Different Floors of the House

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Guiseppe's Crossing--Second Installment

Installment One is Here
Installment Three is Here

Part Four—Consensus and utterances

The fourth day brought heat like none of the prior. Even very early in the morning, the blistering, exposed skin of the dying man became irritated and made him nautious. But the pain was not altogether excruciating. Whatever medicine the peregrine monk had applied to him the day before had helped numb his sense of pain. Certainly, he was very uncomfortable and his wrists were sore beyond the cure of any drug, but the completeness of his agony had been subdued and opiated.

There was something else that aided the dying man on this day as well. He noticed a small bud on the branch to which his right arm was nailed. It was a mere tiny, green spurt of growth, glistening in the sun. He bent his head as far forward as he could toward the ground and pondered the dried blood on the roots of the great tree. A slight smile came about his face—but that was fleeting. Anger filled his eyes after that. And after that he tried not to sweat—which was, of course, an endeavor of futility and impossibility.

It was on this day, the day of the budding, that the Bedouin sent a delegation out to the tree of the dying man. They came, about fifteen of them. They kept their distance from the dying man because they were told about the diseases of foreigners. They talked at the dying man for hours into the day, but he said nothing in return. Then finally, a young man and his two brothers approached the tree. The two brothers boosted the other up into the mangled branches of the tree. The first thing this young man noticed was the small green budding on the branch. He smiled at the dying man and said:

“We’ve come to get you down from this inhumane torture.” He continued to smile. “But we need to make certain that you pose no threat to our children.” The dying man still said nothing, he didn’t even grunt. It seemed to the young Bedouin that the dying man was staring past him, at the burgeoning growth at the end of the branch. The young man looked down to his brothers for counsel, but they both shrugged and shook their heads.

“Do you speak my language?” Asked the young nomad.

The dying man nodded.

“He nods!” The young man yelled out to the delegation. The crowd murmured and mumbled.

“I will bring our physician up here to unbind you?”

The dying man shook his head. And then he seemed to nod his head, but he did it frantically, as if pointing downward with his chin.

“Is there something down there?”

The dying man nodded but then tried to utter a word but no sound formed in his voice.

“There is something!” Said one of the brothers standing near the bloody base of the tree. “There, in his loincloth!”

The young Bedouin shimmied down the trunk a bit and retrieve a blood-stained parchment from the only piece of clothing the dying man had been afforded.

He opened it up slowly, so as not to destroy it.

“What does it say?” Asked the contingent. “Read it to us!” They demanded.

“It says,” started the young man, “By decree of the high lord and most exalted master, Sul al Val, ruler of these lands and the people therein, the following: This man, being subject to the laws of these lands, is sentenced to bear out the rest of his days on the tree of Malachi in the desert of Zoab. Let it be known that any person or person’s happening upon this living criminal shall not take part in letting him down from this tree. For this is his punishment until he is dead.”

A bevy of responses ensued. Some said “that is that” and wanted to leave immediately. Others asked who this Sul al Val was because no one there had ever heard of this ruler or his power over any man. Some others demanded they let the man down and bring him to the caravan. But there was no consensus.

The young Bedouin, seeing the discord among his peers, turned to the dying man and asked him if he could try to talk, for it would help them decide what to do.

“Tell me what crime you commited.” He said softly into the dying man’s ear. “Tell me so that we can decide what to do.”

Then he leaned his ear near the mouth of the dying man because it seemed he might say something.

And he did.

“He speaks!”

More murmering and mumbling.

“What did he say?” Asked one onlooker.

But the young man looked confused and shook his head.

“Was it profane?” Inquired another.

“Was it decipherable?”

“Was it didactic?”

“Did he curse you?”

“How many words?”

“Tell us!” They yelled.

“Two words,” the young man informed them, “he spoke only two words.”

“Well, what were they?”

They all grew quiet awaiting the answer. The young man stood there silent for a few seconds before saying anything.

“Meep oar.” He said calmly. “He said: “Meep oar.”

