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Passing the Square

Passing the Square

February 4, 2004 8:03 amComments are Disabled

As I passed the main square one morning, on my way to Church and in my finest attire, my eye was caught by a great movement, a rustling of shutters and hanging store signs, as a forceful gust of wind blew down a main street, and, as if by cue, kicked up a great fog of dust just as the Church bells tolled the hour.  As the dust settled, having been taken from several streets and possibly the farms beyond, I noticed a ghostly apparition of a gallows form before me, and, as I rubbed my stinging eyes, it became more clear: a solid wooden framework with a giant eye, looped by rope, hanging from it, and most surely staring back at me through the fog.  I had passed this square every Sunday since my childhood, but never had I seen this device.  Quite possibly I had never cared to observe the surroundings on my walk to services and had therefore missed seeing the framed structure; this assumption was of course the most logical.  But, as I exchanged stares with this new adversary, I was led, perhaps by some unseen divine wind, into believing that this gallows had never been here before, I had never passed it, and no one in my community knew of its existence.

I was therefore tempted to approach this wooden fortress, and, with every step I took, large clouds of dust were displaced, and flew into the air.  The wood was rough to the touch, like bark, and chipped and flaked in my hands.  The platform was raised sufficiently above my head, so I turned, intending to approach the platform by a different side and find a set of steps, but instead my eye was caught, again, by the noose; however, this shadowed black loop, cast upon the dusty ground, called my attention so forcibly that I did not feel a hard hand come down upon my shoulder.  It was not until I heard a gruff voice and I smelled the odor of whiskey was I forced to turn from my enemy, and I stood in the presence of a tall, mustached man.

The first feature I noticed was his chin, which was cut like a block of stone and which seemed to point towards me.  His eyes, deep in their sockets, were dark and cold-hearted.  A black mustache crossed his face, and its bristles merged with the more fine, yet hardly clean shaven, hairs of his cheeks and chin.  His hand was still firmly on my shoulder, and as I observed it I noticed dark curls of hair growing from his knuckles and the back of his hand.

“Now you have seen it, Smith?”  I opened my mouth to explain that my name was not Smith, but no words emerged.  Then, suddenly, my hand jerked hard, and, as it pulled the other hand, I discovered that my wrists were bound by a long length of rope that wrapped them several times, led into the ground, and reemerged from the dust to be held by this gruff man I have mentioned.

The man mounted a snorting, brown horse, whose presence I had not noticed, and tied my rope to some device on the horse’s saddle.  He kicked the horse sharply in the gut and it snorted again, commencing a fast paced trot.  My feet stumbled and my body jolted violently as I was pulled, past several houses and a cemetery, to a building I did not recognize.  It was dark, even in the morning sun, and every window seemed to absorb light.  I was pulled to the back of this building and within minutes I found myself clutching the bars of a rather untidy and unclean jailhouse cell.  A crack of light emitted from the wall and, crouching on the floor and peering through it, I could see most of the street and beyond, and in the distance, almost as if they were one apparition, the gallows stood, the noose encircling the crucifix fastened to the doors of my very own Church.

This crack became my window to the outside, and, as it became dark and grew light each day, I observed the activity of my town, the children playing, farmers bringing their crops to market, and, every Sunday, a mass desertion of the streets as, through the eye of my noose, the entire town marched into the Church.  It was during these Church hours that my square-chinned acquaintance tugged me through the abandoned streets, past the cemetery and to the gallows, where he let me stand before the platform.  In a span of a couple minutes, he would clamp his hand upon my shoulder.

“You cannot hide from your fate, Smith,” he would say; these were the only words I would hear emerge from his mouth.  I would then let his horse guide me back past the cemetery to the jailhouse, where I spent the week crouched at my diminutive window.

I could not hide from my fate, yet hide I did, protected by the cold walls and steel bars that surrounded my cell.  I could not determine the reason for my being here; I did not recall my crime, nor had I discovered any information pertaining to it.  I did have an opportunity to overhear some conversations between the square-chinned man and the jailer, and from what I had heard I discovered that the square-chinned man went by the name of Corpel.  I heard discussion of treason, theft, and ransom, and a small detail about the cleansing of society and the rearrangement of some hierarchy.  No words were ever spoken in my presence relating to my imprisonment, and I was beginning to doubt the validity of my captivity.  Had I committed a crime so horrible and contemptuous that I was sentenced to be constantly dragged to and reminded of my fate?  What had I done?  With every question I asked myself the walls of my cell constricted and it grew colder, my hands became sweaty and my lips trembled.  Several months into my captivity my sanity would have surely been destroyed if not for the crack of heavenly light that emitted from my wall.  The sight of the gallows provided some consolation; it was a symbol of the end of my relentless torture.

A couple of times a week I had the misfortune of hearing a cell somewhere in the vicinity of mine slide open with a metallic clash, and a prisoner like myself passed, hands bound and staring directly ahead.  The jailer led him out of my world and into the next, and, as soon as they passed, I fell to the base of the wall and squinted into the fine ray of bright light to see the prisoner being dragged to the gallows, where a large crowd had been gathering for some time.  Corpel, dismounting, assumed the role of preacher as he jumped onto the platform and started to move the crowd; using at first loud words, then emphasizing his sermon with large gestures.  When the benediction ended, the dark prisoner, lips moving slightly as he looked skyward, saw the whole world become black as Corpel slid a bag over his head.

