Poets’ Thursday: Another one

You clutch the clothes to your skin

Cold Nostalgia chills you to the bones

You walked away again

This time the mallet hit the wood

Arrogant tears traipse down your skin

Regret and pain encircle your bosom

As you nod painfully

Your thoughts walk back in time to

When you sold your soul to lust, intertwined with desire

You saw blur but you walked through

Through forbidden territories and boundaries

He whispered words and took a flight in you

Sailing through bones that became still

You laid down mistakes and buried a dusty Bible

Now yours walls are cracked and evil eyes see through

Your lips part and you can still make a sound

A sound of healing from within

A music that heals and a voice that soothes

You are back

Again

hurt woman

By

Deborah Nwanguma

Are you feeling poetic? Does your poem need some polishing?

Is there a poem inside you awaiting some prodding?

All roads lead to ojukwumartin@gmail.com; attach your work in a mail titled ‘Poets’ Thursday’. We shall ensure that your poetic muse does not divorce you, now or ever.

Poets’ Thursday is powered by Words Are Work.

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The Medallion – Found.

…continued from The Medallion V

They had found it; they had found The Medallion.

medallion04

The man who Simon had identified as Joseph of Arimathea spread out a length of white linen on the floor with which he wrapped up the body of Jesus. Mary and the other woman put the handkerchief containing the blood-drenched soil – and unknown to them, The Medallion – in with the corpse just before it was wrapped. The corpse was placed in a pulled cart and the procession, soldiers inclusive, headed west of the city where the sepulchers were located. Rufus and Simon followed.

They reached a tomb which from the looks of it had been freshly dug. Joseph led the way in and they laid the wrapped corpse in the tomb. The women dragged Mary away who was still weeping uncontrollably and all the men present combined strength to roll a heavy stone across the mouth of the tomb. The centurion ordered four of the soldiers to stand guard at the tomb while he retired towards the city with the rest of his men. The young man who had been at the foot of the cross of Jesus with Mary persuaded her to come away with him; the weeping women of Jerusalem followed, most of them dry-eyed with exhaustion. Joseph of Arimathea and Nichodemus brought up the rear.

There was not much that Rufus could do; even if he somehow overpowered the four soldiers standing guard, he had no means to get past the massive stone which had taken the combined strength of over a dozen men to roll over the mouth of the tomb. Also Simon was anxious to return to their sons whom they had left asleep at Golgotha. With one last look at the sealed tomb, Rufus turned and left with Simon.

He would be back.

*** *** ***

“Eleazer, douse your light quickly!”

The boy obeyed. Rufus put a hand to his lips and stealthily, crawled closer behind a prominent rock from where the mouth of the tomb was clearly visible. Eleazer followed suit. The tomb was a little bee-hive of activity; the soldiers on guard duty had positioned lit torches at strategic corners lending more visibility to the already moonlit night and they sat around dozing, playing games, eating, drinking and jesting.

It was almost midnight on Sabbath day and well into the Feast of Unleavened bread. After they departed the tomb the day before, Rufus had left with Simon to the latter’s house where he had heard the whole story of this Jesus who was called the Christ. Rufus was intrigued by the stories of healings, resurrections, exhortations and miracles which Simon regaled him with about this man.

Rufus could not however, fathom why a man with such powers could not have saved himself from the shameful death he had died. In his shoes, Rufus fantasized over the numerous ways in which he would have ensured the painful demise of his attackers – a snap of his fingers and a man would lose his arm, one smile and all the teeth in one soldier’s mouth would dissolve into red-hot molten metal, one arched brow and the ground would open up to swallow that fat Pilate with his shiny basin of water. The deeds of this Jesus as Simon had told them – and Rufus had confirmed from a good number of people – certainly put any of these retributions within the man’s capacity. Yet he had meekly followed his captors, like a lamb to the slaughter, to death on the cross.

In his quest for answers, Rufus accompanied Simon to the temple on the Sabbath day; the look on Eleazer’s face said volumes about how often his father visited such premises. But Rufus was a man seeking answers. He was disappointed though. The temple was over-run by the ‘pricks’ as the followers of the dead Jesus had all disappeared. The entire Sabbath day was dedicated to denigrating what was left of the memory of the man crucified the day before. One by one, the priests rose and spewed a litany of offences Jesus had been guilty of: he had cured Alphonso’s withered hand on a Sabbath day, he had dared to heal Ebenezer, a leper, neither he nor his disciples were ever seen fasting with ash on their heads or anguish on their faces, he even mustered the audacity to quench a storm sent by the Almighty,God of Moses.

Rufus could scarcely believe the sheer blasphemy and sycophancy that played out before him. He did learn one interesting piece of news though – Jesus had said that after he died, he would rise on the third day. If there was any truth to this – the man had quite a reputation for keeping to his word – Rufus felt deep within him that something of some significance would indeed happen at that tomb on the prophesied day. He hadn’t told Simon of his plan to return to the tomb because they had both agreed that The Medallion was a lost cause. But he had known he would be going there.

Rufus was unsure what drew him to the tomb – was it The Medallion which had been buried with the man or the man who had been buried with The Medallion? Whichever, it was strong enough to pull him after he left Simon’s with Eleazer in tow, westwards towards the guarded tomb rather than eastwards towards Bethany. They had hung around dozing and munching on strips of unleavened bread while waiting for darkness to fall. Now it was dark and they crouched behind a rock few meters away from the soldiers and the tomb. What next, Rufus had no idea.

As the city bells clung midnight, the earth reverberated soundly. Rufus thought he had imagined it until he saw the look on Eleazer’s face. Then the ground shook again, this time with a ferocity that made the quake of the crucifixion day feel like child’s play. Rufus anchored himself firmly to the rock while holding on to Eleazer with his spare arm. The soldiers’ noises quieted down in an instant as they looked about with terrified eyes each struggling to maintain balance.

