by Steven Benjamin
I share almost everything with her. And she’s looking at me. And when she looks at me with vague concern mixed with curiosity, and her eyes change colour ever so slightly, with her question still hanging in the air; I’m then conscious of the burden weighing on my shoulders. That she sees this strain, means it’s affecting me in more ways than I know. It’s time to tell. I just need to soak it in and make sense of it on my own terms.
My thoughts were with that of another man. A man I’d met earlier that day. One who would not change my life in any major distinguishable way, but definitely in the way I looked at things - the world around me. And so I told her of my day, watching her as she listened, to gauge how my words were being received.
I do remember asking him why he’d come to the country. He said that he was actually on a return visit. He’d come to see a man with whom he had a special relationship. He said that this man he was going to meet had become quite influential since they’d first met; he’d since gained many unwanted followers. That was months ago by the way.
I asked him how they did meet – you know, just advancing the conversation. And then he said that this man he was going to meet was in prison, and that some months ago, he had tried to kill him.
I thought I miss-heard him when he said that , but then he said it again “Yes. He tried to kill me.” He said it, almost like he couldn’t believe it himself, or couldn’t believe what he was saying.
Anyway. He said this man had changed quite dramatically since they’d last seen each other in court.
I asked what made him change, and this man said that he thought the man found God. I asked if he believed him, and he looked at me, straight in the eyes, and said yes. He was nodding when he said that, his voice a little cracked.
I asked what made him believe him. And he said that he didn’t know, but that it felt… natural. He said that little would change if their roles were reversed.
I don’t know why I asked this, but for some reason I did; I asked him how the man tried to kill him.
He looked at me and shook his head; even half smiled. And then he said he was a tourist, actually no, he was working but had taken some time off to roam, and he was in the wrong part of town, trying to do something stupid and illegal. He said this man tried to chop his head off, with a long blade, like a machete.”
“That’s what I said. He nodded to me. Said he almost succeeded. I didn’t understand, or maybe I didn’t completely believe it.
We sat there, not talking for a while, just letting his words hang in the air. And then he looks at me again. It feels awkward, you know. His eyes a bit like glass. So he reaches up and undoes his shirt's top button and pulls his collar clear of his neck.
I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It was a half inch thick scar running across his neck. I couldn’t see where it started or where it stopped. But it cut across his windpipe, and several big veins.
He touched it gently with his fingertips. It’s like he was making sure it was still there. And then he nodded and buttoned up again. I thought I was imagining it. I was blinking trying to freeze it in my memory.
He said that he wasn’t the first person to be under that blade. But he was quite certain that he was the first, and so far the only person, to get up afterwards, after it had come down. It took some weeks mind you, to get enough strength back just to stand, he said, but still.
I asked him how, how he was still alive. He said he didn’t know, but that what he believed, is not what everyone else would believe.
He then asked me something.
He asked: ‘Does death happen to us? Can death happen? I mean its only the absence of life. So by rights, life happens, death is just what we call it when life is no longer there... absent. When life stops.’
“’All I know is this’ he told me, ‘death was supposed to come. But here I am, sitting beside you.’ He says the man who tried to kill him looked like a ghost when he eventually saw him again, still alive. He said the man started screaming, acting all mad, before he collapsed in shock, and started weeping.”
I was thinking about all this when my wife asked me another question.
“Do you think he was telling the truth?”
“I know it sounds naïve, but there was no reason for him to lie to me. At the very least it is true that it is a story. But whatever… I believed him when he told it to me” And then there’s that scar.
So there I was thinking; sitting, and thinking. Mostly I was just thinking about what to think. Was this Pandora holding my hand and smacking me in the face? – sounds like something my Dad would say. Like I said; it didn’t shake up my life in any visible way, but it did something to my mind. Like you’ve spent a lifetime building something with small bricks, one at a time, and here someone comes and shifts something out of place. Now everything looks the same, but it isn’t, you know it isn’t, but you’re not sure where that missing piece is, or how it will affect everything else, or how it’s all still standing.
All I know is; it’s very simple, you see, it’s the way he said it. Something was supposed to happen, something expected, something inevitable even… but it didn’t.
So. Now... tell me, what happens? I’ll ask you what I asked my wife; what happens, when something that’s supposed to be inevitable, that’s supposed to occur… doesn’t
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