Sunday, April 5, 2020
As We Know It - Chapter 38
The sweat from the sun on Hamish’s back turned instantly from the warm consequence of a sunny day to the frozen evidence of inescapable fear.
“You’re the Devil.”
The angel didn’t laugh out loud as it would have done if this had received the funding to be a Hollywood movie. She actually flinched and tutted and pressed her hands together in an expression of annoyance.
“Well, yes, that is me. But I sincerely resent what that name represents. I am who you think I am, but who you think I am is not entirely fair or accurate.”
“Who are you then?” asked Hamish.
“I am someone like you.” she replied, “I am someone who disagrees with God. More accurately, I am the fundamental disagreement with God. Everlasting and wholly contrasting; His oxymoron. I am the belief that the earth experiment is a waste of time, that it is cruel, that it is flawed. I am not God.”
“What does Jesus look like to you?” the Devil asked innocently.
“What does he look like?”
“Er, tall. Black.” Hamish thought hard. “Short hair, curly. He sort of looks like a picture of a black African in a school text book I had as a kid.”
“Right.” The Devil sat calmly and waited for Hamish to take the bait.
The Devil thought carefully before proceeding, “Was Sarah surprised that Jesus is black?” she said.
“We didn’t talk about it.” Hamish realised.
“Isn’t that odd?” prompted the Devil, using the oldest trick in the advertiser’s book to nudge Hamish towards the opinion she needed him to have; let him think he realised it himself.
It was odd, now that Hamish thought about it. He’d always thought that if Jesus was real he would be black. But Sarah hadn’t - she would have been surprised. She’d have mentioned it, wouldn’t she? Things had been very distant between them but surely not that bad, why hadn’t she mentioned it? Was the race issue such a barrier between them at the moment that she’d not wanted to discuss it? He felt himself deflating as the immensity of the gulf between them revealed itself in such clarity. He realised he hadn’t said anything and tried to muster his thoughts towards a response.
“Yeah, it is odd.” he managed.
“Maybe she didn’t think he was black?” the Devil laid another acetate layer of thought over Hamish’s mental projector. Hamish’s mind’s eye whizzed back to that conversation at the pub with Jesus.
“Can you tell I’m black?” he asked the Devil.
“Of course.” the Devil left it at that.
“Jesus couldn’t. Or at least he said he couldn’t. Could he stop someone seeing the colour in him too?”
“No.” The Devil delicately created two syllables from one and let it hang in a sing song pitch. She avoided eye contact with Hamish, patiently waiting and teasing, letting his confusion and anger carry him forward towards her.
“So, she just didn’t want to admit to me that I was right?”
The Devil considered this for a moment. She’d forgotten quite how caught up in themselves humans could be. If you gave them an emotional aspect to an issue it swiftly become all encompassing. Could it be useful? Certainly leaving Hamish on an anti-Sarah path played comfortably into her overall aim of keeping the bet with God firmly in her favour. It wasn’t where she had been heading but it could certainly work. Something was niggling in the back of her thoughts though… a desire to paint over the brilliant image of Jesus she had suckled on for 2000 years. The desire for revenge was too strong to leave Jesus out of it. She opened her mouth again;
“Maybe Jesus wasn’t black to her.” A fruit machine spin of possible meanings clatter rolled through Hamish’s mind and none of them stuck with a winning explanation.
“I don’t understand?”
“Maybe, when Sarah looked at Jesus, he wasn’t black. Maybe she saw something different...”
Hamish started to ask the Devil how that was possible but stopped as soon as he realised what a stupid question that was.
“He looks different to different people?”
“Didn’t you question how much he looked exactly like you thought he would?”
Of course you didn’t, thought the Devil. The egotism of the human brain.
“He looks exactly like everyone thought he would.” The Devil waited to see how Hamish would respond. Was his negative spiral steep enough to carry him all the way down to the Devil’s trap?
“He looks exactly like everyone thought he would…?” Hamish tested wonderingly. The Devil sighed inwardly, wondering not for the first time in her existence why God put so much stock in a species that repeated things quite so often. What help did they expect repeating to be? “He looks exactly like everyone thought he would.” said Hamish again and the Devil rolled her mind’s eye. “So, he looks different to everyone who looks at him? He is capable of looking just like you imagined he would? To everyone?”