Suddenly, a wraith appeared in a halo of white light so bright that Rufus inadvertently let go of Eleazer to shield his eyes. This form gradually grew in visibility till it took the form of a big man in a flowing white robe cinched at the waist by a wide glistening belt. From the belt hung a sword with a glistening handle that crackled with charges; the man’s entire ensemble gave off a pristine glow, calm and white. Thunder rolled and perpetual lines of lightning divided the midnight sky.

The glowing man glided – for that was the only word for the way he moved – over to the stone that sealed the tomb and Rufus saw then that he had two massive wings. The wings were like those of a giant-sized eagle, a snow-white giant eagle with feathers which looked to be as soft as wool from Shechem. They flapped once, the wings, sending everything – man, beast and thing – in the vicinity flying off in a gale of strong wind.

Rufus felt certain that the vision before him must be God and from a distant childhood memory, he remembered the saying that no one ever saw God and lived to tell the tale. So he quickly put his hands over Eleazer’s eyes and cursed the fatal fate that had seen him come across this Christ.

The vision raised one glowing hand and the stone over the tomb’s entrance started to roll away. In his amazement, Rufus’ jaw dropped down and his hands fell away from Eleazer’s eyes. He had seen a dozen men roll that stone across the tomb’s entrance, huffing and puffing to the brinks of their very lives’ breaths. But before him, the same stone now rolled, as if on oiled wheels away from the mouth of the tomb. As it rolled away, the tomb’s entrance peeped through as a crack through which light – a white light brighter than the glow of the winged vision, if such a thing was possible – shimmered.

The farther away the stone rolled, the wider the crack grew and the more of this brighter incandescence it oozed. The illumination that poured out of the mouth of the tomb after it was fully opened was glory in itself; it glided over one’s skin with the warmth of a soothing balm, white and blinding but indeed calming to the eye. It flooding the entire hillside and the skies above with a luminescence so bright that the air shimmered like a pristine veil over the grasses which glittered like transparent glass.

In the midst of all this resplendence, Jesus emerged from the tomb, flying without wings. The white linen in which he had been wrapped hung over him loosely hooked over his shoulder; it twinkled with stars and even more light poured out of the holes which the nails had made in his hands and feet. The expression on his face was of peace, a calm dignified peace and royalty. A halo of warm gold encircled his head and the tips of his beard seemed to be on fire – it was like looking into the sun from just ten paces away.

Suddenly his eyes, burning a triumphant yellow, settled on Rufus where he stood dazed. A thrill, akin to the one he had felt when Jesus looked at him from atop the cross at Golgotha, raced through his marrows and settled like a warm pool in feet Rufus could barely feel. Staring up into the face of the resurrected Jesus, Rufus knew he was a dead man.

Slowly, Jesus began to rise up into the skies, his stately face and arms raised up to the night sky awash with heavenly splendor. The winged vision from earlier fell down on one knee, clasped his hands together as if in prayer and bowed his head; his massive snow-white wings came together at his back with their glowing tips pointing downwards. Had Rufus been thinking, he would have fallen on his knees too but he was lost to the luxury of human though. A warm heady feeling coursed through his veins like warm honey, and as the resurrected Jesus vanished from sight, and with him the phenomenal light and vision, he felt a lightness take its place, a sweet friendly lightness. Like a second chance.

Darkness resettled quickly upon the entire hillside; the wind howled, its noise given a hollow timbre by the open deeps of the now-empty tomb. Crickets chirped, their music given a mournful tinge by the emptiness left behind by the departed light. Rufus stood with Eleazer, oblivious of the scampering soldiers, staring upwards into the dark of the now moonless night.

A series of tugs on his sleeve woke Rufus from his shocked state. He stared down at Eleazer and could not believe that they both were still alive.

“We should go, Father”

The boy’s eyes gave away nothing. It was almost as though he hadn’t just seen God rise from the dead; yes, he was God, Rufus admitted. There was indeed a God and Rufus had just watched Him defeat the great power of death without uttering a word. A God of light; no noise, just light and love.

Another pull on his arm, this time leading, shook Rufus back to his surroundings. Eleazer had taken his hand and was pulling them both towards the city gates – the trip to Bethany was definitely cancelled for the night.

Rufus was amazed to find that his legs worked. Totter by totter, he followed his son across the rock-strewn hillside still dazed. The lightness he felt in his bones was slightly dizzying, and he hadn’t realized it but his throat was parched shut with a thirsty dryness. Signaling to Eleazer to hold on, Rufus reached into his robe for his water flask.

He felt something else in the pocket, something he hadn’t put there. Not knowing what to expect, Rufus pulled it out; it was a small bundle wrapped in a spotless white cloth, the finest piece of silk he had ever seen.

His breath hitching, fingers quivering, unbelieving, Rufus unwrapped the bundle. And it was right there, staring him in the face.

The Medallion.

 

***THE END***

I apologize for the tardiness on delivery of this piece. It has been a great experience walking you through the path of Rufus’ journey in the hunt for The Medallion. May His encounter with the risen Christ replicate itself in various ways in our individual lives, Amen.

HAVE A VERY MERRY EASTER!

Winners of The Medallion prediction and ‘first-to-comment’ prizes will be announced soon.

The Medallion – V

Dear readers, see the MEMO just beneath this installment for a very very VERILY important announcement. Expo: Prizes to be won!!!

…continued from The Medallion IV

“Hold it!!!” Rufus bolted up, one hand automatically reaching for his dagger…

medallion04

 

Slowly, he rose into a crouching position and turned around to see who it was.

