An existentialist’s take on Easter
It’s a funny thing, but even though I eschewed religion quite a few years ago there are some deep rooted feelings that still linger. Is it because these things were learned at an early age or is there something particularly potent about the whole Jesus story? All the elements: political agitator – a bit of an outsider, prefers the company of the dispossessed to the rich and powerful, kind, mystical, intense – dies a gory death, and then there’s the heartwarming and supernatural final twist. It’s a screenwriter’s dream and even if it isn’t ‘the greatest story ever told’ it’s pretty close! And even though I’m a bit of an old cynic and am still convinced that the miracles and the resurrection bits are too far-fetched – they are still clever and timeless dramatic symbols. I didn’t think that they had fluenced me that much but when I came across a short story that I had written for the start of 2000 I can see they definitely did. So, in tribute to a historical figure who – if nothing else, made martyrdom a powerful political tool that has been repeated down the ages, from Joan of Arc to Jan Palak to the many martyrs of the Arab Spring – here is my take on the Jesus tale. I know the setting is a bit unseasonal but then so is our current weather… hmmm – I wonder what JC’s take of global warming would have been? Anyway – take five/ten minutes out – turn your framed picture of Richard Dawkins to the wall – and enjoy!
Mhairi woke at 8.20 am 01.01.2000. Probably not that many others doing that at this time she thought, probably sleeping off the excesses of the night before. Well, in Britain of course and in Europe. It would be a lot later and a lot earlier elsewhere. Mhairi didn’t really want to start working out who would be doing what and where. She had her own problems just being able to get up out of bed.
The arthritis had hit her badly, triggered by the car accident ten years ago. She had been on her way to her first proper “do”, a New Year party as it happens. The road was icy and the driver in the other car was four times over the limit. Paul, Mhairi’s boyfriend and the one who was driving the car she was in didn’t make it. Death was instantaneous said the Coroner at the enquiry. Mhairi took some comfort at this along with the pink beaded dress, spattered with the blood of her lost love, she had kept – Jackie Kennedy fashion – in a box at the back of her wardrobe.
She often took the dress from it’s box to caress it and cry into it, the jagged little sequins and beads offering no comfort to her tear reddened face. Once or twice she had tried the dress on but she was horrified at the sight of herself in the mirror. Apart from her twisted limbs she had a deep scar down one side of her face. She remembered herself at eighteen, getting ready for that fateful night, how new and exciting everything seemed then. She also remembered how Paul had raised his arms to protect her face from the flying shards of glass and how she had held his lifeless bloodied hands in hers. Now she was left with her memories which were vague and getting more and more distant with time. Why should she look forward to a new year or millennium? She would rather go back than look to the future.
She sighed and got up from her bed. Without washing she pulled on some old clothes on top of the leggings and T-shirt she had been wearing in bed. Mhairi lived alone, her parents were distraught at first when she told them she wouldn’t stay with them after the accident but they came to respect her feelings. What really did hurt them was that she refused to spend the Millennium Eve with them.
Mhairi liked being alone and she found that her physical condition was a good excuse for not going out and socialising. She often went out walking under the main bridge on the High Street. A lot of homeless people slept there and she would talk to them, she found them honest and non-judgemental. “ Or perhaps they’re just so wasted they can’t even see straight and see what I look like,” she would laugh to herself. This particular morning there weren’t many people under the bridge. “ The local Council tidying them off the street in time for the Hogmanay bash, giving them shelter for a couple of nights at Christmas and New Year, big deal!”
Mhairi hurried along, dragging her foot as she went. It was icy cold and she wanted to get home. In her hurry she almost tripped over what she thought was a bundle of rags. “I’m sorry,” she stammered, reaching down to help. “It’s all right,” said a kindly voice. Mhairi looked down, the face she saw was both kind and strangely familiar. It was an unwashed face, as was the long matted hair, but a light seemed to shine from his eyes. A light which seemed to envelop her and warm her against the cold.
