A man emerges from the darkness and the rain, claiming to be the saviour.
|It’s an urban setting of sinners where Oxycodone flows through vagabond veins.
From the darkness comes a bold declaration, ‘I am Jesus!’
It cuts through heavy breeze but fails to register.
‘I am Jesus!’
A figure steps forward into the glow of a lonely streetlight.
‘The truth I tell you, I have returned’. The voice is raspy but weak, unrelenting in its conviction.
It raises a few faces, a grin and an eyebrow; it initiates a quartet of cackles.
‘You what, mate?’ queries a crouching tramp, his face dripping with neutered rain.
‘I am Jesus’ repeats the figure. His chipmunk cheeks and bulging stomach are ill fit for the small, scoliosis inflicted body.
‘Lay off the drugs’ jokes one of the tramps. In actuality, not one of them is sober. In hand, each has a can of overly affordable cider: sweet, sickly and alien to fruit.
One of the men, Greg, is nursing a crisp packet. He shifts his attention for a moment to examine the Messiah: the sponge-painted beard, he thinks, is as uninspiring as the narrow broken posture which bolsters dense flab. Greg had always imagined Jesus would have more of a presence, be better looking, perhaps Guevara-clad.
The Messiah begins his address, ‘From my humblest days in Nazareth, I have spent my life with sinners like yourselves; surrender to God, be cleansed and reap the rewards’. As he speaks a feculent odour wafts its way from the dirt-tanned tramps and firmly embeds itself in his nostrils.
‘To the Kingdom of heaven we will go’ orders the Messiah, ‘…you will have faith and follow’.
The first rough sleeper to respond is Karl. Even sat on the ground he’s tall. He turns in his faux sheepskin jacket to deliver his verdict. ‘Bollocks to that’ he says; the heavy evening air fills his struggling lungs as he reluctantly inhales.
‘I’ll go’ says Greg. His enthusiasm clashes with Karl’s dozy demeanour. Greg stands; the glint of his eyes distracts from his matted hair and bony face.
For the potential of drunken amusement arise the remaining two, Dominic and Michael. Even before setting off they begin to subject the Messiah to their banter:
Will there be beer?
Play your cards right and he might make you some wine.
‘This way’ says the Messiah defiantly. He takes them to the mouth of a long street which leads through the industrial district. Rows of orange streetlights give silver streams of rain a ghostly tint. The lights are guiding lanterns along their path.
‘Have you ever been with a woman?’ asks Michael.
‘I’ve known pleasures of the flesh’ responds the Messiah.
‘...And food you fat fuck. How big was that last supper?’
Michael pauses at the sight of a shattered bottle. He leans down and glances at a shard. He takes it as an opportunity to milk his spots and slick back his hair, wink at his reflection and grin with content.
‘Why are we walking to heaven?’ asks Dominic facetiously.
‘Have faith’ demands the Messiah, ‘God’s glorious kingdom awaits us’.
Dominic feels the cold night’s breeze fight with his stocky build. He curses for release. His growing regret of playing along in the charade is ephemerally diminished by Michael’s vocal philosophical musings.
‘God only exists for people who need him’ says Michael, as he trudges along; ‘Only for people who need him’.
After a few silent minutes of walking, Greg begins to question the Messiah with childlike curiosity, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’
The Messiah gives him an answer, ‘You have free will and humans can be cruel’. Greg eagerly accepts.
Inorganic fumes from industrial decay give way to the enticing smell of deep-fried food. The tramps’ damp faces are illuminated by the lighting of a roadside fast food outlet. The Messiah leads the tramps into its vacant car park. In sight is the drive-through: open but unattended. They stop and stand not far from a child’s play area where the Messiah pauses in reverence.
‘What about earthquakes or hurricanes?’ asks Greg, ‘That’s God isn’t it?’
The Messiah doesn’t answer but he says something better: ‘We’re here’.
He points to his kingdom: a tacky plastic playhouse for children, chipped, discoloured and glazed with a tawdry shimmering paint. Beside it are a soiled sandpit and a hollow plastic seesaw. There’s no sign of man or god.
Greg can’t conceal his broken expression, ‘I trusted you’ he says gently weeping. He feels a sharp, almost debilitating rise of anger. In contrast, Dominic and Michael cackle hysterically; for them the playhouse is an unexpected and much welcome conclusion to their journey.
Reunified by Greg’s violent emotion, the three tramps huddle together to make an attack formation. They swiftly pin the Messiah against the playhouse wall. His body is limp as he abandons the struggle. Greg chokes him as Dominic takes from the ground a discarded paper crown and sets it on their former leader’s head.
They take pleasure as they jeer the self-proclaimed messiah, in unison they cry- ‘Hail the king of the bums! Hail the king of the bums!’ One interjects, ‘God is dead but we are free’, before gaily adding, ‘Long live king of the bums! Hail the king of the bums!’
The undersized kids’ meal crown is unmoved as the junky ex-priest falls to his knees and harrowingly cries out: ‘Why have you forsaken me?!’