“Hold it!” the soldier yelled again, “Wait for me!”, as he puffed up the hill. He ran up to join a group of other soldiers who stood in a circle a few meters from the foot of the cross of Jesus. Rufus relaxed as he realized that nobody was paying any attention to their – him, Simon and the lads – general direction. All eyes in the vicinity were on the soldiers as they cast bets over an item which lay on the floor in their midst; eventually, the winner yelled and triumphantly lifted the item he had just won.

Rufus saw that the item was the undergarment of the crucified Jesus. They had cast lots over the sweat-drenched, blood-soaked undergarment of a man whose very life they were stringing along to a tortuous end! Incredible! Even for a thief, such behavior was low. Wretched Roman dogs, Rufus spat.

A few feet away from the raucousness, the same group of women from back in the Praetorium now stood huddled together again at the foot of the cross. There was a young man standing with them, he was fresh and ruddy in the face with a full head of hair and a pencil-thin mustache. Rufus could see Jesus staring down at them, he wondered though how much the man could see seeing as his eyes were both bloody and bulging like the infamous grapes of the Cherudian vines. The crucified man seemed to be talking to the group with sparse and measured movements of his chapped lips, speaking in his state was understandably a Herculean effort.

Mary burst into a fit of sobs and the young man who was standing with the women gathered her into his arms, swaying his body slightly while soothingly stroking her back. Rufus looked away; he had no time to indulge in such sloppy scenes. He needed to concentrate. As he returned to his former sitting position, he observed that his company had all fallen asleep, from Simon who lay against the rock with his head lolling between his drawn knees to Eleazer who lay coiled up just by his father’s feet. He felt the beginnings of weariness grab a hold of him as well but he shook it off.

Mentally, Rufus reviewed the clues: The place of the Skulls, done; but the King of rocks, who was the King of rocks? Mayhaps the hill used to be a royal sepulcher and a king – the King of rocks – could have been buried there with the treasured medallion of Ra. Or maybe Golgotha had been a battlefield and the king had died on it fighting a war, the medallion concealed in his royal ensemble. Perhaps the hill had been forgotten during those many decades of captivity away from home, forgotten with the prized medallion that had been lost on it…until now. Or mayhaps…

E-looooo-i…”

Rufus sprang awake. Even before he turned around, he knew that the yell had come from the man on the cross. It was a blood-curling scream laden with agony and the tell-tale rasp of a life slowly ebbing away.

Rufus was Nazarene by birth and even though, he had never been to his homeland, his father had ensured that he understood and spoke his native Aramaic. Jesus’ call for his father was no surprise, Rufus had seen men at the point of death do a variety of things, from fouling themselves to crying for their mothers like snot-nosed tots. What was surprising however, was the fact that there had been no paternal figure throughout the ordeals the man had undergone; Rufus was sure of it – Simon would have made sure to point such a man out to him. So who was this father, he wondered.

E-loooo-i…” Jesus yelled again, his voice breaking on that last syllable. His head reached as far back as the wood of the cross and the nails that held him suspended could allow and his eyes stayed raised to the skies as Jesus broke into more audible sobs.

“Oy! Someone get Elijah! The king of the Jews here would like a private audience!” one soldier taunted and the crowd bawled their amusement. One overzealous youthful soldier stood and ran off down the hill, apparently on his way to raise Elijah to answer the call. His antics tickled the crowd’s amusement even more; Rufus itched to rap some sense into the fool’s skull.

Eloi…” Jesus rasped, his tone much mellower, “lama sabachthani!

Rufus felt something in his chest crack; he batted his eyelids furiously, denying room of flow to the tears that pressed from behind his eyes. The combination of Jesus speaking in his native tongue and his looking as forsaken and dejected as his cry portrayed, was just too much for Rufus to bear. So he dragged his eyes away, focusing instead on the crowd and people gather at the foot of the cross and around.

Jesus’ mother, Mary broke down in loud sobs from where she knelt at the foot of the cross; the young man Rufus had seen with them earlier stood bent over by her side doing his best to console her. The rest of the women wailed uncontrollably. The soldiers around continued to make fun of him. The fool who had run off earlier returned holding a stick which had on its end, a sponge soaked in something that was dripping onto the floor as he ran.

“Elijah will soon be along,” he announced, “he only has to dust off his bones” Chuckles and laughter. “He however, presents the king with some wine to soothe his thirst” The youth was really enjoying the attention of the crowd. After executing a mocking courtesy, he pushed the soaking sponge into the face of Jesus who eagerly opened his dry mouth for some liquid respite. No sooner had he made contact with it than he drew his head back, sputtering and spitting. The young soldier doubled over in laughter, the sponge-bearing piece of wood forgotten on the sand; the other soldiers and crowd roared their approval.

Rufus felt his eyes drawn back to the forlorn figure on the cross. No longer spitting, Jesus was crying profusely; with each sob, his ribs strained against the skin of his abdomen. A few moments passed and his sobs lessened, his breaths coming in longer gasps.

He raised his eyes to the heavens again. “Father,” Rufus heard him say, “forgive them” What?! Rufus was livid, unbelieving of what he had just heard. Jesus was mad, he knew it. First, it was unthinkable that he had a father with enough power to reside in the skies but couldn’t do anything to save his son. Secondly, who forgave such blood-thirsty enemies as the Roman soldiers? The same flesh-eating dogs who were responsible for the slow and tortuous death you were nearing? Futuo! Rufus swore; the man was mad.

As if on cue, Jesus turned and his eyes – red, blubbery and nearly shut – met with Rufus’. The look was dripping with pity, affection and some plea; it elicited some tingling in the base of his spine. What? Rufus challenged the stare, albeit mutely. Don’t look at me, he fumed, you’re the one on the cross.

The message must have gotten through because Jesus looked away, but the tingling did not stop.

In a loud voice – one too loud for a man on the brink of death – Jesus cried out, “It is finished” And hung his head, his body sagging, lifeless.