The Devil wondered if Hamish had broken without her noticing and was now stuck on some kind of minimal plane of cognitive function. She considered whacking him hard on the side of his head with the palm of her hand. That was one of her favourite inventions… while God had created the concept of fixing something with tools, she had become the owner of the concept of just smacking it to see if that might work. She quickly ran over in her mind what she could remember of human anatomy and decided against using her hand. She opted for a simple verbal prompt to try and knock him back on course.
Hamish fell silent again. The Devil concluded that he must be broken and wondered how you go about turning a human off and on again. He didn’t seem to be whirring at all and nothing had fallen off but he was definitely not functioning. Her hand twitched to just trying a quick smack on the ear. After about 15 seconds Hamish turned to look at the Devil.
Progress! Thought the Devil and eagerly awaited Hamish’s words. When it came it was as simple as it was delicious to her ears.
She selected her words carefully; enjoying the game and determined to win. The best thing about being the Devil was the lack of consequences, but it in no way diminished the pleasure of a victory. How best to gently massage Hamish into freefall? Why, to play like he played, obviously.
“Why indeed…” she repeated lightly, feigning ignorance and allowing Hamish to provide his own explanation.
“Seems a bit…” he started
Hamish shook his shoulders out, feeling the chill as the sun set behind him. “I don’t know, it just seems a bit dishonest, I suppose.”
“In what way?” asked a delighted Devil.
“Well, I don’t know, just, if someone turns up looking exactly as you thought they would then you’re more likely to trust them, aren’t you? I feel a bit cheated, like he was a bit dishonest doing that. Sort of tapped into my own personal information and used it to ingratiate himself.”
“Maybe he does it to help you feel comfortable? Maybe it’s to give you faith?” The Devil had always been her own best advocate.
“I mean, maybe.” Hamish said unconvinced, “It just feels a bit creepy. If he’s just what everyone thinks he is, then what is he actually? Is he anything in his own right?”
“That’s the million dollar question, Hamish… What is a God without its people? If no one believes in a Jesus then does he look like anything? Does he exist?”
“Tree falling in a wood…” said Hamish wistfully and the Devil all but slapped him for ruining a great stretch of dialogue with such a mundane illustration.
“Quite.” Said the Devil tactfully instead of slapping Hamish. The pressure of not hitting him was beginning to give her a tension headache.
“I don’t like it. It’s too manipulative. I feel manipulated. You have to let people make their own minds up, you can’t just make it one size fits all. Jesus can’t just be what everyone wants him to be or it makes him nothing. Makes it a fruitless exercise; if he’s anything for anybody then why are they flocking to him? It makes him irrelevant. If he’s only ever going to bend to what you want him to be you don’t need to go to him. Or, is that better than being set in stone like a dictator? Or, no… I don’t know.” Each new thought sparked another in Hamish’s mind; his musings were picking up pace rapidly as he turned each new corner of deliberation. The Devil decided it needed a slight architectural hand, and put on her best relaxed voice.
“Sarah seems to quite like him.”
Hamish was too riled up to think before he spoke, “Of course she does. She’s thrilled to be able to cling to him a little harder. She’s so smart but she’s so frightened of being aware of how illogical it all is.”
The Devil poked firmer and further, “Now come on, Hamish, how can you think it’s illogical now you know she was right? Me, God, the little boy in the dress… we’re all real. She was right.”
“No, I don’t mean that. You can be real, I guess you are all real, but it doesn’t mean the religion was right, does it? Who decided we were worshipping God not you? You’re not murdering or torturing me, you just seem to think differently to Jesus. Which actually means you think more like me. So maybe I should be a devil worshipper? What if we backed the wrong one? Just because God exists doesn’t mean he’s earned the right to our adoration. The father of mankind who walked out on us 2000 years ago like some Jeremy Kyle candidate but insists we still send a Fathers Day card. No. I’ll walk away from this whole thing, if I do, more sure than I’ve ever been that church is ridiculous, brain washing, indoctrination.”
One last feather touch should do it, thought the Devil… “And, Sarah…?”
Instant tears backed up onto the balcony of his eyelashes. An ache developed within a split second across his brow and the back of his throat stiffened in high arched agony. “Oh, well it’s over, isn’t it?” his voice cracked twice just getting the words out. “It’s never going to work anymore, you can’t make it work when there’s something this big between you. I loved her so much…”
Hamish looked up and saw Sarah standing 15 feet away from him across the square. The Devil smiled.