“Meep oar? That doesn’t mean anything at all!” They yelled.

“This is child speak!”

“Barbaric utterance!”

“What language is this?”

No one was certain. These traveled men, who had been introduced to nearly all the languages of the world, found it hard to unravel the meaning of these words. But after some time, one member of the group thought he might recognize one of the words.

“There is a language from way beyond our world in which an oar is a stick that rows a boat!” Said one after some thought.

“Yes!” Replied another, “maybe he was on a boat called the ‘Meep’.”

“That sounds possible,” said another, “maybe he killed the captain of his boat with an oar!”

“He’s a murderer!” Said two or three onlookers at the same time. Then others joined in, whispering the word “murderer” to each other.

So finally a consensus was reached. They would leave the dying man on the tree to his fate—for fate is how they viewed it. Only the three brothers and a few others were unimpressed by the delegation’s decision. But, they were in the minority, and had to succumb to the wishes of the group.

“I will see what I can do.” Said the young man to the dying man. “We will bring wisdom to these unengaged vagabonds. Do not die.”

Then the three brothers left the dying man and followed after the rest of the group. They consoled each other and patted each other on the back as they disappeared from the dying man’s sight.

Part Five—Happiness is a construction

Days passed in the desert. The sun, a whipping flame warden, crept and increased the day’s length. The moon flew by, an orb of chill mockery. The birds, cruel harbingers, cawed the song they caw on death’s eve. As the days passed, hunger waxed and with it grew the pain and sorrow and anger of the dying man. Through all this however, the fledgling bud grew and a toddling hope piqued.

Do not die.

And he did not.

They are coming back for you.

And they did.

True to his word, the young Bedouin returned with his brothers on the third day since they had left. On their shoulders they harnessed sticks from which dangled bags of food, water and other bundled supplies. The dying man, ever distraught by his hunger and pain, managed to smile at them as they approached his tree and climbed up with food and water.

He drank and ate and took medicine. The effects were immediate. Strength returned to him. The three brothers then unwrapped long boards that they had carried on their backs. Then they unsheathed hammers and brought out small pouches full of nails. They then produced a saw and another saw of very sharp steel. This initially brought fear into the eyes of the dying man. He wondered if he had just received his last meal. But this was not the case.

Through the hot day, the brothers climbed the tree to the thickest of the very high branches above the dying man. And through the day they hammered and sawed and sawed and hammered. The dying man could not see what they were doing, but above him a shade was growing and his tortured skin was relieved, at least in part, from the stinging brand of the sun.

With their work completed near the end of the hottest part of the day, the three brothers climbed down to the dying man. Using harnesses they had created, they surrounded the dying man.

“This is going to hurt, my friend.” Said the young Bedouin. And with that, the other brothers clasped their hands around the nails that bound him to the tree. The dying man fainted before they even began pulling.

When the nails were dislodged, the brothers set to work cutting the barbed wire from around the dying man’s body and plucking the barbs from his body, one by one. The dying man awoke as they were hoisting him upward toward the tree house they had built for him that day. Great twinges of pain filled the dying man’s body, and as he ascended the tree his blood began to seep out of the holes left by his puncture wounds.

After pulling the dying man into the tree house they medicated and bandaged his wounds, gave him some hash powder to help him sleep and set down some straw for him to sleep on. Becoming very drowsy, the dying man motioned for the young Bedouin to come close to him.

“Thank Ew.” He whispered in the young man’s ear.

“Are you satisfied, then?” Asked the Bedouin.

“Happy.” He said. Then he slept.

Part Six—A far, better place

The dying man awoke the next morning on his back. This pleased him and he laughed out loud—which hurt very much, so he laughed a little softer. Around him were four wooden walls, a wooden roof and a wooden floor with a wooden hatch with a wooden handle that could be lifted for coming in and going out. The room that had been constructed for him was approximately eight feet from south to north and near twelve feet from east to west. It was not a lot of space in this little wooden cell, but it seemed like a castle in the sky to the dying man. There were two square windows cut into the southerly and northerly walls so that he could see over the dune to the south and out to the sea to the north.