The crowd shut up, mouths suspended in mid-roars and hands in mid-air, even the birds and the wind uttered not a single sound. There was resounding silence over the entire hilltop. And then, the earth beneath Rufus shook with a distinct intensity. Before his eyes, rocks split and fell away into crevices that widened in the ground from the force of the quake. Pandemonium broke out; people started yelling and running, some back towards the city, others farther away from it. The group at the foot of the cross huddled closer together, clutching on to it while the soldiers with their swords and spears, dug into the ground and held fast.

Total darkness enveloped the entire land, a darkness so black that Rufus couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. Someone lit a torch and with a wet poof!, it was instantly extinguished. Rufus hunkered down on the ground, felt for Eleazer and drew the boy to him. Blindly dragging Eleazer, Rufus crawled till he could feel Simon and the boys; he threw his body over them and shut his eyes.

After what felt like ages, Rufus opened first one eye, then the other. The light had been restored; raising his head, he was astounded to see that everything was just as it had been. There were no splitting rocks, no gaping crevices in the ground with people tumbling down into their dark depths, no screams. But for the rock-solid conviction within him of what he had seen he might have doubted that there had just been an earthquake.

“You look like you have seen a ghost, my friend” He spun around to face a now-awake Simon who sat rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Rufus felt like he had seen a ghost; he said nothing.

Simon sat up and stretched, looking much better with most of the color back in his cheeks. “Let’s have another look at that parchment” he said, hand outstretched. Rufus started; he had actually forgotten about his quest. What was happening to him?!

His movement rigid with self indignation, he reached into his his inner pockets for the scroll. The moment the tips of his fingers felt it, he knew he had found the missing link. Rufus had solved the riddle.

The king of rocks, it had said, not the King of rocks. He already knew which was the king – the largest – of all the rocks on the grounds of Golgotha but just to make double sure, he took a quick look around. He was right; the biggest rock was the same one which now supported the cross from which Jesus hung.

“I have it” he told Simon, his delight evident in his excited grin. When Simon’s expression remained quizzical, Rufus read the second line of the clue aloud – lies beneath the king of rocks, and pointed at the said rock. Simon followed his finger then as realization dawned on him, his mouth formed a small ‘O’. Rufus felt a familiar tingle course through his muscles ending in the tips of his fingers, a heist was near. Together, they turned their attention back to the cross. Rufus’ mind was was racing, trying out different schemes to retrieve The Medallion whose location they now knew. As if they had sensed his scheming, the soldiers gathered around the cross. They looked guarded, wary as if they expected an army to come and steal it.

While Rufus and Simon looked on, two men arrived and walked up to the centurion. Their gold and white linen robes gave these newcomers away as noble men of good living.

“That’s Nichodemus” Simon said, pointing to the one who sported a bushier beard and did less of the talking. “It is rumored that he secretly was a follower of Jesus. The other one doing most of the talking is Joseph, the wealthiest man in Arimathea and a good man by all standards.”

Rufus was glad to have his ‘tour-guide’ back but he was stuck on a word Simon had said.

“Follower?” Rufus asked. “What do you mean ‘follower’ of Jesus?”

“Oh, Nichodemus?” Rufus nodded.

“Well, he was a supporter of the gospel Jesus preached” Simon went off, “but he was also a wealthy member of council so…”

“Wait,” Rufus interrupted yet again, his heightening confusion evident in his expression. “Supporter of the gospel? What was this Jesus? A priest?”

“You do not know who Jesus is?” Simon asked incredulously, piercing Rufus with a look that cast no doubts as to exactly what he thought of him. With an exaggerated sigh, Simon launched his attack: “He is Jesus, the Christ. A prophet. He was born to Joseph, the Carpenter and Mary and for the past three years, he has…”

Rufus silenced him with a raised hand, his attention held by the unfolding results of whatever discussions the two noble men were having with the centurion. Two soldiers mounted ladders on the arms of the cross of Jesus to free the nails while a third freed the nail that held his feet. As they took the body down, Mary who still stood there gestured for it to be handed to her. She then sank to the ground under the weight of her son’s corpse. She cradled it in her arms like a newborn child cooing to it in an agonized, sob-racked voice. She rained kisses all over the corpse’s battered face, ran her hands over the wounds on his hands, feet, side, back; it looked like she was performing some sort of post-mortem healing. Raising her face to the skies in seeming surrender, Mary held her dead son to her bosom and rocked it slowly. Rufus heard Simon sniffle beside him; he felt something warm slide down his left cheek but he quickly swiped it away – thieves never cried.

One of the women started to gather soil around the foot of the cross into a little white handkerchief. She was taking care to scrape up the sections of the soil which had been drenched by the blood of Jesus. Rufus wondered if they would go all the way back into the city for more of blood-drenched soil, especially to the Praetorium where Jesus had been scourged. He was still pondering the futility of the task when the glint of something caught his eye. The rays of the sun from behind him had fallen on something shiny in a clump of soil the woman had gathered. Oblivious of anything abnormal, she dumped the clump of soil in the handkerchief and turned back to scrape some more. Rufus looked again to be sure and there, a lustrous brilliance from amongst the dark soil winked at him. He darted an enquiring look at Simon, his companion nodded, his face resembling the Midian owls with the eyes so wide in them.

They had found it; they had found The Medallion.

…to be continued

 

MEMO

Hi esteemed readers,

As most of you must have already guessed, we’re nearing the end of The Medallion series; infact, we have just one episode to go (who’s yelling Yaayyy?!) That episode will be posted by noon on Easter Sunday (April 20, 2014).

I was just with Rufus (y’all know he’s a Bollywood actor, right?) the other day and he was really touched by the many fans he has gotten on this series. He mentioned that he had always argued with Eli over who was sexier, and the readers’ obvious preference for him will definitely help his case henceforth; because truth be told he isn’t much of a looker (okay, I added that last part).