I do not know why, but, having assumed the role of Smith, a sharp pain stabbed my heart every time the bag blinded a man.  I felt a personal responsibility for these men, these warriors, yet I did not know why.  Perhaps it was evidence of a divine being, guiding my black heart to feel what was right to feel.

The darkness consumed the anonymous soldier as he valiantly stepped into the sun and let the noose be slid, tightly, around his neck.  I could hear his beating heart from mine, I could sweat his sweat and breathe his breath.  I could see through his eyes.  It was within me to pain for him, to weep for him, but, as I saw the platform drop, and the rope become taut, I just prayed salvation for this man.  I prayed that the Lord shall receive him as he would all his Children.  I prayed with such fervor that it shudders me to this day; I recall that when I woke from my religious, hypnotic obsession I always found myself with my back flat against the wall, with my arms outstretched and my heart screaming for redemption.

And, of course, I knew that with every cell emptied my day was drawing nearer; as the crowds at the gallows became thinner I could feel the day of glory coming.  Therefore, one Sunday, after the people of the town, like soldiers deserting the battlefield, had disappeared into the Church, I knew I would only have one more chance to look my enemy in the eye.  As Corpel led me past the cemetery I did not turn to see the fresh heaps of dirt that were stacked, regularly, along the road.  I did not turn my eyes from the noose, the giant eye, enveloped in rope, and death, that stood unwavering before me.  It stared at me with such a venomous resolve that, even though my bound body jolted, my feet stumbled and my knees cracked, my heart, and my eyes, did not move from their respective courses.  As the horse approached the edifice, Corpel dismounted, taking my rope in hand, and pulled me to the base of the platform, where I was surprised to see the shadow of the eye cast on the ground before me, much as it was cast when my being was first taken into this cruel and captive world.  Even the shadow did not blink.  As I prepared for the hard clamp upon my shoulder I had learned to expect every week, I was surprised instead to realize that I was being taken up a set of steps to the surface of the platform, and, as I tore my eyes away from the noose’s shadow, I found myself in the presence of the looped rope itself, the lord of all my fears and the summation of my feeling for the world which had taken me captive.  I had witnessed the deaths of at least a hundred of my brothers, good, honest men, who wanted nothing more than freedom, to this very device.  This giant eye, this unblinking eye of justice that pierces through walls and hearts, that has taken freedom away from those who have tried with their lives to find it, is staring at me, still, through the darkness.

Somewhere in my impostor heart I knew that freedom would never come.  Even after the wooden platform and its horrid device have been long dismantled and the gallows’ purpose long forgotten, women would never be able to let their children play in this square without suffering the pain that their grandfathers had to bear, without living the death of a thousand that dropped into Hell on this spot.

There was no crowd gathered to see me fall, nor was there a preacher to announce my departure to God.  There was no unseen presence crouching at the base of a jail cell’s wall begging for my acceptance into the Kingdom of Heaven; brothers that would have prayed for me were already waiting, hands outstretched, in a world that we have only begun to imagine and we cannot comprehend, where a man is a just a man, free, and blind.  There was just Corpel, a man whose eyes could only see as clearly as the noose I faced, which, as the eye of God, was the last image branded in my mortal mind as the eternal darkness was slid over my head.  I felt a rope at my neck, and, in a single heartbeat, I heard a single Church bell toll; the floor dropped and I descended into the darkness of Hell.

Then, suddenly, as if an angel, eyes caught by the singularity of my appearance in a deserted town, decided to assist me, I was lifted gently upwards; the darkness turned to blinding light and I felt my soul escape, my heart beat with true, rich and honest life, and my feet touched the ground.  My ears opened and I could hear the bells still ringing.  Then, my eyes opened, and, before me, in the dust, I saw a bleak shadow of a gallows cast, the rope taut, and, hanging from this rope, with his hands bound and his soul free, was I.  The shadow flickered in the dust as the body drifted in the wind, and feeling a pity for the value of human life that I had never felt before, I turned to see the gallows I had recently departed.  I saw nothing but the dusts that blew across the empty square.

The haunting silence and emptiness was quickly filled by the arrival of the community population, who, after having left their Church, began to appoint themselves to the various tasks necessary for the existence of a civilized town.  Shopkeepers returned to important tasks left unattended, lawyers and doctors strolled off with their wives to take them on leisurely afternoon adventures.  Men loosened their collars and discussed matters of life, happiness and property vibrantly with their female companions, who, with their waving fans and parasols, listened with a friendly smile and little interest as they kept a close eye on their children.  The little ones laughed and ran about the square, releasing all their energy that had been suppressed throughout the service.  I noticed the great outburst of happiness that flowed from these children, and, truly, I have always longed for it.  I therefore joined in their play, at one point joyfully chasing some little devil who had jumped on my back.  All the while, I glanced frequently at the dust where my black presence had once been painted, yet God had erased his canvas.

The children and I played happily until their respective parents called to them, and I was left alone, again, in the empty square.  I heard a cheerful voice call to me.

“Mister!  Mister!”  I turned to see a young boy running to me.  He stopped to catch his breath and he had to wait for his little heart to stop beating so rapidly.  “Mister, you dropped this.”  He reached out his hand, and in his small palm, frayed at the ends and very dusty, was a fragment of rope.

“Thank you.”  I watched the boy run to his parents, kicking up little clouds of dust with every step.  I looked at the dirty white rope in my clean, black hands.

“If only God were as wise as children,” I muttered, and I turned into the sun to start my long walk home.

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