“I’m really sorry,” Mhairi repeated. “Please let me buy you a cup of tea.” Her words sounded almost flirtatious and she blushed at her own boldness. “I’d like that,” replied the stranger, rising from his crumpled heap without any discernible effort, “I know a little cafe nearby, it should be open, it’s always open.” And sure enough along by the train station there was a little greasy spoon open for business. A few people were dotted around, sitting at the Formica tables. People who worked no matter what day of the year it was. The young man went straight to the counter, got two teas and brought them back.
Mhairi felt slightly embarrassed that he should be spending money on her. But she said nothing. She felt that social niceties such as who should pay were made redundant, she felt totally at ease with the stranger, like friends who had known each other for years. And so she found herself telling him all about the accident, her solitary life, all her innermost feelings. She hadn’t talked so much in years and she marvelled at the sound of her own voice, speaking eloquently and incisively about how she felt. When she had finished speaking the stranger looked deep into her eyes, “I understand how you feel, but everything is not always as it appears.” He paused, “Would you like to come with me now and see what I mean?”
No sooner had Mhairi heard his words than they were standing on the doorstep of one of the grand Georgian houses in the city’s New Town. The door was answered by an elegantly dressed woman in her fifties who seemed genuinely pleased to see them both. Mhairi drew her scruffy overcoat tightly around herself . The older woman gently pulled Mhairi’s coat and it fell to the floor. The woman whispered “My dear, you look lovely” and steered Mhairi towards a full length hall mirror . She did indeed look lovely, her hair was washed and brushed framing her radiant face. Her scar was still there but it paled into insignificance against the luminosity of her eyes. Her limbs were still twisted but instead of being hidden under shapeless clothes they appeared in defiant beauty against her pink beaded dress which she was amazed to find herself wearing, in pristine condition.
Mhairi started to move around the large drawing room where a party was taking place. Everybody at the party was dressed in fine expensive looking clothes and they all seemed so beautiful even though everyone of them had a disfgurement of some kind. Scarred faces, lost limbs, pink blistered skin which had once been charred. They all moved so gracefully as they talked and laughed together. Mhairi had the feeling that she knew everyone there but was sure that she had never met them before. She was touched by their kindness as they asked her about herself. A lot of them complimented her on her dress and stared at the places where the blood stains should have been. She looked around for the stranger who had brought her to the party. He was sitting on the floor in the corner surrounded by a group of people who hung on his every word. Mhairi felt a pang of jealousy, quickly followed by an overwhelming feeling of pride. She watched as he spoke in hushed tones. Soon everyone drifted away and she was left alone with him.
“Come with me,” he whispered. He led her out onto a balcony which seemed extremely high up. “Look down there,” he said, directing her gaze to the street. It wasn’t the quiet , wide Georgian street which they had entered the party from. It was instead a narrow, teeming motorway with cars nose to tail inching along through a pall of heavy exhaust fumes. Some people were getting angry and shaking their fists at each other, although most sat in quiet resignation staring blankly through their fogged up windows. Mhairi switched her gaze from the cars to a large glass and chrome office block beyond. There too people stared out as if imprisoned. They were looking out for something, but what?
“These people, they’re not going very far, are they?” He pulled her around gently and looked deep into her eyes. She felt she had known him for a hundred years.
“Do you know who I am yet?”, he asked. “I think so,” and with that she started to cry. He quietened her by kissing her. “You’ll have to go soon, won’t you?”, she said. “Yes, but I’ll always be with you. You can keep a lock of my hair and wear it around your neck, or a scrap of material from your dress and sleep with it under your pillow. But you don’t need these things to remember me by, or to give you the power to go to places and to do things. Believe in yourself, that’s what you must remember.” She looked up at him, her face stained with tears, and asked: “And should I believe in you?” “If it helps,” he replied. She touched the rough scars on the palms of his hands and with that he was gone.