Anyhow, in appreciation of that and in the spirit of the Easter celebrations, he has put up two prizes to be won by the faithful followers of this centuries-old tale. To win either of the prizes, you only have to fulfill the following requirements:

PRIZE 1:

Be the first to comment on Easter Sunday’s episode titled, ‘The Medallion – Found“.

PRIZE 2:

Predict accurately the location of the Medallion at the first instant Rufus would lay hands on it. Predictions for this prize will be accepted starting now and closing midnight on Saturday, the 19th.

Prize 1 is NGN 1000.00 credit recharge for any telecommunication network within Nigeria.

Prize 2 is NGN 1000.00 credit recharge for any telecommunication network within Nigeria.

 

Rules of Entry

1. You must not be related to Chisom Ojukwu by blood. (Dubem, you’re included, but not the rest of the family. Hehehehe, sorry loves…we’ll soon, hopefully, have a Family Special Edition)

2. For prize 2, you can only vote once. Once a comment bearing your answer has been approved and uploaded, do not send in another.

3. You must fulfill the requirements exactly as stated.

 

By 6pm on Easter Sunday, we should already have our winners.

Let the ‘treasure hunt’ begin!!! See ya in three/four days…

 

All rights are reserved.

The Medallion – IV

…continued from The Medallion – III

“His mother, Mary” he answered.

medallion04

 

Under the barrage of spittle, stones and lashes, the man rose again. Rufus didn’t understand why he didn’t just stay down – he stood and hoisted the cross higher onto his shoulder, teeth chattering, knees locked together at a very unnatural angle and quaking uncontrollably. He rested his head very briefly against the brutish wood of the cross for a minute and as Rufus watched, two trails of tears escaped from beneath his shut lids. A moment passed, two moments, and the eye lids quivered open again.

Rufus could understand pain, he didn’t spend all those years in the colony without knowing suffering. But what astounded him in the scene unfolding before him was the acceptance in the eyes of the condemned man. It wasn’t a bitter resignation to a doomed fate, nor was it a grudging acquiescence brimming with hate and a hunger for revenge. It was acceptance, peace and a forgiveness that shone through the sheen of tears in his eyes upon the raving crowd. A look that – incredible as the mere thought of it was – looked very much like love.

The last time Rufus saw that look in the eyes of a suffering man, Eli had his head on the cleaver’s slab and his eyes on his wife of a half moon, her belly rounded like the full moon. All those years ago in the clan, Eli had paid the ultimate price for his wife’s carelessness; he loved her, he had said, and would die to save her life. Rufus had thought – and still did – it a foolish price to pay for a woman; maybe for a child, a worthy and only child, but not for a woman or any other human.

Whatever cause it was this man had been condemned for – he was clearly no criminal – had him sunk like a holed up fisherman’s canoe. Jesus visibly wanted to carry the cross; it looked like he felt a compulsion to bear the travails, to see it to the end. Clenching his blood-lined teeth behind the quivering but determined line of his chapped lips, he took one slow step forward. Then another one, this time much slower and a tad bit shaky. Then another. Unsurprisingly and to the tumultuous glee of the crowd, he tumbled to the dust again, the gargantuan cross landing on him with an audible oomf! There was no cause, Rufus concluded, – living or dead – that is worth this much agony. It was plain foolishness.

Out of the corner of his eye, Rufus noticed a sudden movement and turned swiftly to spot Alexander in the process of running towards the fallen man. Simon was faster than Rufus to reach him but not too fast that the soldiers did not notice the boy’s action. One of them brandished a horsewhip and advanced towards the duo of Simon and Alexander; father slid in front of son completely shielding him while one hand stayed outstretched in mute supplication. The soldier reached them and flexed the whip. Unconsciously and without realizing why, Rufus started to step forward.

Oy! What do we have here?”

Rufus let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. An older soldier – the centurion, Rufus deciphered from the plumage that adorned his helmet – neared the trio.

“What do we have here?” he demanded again. The junior officer stuttered a spurious tale of how the little boy barely the height of a grown man’s waist had attempted to save Jesus from the midst of an army of soldiers.

The centurion quietly stared at his subordinate for a few moments, as if giving him time for the absurdity of his claims to sink in. Then he asked in that steely tone that only mastered authority could manage, “And you were going to do what with the whip, soldier?”

There was no reply.

The centurion released an exasperated sigh and turned his attention to Simon, the plume on his helmet waving in the air like a withered flag. “You’re the little one’s father?” Simon nodded, the nervous bob of his Adam’s apple visibly straining against his scrawny neck. He swallowed. Bob. Bob.

“What is your name, sire?”

“Simon” Bob. “Simon of Cyrene” Bob bob.

“Well, Simon of Cyrene,” the centurion drawled, “looks like your lad has got himself in a mighty load of trouble here” – he drawled the ‘mighty’ for the benefit of the nearby listening crowd who accordingly snickered while the young soldier burned red – “but you look like a reasonable man and I’m willing to work with you”

“Y-y-yes” Bob. Bob. “Y-yes, s-s-sir” Bob bob.

“Good man,” the centurion answered. “See we’re having a little problem getting the king of the Jews here up to Golgotha where his coronation ceremony awaits.” More snickers from the crowd. “You could help out by carrying his cross? Golgotha is only a few yards beyond the city gates; we’ll take over once we get there”

Bob. Bob. Simon turned slightly to look down at Alexander whose head was firmly wedged into his back, then at little Rufus standing a few meters behind looking lost and alone in the crowd. When he raised his face to the centurion, it was clear Simon intended to refuse. He opened his mouth to say the words.

“I’ll take them” Rufus heard himself say. Futuo! What?

“You will?” Simon asked him, suspicious furrows creasing his brow.

Yes, you will? Rufus queried himself.

He cursed some more beneath his breath. “Yes, I’ll bring your boys along” he said, and for good measure, stepped up and took the hand of little Rufus.