From the hatch in the floor a rope dangled. The rope was laced with intermittent knots up and down it, presumably for climbing. The dying man pulled himself up to the south window when he saw a wisp of smoke pass by it.

Down there, at the base of the sand dune was a small campfire burning. Huddled over it was the young Bedouin man. There was a lean-to, a makeshift shelter nestled into the slant of the dune.

“Hello?” Said the dying man in a weakly voice. The young Bedouin turned his head toward the window and waved and smiled.

“Good morning! Good morning! How are your injuries? Do you need medicine?” The young man got up and slung a leather bag over his shoulder.


The young man briskly climbed the rope and entered the dying man’s treetop house. He laid the dying man back down on the straw and began changing bandages and applying ointment all over his body. He had brought a robe for the dying man, but he declined it due to the pain it would cause. After tending to the wounds of the dying man, he fetched a broth he had been brewing and slowing fed it to the dying man with some olives and bread.

“We were able to sway the people toward a new opinion.” He said softly as he lifted a spoonful of broth to the dying man’s lips. “We’ve reached an agreement of sorts. I persuaded them to realize that the decree of the ruler who put you here was to do exactly that—keep you here…on this tree.”

The dying man raised his eyebrows and nodded.

“Yes. You see, you are meant to be kept on this tree, that is what is written, but the manner of your incarceration was not defined.”

“I see.” Said the dying man.

“So, we decided to build for you this house and to take up your care. It is the right and moral thing to do, we think.”

“I see.”

“We were also able to form a consensus on how were going to help you.” The young Bedouin continued. “We have agreed to all chip in a little bit to help you recover. All of my people are giving a little bit to this cause, for we think it is right.”

The dying man looked for a moment at the face of the young benevolent Bedouin, the dropped his eyes toward the floor.
“Thank you.” He whispered.

“Not necessary to thank me. This is the right thing to do.” The Bedouin caressed the wounds on the dying man’s neck and forehead. “I see you’re regaining your voice.”

“Words…come hard.”

“I know.” The Bedouin’s voice was soothing and consoling. “I know they do.”

There they sat silent for a few minutes, gazing out at the white sands to the south or the hazy sea to the north. The young Bedouin continued to help the dying man eat and drink until he was content.

“There is one stipulation to our aiding you, however.” He placed the bowl of soup on the floor and bent down to look the dying man in the eyes. “You must stay on this tree. This is the commandment of your sentence, and we don’t wish to incur the wrath of the local magistrate or whoever it was that handed this fate to you.”

The dying man continued to stare at the wooden planks of his new house. He gave no response.

The Bedouin man grabbed the dying man by the hair and lifted his head sharply. “You must do this.” He said in a warning tone. “You must abide by this rule or we will not help you.” He let go his grasp and placed a gentle hand on the dying man’s shoulder. “This is for the greater good—for your own good.”

The dying man turned over and sat himself up against the thin wall. The Bedouin took a white robe from his bag and placed it on the dying man’s lap.

“Besides,” said the young man, laughing, “where will you go? The sea to the north is treacherous and all other ways lead to sand. Endless sand.”

He viewed the dying man with squinting eyes and reached out to wipe the sweat of his captive’s brow with a small piece of cloth. The dying man recoiled initially, but after a second stuck out his head and allowed the Bedouin to cleanse his brow.

Then they sat together in the tree house, saying little, until the sun fell. When the dying man had finally fallen asleep under his new roof, the young Bedouin made his way down the rope and lay down next to the hill of sand. He took from his belongings a long sheathed scimitar, placed it on his chest under a blanket, and lay in the sand watching as the violet blanket of night covered all the land. And then he slept.

Part Seven—Res Lumen

What do you know? The purple sparks dance and skitter across the desert floor like dusty sand in a summer gust. Alight in the darkness of the night. And no one is awake enough to see them.

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