Prose

Ascension

I kneel in the nights
Before tigers that will not let me be;

What you were
Will not happen again.

The tigers have found me:
And I do not care.

Charles Bukowski, For Jane

WHEN I was younger and religion was more than a word, I would take long walks while they slept, hoping to find something they’d never see. Night after night, I’d stalk the streets in search of something more—past dingy alleys with rabid dogs; past old men whispering sun-kissed songs; past small, warm houses with doors shut tight, a wisp of smoke curling into the darkling sky. And as dawn would break and the world awaken, I would trudge home tired and sleepy and a little broken.

This went on for a while until it seemed that there was nothing left to break and that final night even the dogs gave up their growling out of pity, for what is more pathetic than the one who has lost his beloved? Cold, hungry and a little soul sick, I vowed that that night would be the last and that my journey would finally end, one way or another. I slid a hand into my pocket until it touched steel and, thus resolved, set off towards the bay.

The night was bitterly cold and the desolate stretch of beach held no redemption. The fishermen’s favela was silent and the only lights were at the whorehouse in the distance. I looked out at the taunting waves. The dark waters had no metaphors to offer. A drunk stumbled out of the brothel and collapsed on the sand. I stared at him for a long, long while. Then, without looking back, I ran.

***

THE old city. I doubled over to catch my breath and coughed twice, sweat dripping onto the cobblestone streets. The revolver dug into my side. This is a good a place as any.

“Are you lost, my son?”

I looked up. Something moved in one of the dark recesses. An old man shuffled out, wearing the garb of a Sufi.

“I am not lost. I am tired.”

“Tired?”

“Yes.”

“Ah, I see.”

“I don’t think you do, baba.”

“I see that there is much sadness in your eyes.”

“You are a man of God. I do not wish to blasphemy before you.”

“Have you heard of Hallaj?”

“Of course.”

“Then speak your mind with ease, and do not use that word ‘blasphemy’ again. It is a word of the ignorant.”

***

And so it was that a Sinner found God in the dust of an ancient city by the sea.

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