Simon looked him square in the eye for only a split second and for no reason Rufus could comprehend, trusted. He spoke a few inaudible words to Alexander then shooed him towards Rufus before straightening to face the centurion a determined look in his eyes. Simon walked towards the cross and hoisted it, he staggered a little then hoisted it higher and plunged towards the city gates, a tiny vein straining in the center of his forehead. The soldiers hustled up the totally battered Jesus and pushed him forward in Simon’s wake. The barrage of abuse continued from all sides.

There goes my shortcut to The Medallion, Rufus sighed. As displeased as he was with his newly acquired nanny role, Simon was his only hope of finding the treasure, especially considering the blood-craze that had enveloped just about everybody else. In Ninny’s beards – as his father would say – he had no choice.

Rufus hoisted Alexander onto his back, wrapped little Rufus – whose little face was already scrunched up, wailing nonstop – around the front of him and held Eleazer’s hand tight as the crowd thronged forward in the wake of the condemned man. Looking like a double-shelled turtle, Rufus waited for the entire crowd to go by then he brought up the rear. He patted the scroll where it was firmly lodged in the inner compartment of his robe. This was all that mattered to him, this treasure. And nothing else. No one else.

Rufus soon trailed far behind the excited crowd. He even stopped to rest on the way a couple of times. When he reached Golgotha, two men had already been crucified and hoisted up on the hill. The bigger cross to which Jesus was nailed was being hoisted between the two already crucified supported by a large boulder of rock, the largest in the vicinity. The inscription above the bowed head of Jesus read, “Behold, the king of the Jews”.

One would think that these dogs would at least cover them with loincloths, Rufus spat. He turned Alexander’s head away from the crudeness – Eleazer was no stranger to such sights and little Rufus was by now snoring softly against his chest. Looking around, he quickly spotted Simon seated on a small rock some distance away, obviously spent by the tortuous climb beneath the weight of that cross. On sighting his father, Alexander pulled away and raced into Simon’s arms. Rufus made over to them, he laid the still sleeping Rufus on a small piece of cloth Eleazer took out of his bag. He drank some water, offered Simon some then sat down to catch his breath.

“Hold it!!!” Rufus bolted up, one hand automatically reaching for his dagger…

…to be continued

The Medallion – III

…continued from The Medallion – II

After they found it, one of his contingency plans would roll into action; none of them held a good end for good ol’ Simon of Cyrene…

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“Oho!” Simon exclaimed. He had been studying the clue for a while; they put their heads very close together to hear each other above the noise of the teeming crowd.

“The Place of Skulls, you see that?” he pointed at the line, “that is Golgotha. It is on the outskirts, well beyond the city’s gates. But it is uphill and the road is very rocky so it might take a while to get there.”

“Hmm…” was all Rufus said while contemplating the best tactic to make Simon lead him to Golgotha.

But before he could think a nickel’s worth, the man offered to do so himself.

“I can take you if you want” he said, like an answer to a prayer. Rufus nodded enthusiastically, afraid to say a word lest he jinx his good fortune.

“This way,” Simon led the way, shepherding Alexander along while little Rufus stayed glued to his chest. “We must pass by the Praetorium,” Simon talked as he walked, apparently relishing his tour-guide role, “there is only one major road leading out of Jerusalem this time of the year but once we cross the city’s gates, we can choose from a number of bye-ways”

In the Praetorium, the crowd was swallowed up in its own uproar. In the center, Rufus saw the condemned man – Jesus – sprawled on the ground surrounded by a horde of soldiers. Sprawled on the floor like that clad only in his undergarment, he looked every inch a child, a badly whipped son. He was coiled into himself in a fetal roll with his back in the direction of the courtyard from which Rufus emerged with his companions. One look at Jesus’ back and Rufus knew.

The first lesson every youngster learnt growing up in the thief’s colony out in the outskirts of Capernaum was that a man who squealed on his fellow thieves was a beast and therefore wont to be treated like one. The punishment for such a betrayal was whipping. Now there were whips and there was the whip. When it came to a traitor, the whip was used; it was called the Hushrat, also known as ‘the screamer’.

A long winding work of metal from handle to flailing tip, the average Hushrat was two-branched, each branch firmly fitted with little curved hooks all along its length. While being whirled in the air, it gave off sounds akin to those of screaming babies; when it landed on the bare back of its victim, the hooks lodged themselves firmly in the tissue of the back so that when the whip was hurled back, each hook came away with its own ‘pound of flesh’ leaving a gushing mess of tissue behind and a screaming victim – ‘the screamer’! The handling of the Hushrat was a skill mastered by a lineage of men in the colony at the time and many a generation lived and passed on without showing off the skill on a man; the punishment was very rarely employed, reserved only for the worst breach of the colony’s codes of conduct.

The marks on the back of the condemned man, Rufus saw, were courtesy of a Hushrat but this wasn’t just any Hushrat, the gullies of red tissue and blood criss-crossing his back were like none Rufus had ever seen. As if to confirm his fears, one of the soldiers unceremoniously dropped the whip splattering blood and tissue on the stone floor. One look at the Hushrat and Rufus felt a chill shake him down to the knees. This Hushrat was four-branched! And each of the four branches split into two branches at the tip, little razor-sharp hooks glistened red along the lengths to the very tip of all the branches. Rufus did not need to see Jesus’ face to know the anguish he was feeling but he looked as the prisoner turned up on his back. His eyes were tightly shut, so tight that his entire head quivered with the effort and his hands clenched by the side vibrated with raw agony. His mouth was open in a soundless cry as blood and spittle dribbled out into his brown beard.

He could barely stand but the soldiers forced him up. Rufus watched as a soldier threw a purple scraggly robe on the floor, extricated his phallus without the least care for modesty in a crowd of women and children, and pissed on the cloth. Laughing maniacally, he picked up the foul garment and threw it over the condemned man, mauled back and all.

