stay” It was not a request. Unoffended I returned to his side. With a face of stone he said, “I heard you, but it was not you. I see what you are now.” This was a surprise to me. Perhaps the holy could always tell this was not what it seemed. I responded, “Tell me what I am, if not a doctor to heal your wounds” A distant anger burned behind dying eyes, “What devil are you? I see you not as a surgeon but a herald of death. You offend the dying with lies.” He is perceptive, more than most. “I would tell you, but it would not bring you comfort or health. Do not ask what you want not to hear.” He struggled to his feet, stronger perhaps than any man I had met. “You will tell me, or for the life of me I shall take it from you.”
Softly I responded, “If you must, I will grant a dying request. I come to reap those who are left wanting. I was as you are once, but that time has passed me ages ago. Unholy times follow with unholy messengers.” a dull comfort came over him, but the anger behind his visage remained. “What unholy actions has fallen across this land that warrants such measures?” His kind, the unworthy, brought me to great trouble. I often wonder the need for unfounded suffering. “It is not my place for answers, only for reaping. You will not see my kind again, you are above us” His pain, his anger, resonated through me. It called back to emotions I no longer knew. He spoke again, “It is you, your kind who still walk this earth that brings this blight. You are the unholy, cast from heaven ages past.”
My form betrayed me. He could see me truly now with eyes that flowed tears of blood. “I hold no objections. My fate has been sealed; the same fate held by men who call to it. Yet if hope remained in me, you would find it” This offered him no comfort. He called to me again, “You give nothing but shallow words. You have nothing to offer me.” A sigh left my lips. I responded, “I gave you not this plight, men unlike you have called to it. Accept this comfort as it is. This plague cleanses the earth, until only the holy remain. You are but a victim of your peers, called into a cleansing that is not your own.” His body now overcame him, as he slowly dropped to the dirt floor. Blood flowed freely from his lesions, further exposing the sins of other unfaithful men. Though his body struggled his will yet prevailed. With labored breath complemented in blood, he rebuked me again, “speak not as if you garnish pity. Leave us now, my children and I” With a tinge of relief and regret I crossed the threshold, with a wanting glance back. His body lay defeated by disease, reaching longingly to his dead children.
more by BEN SHEARER
photograph by Fre Sonneveld