Rufus felt his teeth clench involuntarily in empathy for the poor man who now stood in a hunched position, his clenched hands quivering in an evident struggle to keep a hold of his sanity. Another soldier walked up and slammed what turned out to be a crown on his head. Rufus thought it was a mere wooden crown but upon impact with his head, Jesus’ knees buckled and his eyes sprang open in pained shock. His mouth snapped shut and immediately sprang open again in another cry that should have been a full-throated scream but only came out as a gurgled whine. Lines of blood-mixed saliva crisscrossed the distance between his gaping lips and his quivering hands sprang to his head in reflex but were quickly beat away with sticks. The crown, Rufus saw, was woven out of branches of the Burbar tree whose branches sported thorns sometimes as long as a man’s little finger. The brutality of it was almost incredible but the crowd did not mind. They jeered and jubilated the entire time.

Disgusted, Rufus turned away from the sight. Dragging Eleazer along a tad roughly, he turned to Simon. “Let us go”.

Simon was already pale in the face – his boys were not faring any better – but he turned up his hands in a gesture of helplessness, “This is the only way out to the city gates”. Rufus grunted, exasperated.

“Make way!”

He made it out of the way just in time to avoid getting cudgeled by an enormous wooden cross being dragged in by two burly soldiers, huffing and puffing with the effort. As much as he hated to watch, Rufus felt his eyes drawn to this Jesus-man where he knelt on the floor; the purple robe was already soaked through, dripping blood off of its ragged edges and blood ran down his face in rivulets from where the Burbar thorns had pierced his head.

Jesus was dragged up again and the massive cross was thrust upon him. He struggled to adjust to the massive weight and in the process staggered towards a section of the crowd; the man towards whom he had blindly staggered let out a ripping slap on his face punctuated by a kick to the behind. Jesus fell and the cross landed on him with a sickening thud. People spat on him from every side; one woman who had spat twice and missed him moved closer, ignoring the teeming soldiers, and aimed a hoarse glob of mucus at the fallen man’s face. Only when it landed on his face did she turn around and skitter back into the crowd, her accomplishment earning her a few pats on the back. Rufus couldn’t help but wonder how one man could have so acutely offended so many people in one lifetime.

The soldiers had by then blocked the wide exit from the Praetorium into the city so that no one else could go through before Jesus with his cross. So Rufus stood to the side holding on to Eleazer with no choice but to watch the scene unfolding before him.

He watched as another woman disregarded the whips and menacing armory of the soldiers and ran to the place where Jesus had stayed fallen. This one did not spit on him however. Entranced, Rufus watched her say a few soft words into his ear and with visible pained effort, Jesus raised his head; unfolding a white piece of cloth which looked to have been dipped in water, she wiped his face. Even though Rufus didn’t see how wiping the face of a man in such predicaments could help any matters, the nerve of the woman and the affection with which she had executed the task had him blinking furiously, forcing back unmanly tears!

The soldiers pushed her away and she scurried back towards a horde of women huddled together a few feet away but within sight of the suffering man. She handed the blood-soaked cloth to a petite woman who stood hunched over in the center of the weeping horde. wearing a simple white robe with a blue cloak thrown over her hair and torso. All the women were weeping loudly, some rolled and trashed about on the floor but took care to stay a safe distance away from the soldiers while some others pulled at their hair and hugged their children hard to their bosoms. But this woman who stood in the center wept silently. She was dressed in a simple white robe which was now stained brown by dust in many places, and the edges of a blue woolen cloak half-perching on her hair and shoulders trailed in the dust, forgotten. Quiet tears slid down her cheeks while her eyes screamed anguish; Rufus felt the intensity of her agony, the helpless fury of it more than he saw it. With shaking hands, the woman raised the blood-soaked cloth to her face; it wasn’t clear if she was sobbing into it or just hiding her face from the havoc being wrecked on Jesus a few feet away. With every stroke of the Hushrat, every blow, every slap the condemned man was dealt, she cringed visibly.

Rufus looked over at Simon whose distressed face now trailed a line of tears.

“His mother, Mary” he answered.

The Medallion – I

2057 years ago…

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Rufus hated crowds; the heat and noise of them, the slimy feel of sweaty bodies, choking pressure of body stench and putrid breaths…he hated it all. Rufus, son of Gozan, grandson of Elah of the house of Mikah the Nazarene, hated crowds – it was a farcical irony. His father and his ancestors before him had all made names for themselves as ‘crowd-lovers’. ‘Pocket-pinchers’, ‘pick-pockets’, they had been known by a variety of names; his ancestors had brought a style to the trade that immortalized them. In the circle of thieves, everyone knew the story of Elah and the lucky coin of Herod the Third. A master-heist, the nimble-fingered Elah had picked the favored coin right out of the king’s pocket in the middle of a feast. And for a long time, he held the record only to be bettered years later by his own son, Gozan who hijacked Pharaoh’s signet ring off of the monarch’s finger during a festival in Egypt. It was a family trade, a tradition among the sons of Mikah; every street-wise Galilean knew that the sons of Mikah were the best ‘crowd-lovers’ in the whole of Israel.

So it was indeed laughable that Rufus hated crowds. But at that moment, the man himself was not laughing. Standing a few inches below the nose of the tallest man in the crowd with ‘dead’ brown eyes, a button nose and equally peony mouth, Rufus was a blender. Only his hands gave away the potency of his ancestral blood – long, nimble fingers as straight and thin as the needly pines of the river Coza – but they were tucked away beneath the midnight-black cloak he had on. The cloak also covered two score years of sinews and muscles, and most of his ten-year old son. The boy moved again and Rufus unable to take his squirming anymore, let him out. He never should have brought him along on this job.

Eleazer stepped out of the gloomy cover of his father’s cloak, shook the sweat out of his black curls and proceeded to stretch and strain for a view of the Gabbatha. As Rufus stared at his offspring, a liquid feeling of warmth welled up in him and he cursed. It had taken only a glimpse, one look at those black curls a decade ago and he had known he was in for a lifetime of sacrifice. His taste for women of loose virtue, his drinking spars, even the trade of his fathers had all been sacrificed. The latter was a necessary change, Rufus admitted, because as regaled as their tales were, Rufus and his father had been avoided like the plague wherever they went. It was the curse of ‘crowd-lovers’, for nobody wanted to be around a purse-pincher. Among the circles of embezzlers, looters, reapers and criminals, they were the vermin of the lot, relegated to the bottom of the ladder. Because he wanted a better life for Eleazer than the outcast one he had been raised in, Rufus had upped his ante a little bit. Now he was a bounty-hunter; and when he wasn’t hunting down some wanted dead or alive criminal, he did a few jewelry heists. He was on one of those at the moment, an easy pickup-and-deliver which was safe enough for him to handle as a side-attraction on this trip to Bethany with Eleazer. His instructions were simple –

stand at the rear in the company of the pricks

covered in a cloak as dark as burnt out wicks;

your task will come borne by a troll,

penned in ink on a temple scroll.

So he was in his black cloak, positioned just at the rear of the throng of chief priests and Levites – ‘pricks’ in the underground world of crime – awaiting his task. These occasional heists served more for fun and to sate his raging ancestral blood than anything else. He only hoped earnestly, that the troll in his instructions was a figure of speech.

When he could stand the boy’s stretching and straining no longer, Rufus picked him up and plopped him on a shoulder so he could get a better view. Eleazer smiled his elation down at his father’s face; Rufus only grunted and turned his eyes to the Gabbatha where a chubby girl was doing a dance. The feast of unleavened bread had commenced the day before and it was the Preparation day – a day before the Sabbath – so the people were in a festive mood. She finished the dance and was rewarded with a few gold coins by the governor who sat atop a stone throne on the Gabbatha. Rufus cracked a wry smile at the gesture; the rulers had learnt a hard lesson from the case of Herod who had promised a dancing girl whatever she requested and had had to behead a favored prisoner in honor of that promise.

The applause soon died down and two soldiers dragged a prisoner up on stage. Suddenly, something small and lithe slammed into Rufus from behind. The word ‘troll’ flashed in his head and he whirled around with his heart in mouth. The little head of red curls turned up in his direction with a wide grin showing off rows of missing teeth and Rufus just stood bewildered.

“Rufus!!!”

Futuo!” Rufus cursed. He instantly spun around to again face the Gabbatha, making sure his cloak hid his face completely. What kind of idiot yelled the name of a contact in a crowd? Already he was scanning the grounds for the closest exit route.

“Rufus!!!” he heard again, closer this time. Rufus pulled his bronze-handled dagger from below his belt and held it at the ready beneath his cloak. Clutching the oblivious Eleazer tighter with his other hand, he waited. He would teach the fool a little lesson before hauling the hell out of there, his eye having zeroed in on the perfect escape route – the east entrance streaming with people.

“Rufus?!”

Even closer. He clutched his dagger tighter…

Mugando – “I swear to you…”

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They think they have won, that their victory is assured. And I do not blame them. We do not look anything near dangerous; not with our soil-strewn farm wears, pitch-forks, axes, machetes and dane guns. If anything, we look imbecilic, especially in comparison to the sight before us: neatly-aligned rows of gleaming sinewy bodies sheathed in equally gleaming armor, armored horses hoofing up the red earth beneath them are hitched to fire-red chariots stocked with swords, spears, arrows and cannons.

You won’t believe it but I swear to you that they have lost.

Standing here beneath the blazing sun, a ragged motley of men, we are not the farmers they see. We are not even men. We are empty containers yearning for the devil’s manipulation. We shed neither blood nor tears, we break neither bones nor heart, we only kill and die.

And it is all thanks to them. They made us this way when they rode into our village while we were away, stole our harvest and burnt out huts to the ground; when they tore open the bellies of our pregnant wives and fed the bloody fetuses to their dogs; when they defiled our children and stripped away the sheer curtains that protected our pride. They made us unbeatable.

They think they have won, that their victory is assured. But I swear to you that they are wrong.

I hear my blood bubbling up just behind the wall of my throat, and my heart thudding funeral beats as the sun sinks lower in the horizon. Or perhaps it is the blood and the heart of the men all around me that I hear. We are men of different tastes, colors and families but today, we unite as one. The heat of our resolve makes the sands jump and turns the sweat on our skins to vapor. It will only be assuaged by death – ours and theirs.

I can see their commander prancing to and fro along their frontline, he is very sure of victory. But I swear to you that he has lost. He inspects a sword, spots dust on a shield and harries a slouching man. He is yelling, calling on them to fight for their king and their god, Vusu. I pity them, the rabid dogs. They can take all the time, pray all they want, we are in no hurry. We have no one to fight for – Alab Muntah hanged himself from the center beam of his inner chambers in submission to the sentence of the Inner Council and our god, Mijashu, we broke into pieces and set ablaze ourselves. We are a kingless and godless lot, soul-less demons waiting for the doomed enemy to advance.

And eventually they do, their mouths open in war chants we cannot hear, their pounding footfalls raising dust we cannot see. We stand still, mute, waiting. Their arrows hit their mark and their cannons tear gaping holes in our numbers. But we dust off the blood of our brothers, we kick aside the corpses of our sons, and we wait.

We have waited a long time…I have waited too long.

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I am Mugando Xubhallallah Djibitou, descendant of Xhodashimu, the great zuzula of the ageless Zulu dynasty. And I swear to you that today, they have lost.