Until the shadows flee away – a Christian short story by Linde Eller
Motionless I cower on the ground like a mortally wounded animal. My limbs are stiff with cold. My eyes sting from the countless tears I have shed, even though they are dry now – emptied. My hair clings to my face in tangled, sticky skeins. On my cheeks, on my mouth I feel the dried blood. Its salty taste lingers on my lips. I do not know which of it originated from me – when I was biting my lips, scratching my face in powerless anguish over his fate – and which of it originated from him – when I was kissing his bloodied feet, clinging to them in abysmal desperation, as if that could restore life to the tortured body drained of all moisture.
I hear myself groaning so loudly that the rocks reverberate with the noise abruptly shattering the nightly silence. An inhuman, eerie sound, like the hoot of a lonesome owl, harbinger of death, like the howl of a starving wolf, like the terrified cry of a fatally wounded doe. Above me black clouds loom, drifting in front of a pale sickle moon. Dense, tangled trees cast ghostly shadows onto the stony cave holes. The heavy scents of night-blooming flowers waft through the garden, mocking me with their sweetness, pretending that beauty still existed. They oppress my senses, mingling with the smell of blood in my nose, threatening to drown me in further endless unwept tears. He always loved the gardens so much. And now everything has come to an end.
I am alone here. The others have all left. I will stay here. All night. Forever. My life lies dead behind these walls – where then should I go?
I did not want to let go of him, they had to wrench me away from him, many together, they had to loosen my arms, my fingers, my face, my lips from him singly by force. Could be that I hit them, kicked at them. I am sorry about that now.
Then only Joanna was holding me, and we were weeping together. And then Joanna left, too.
I have never felt so abandoned, so lost, so bereaved in my whole life, not even back then before he came. Only she who has felt the sun on her skin can know how cold the night is.
Verses of a song are coming to my mind, the song I was not allowed to hear before I would reach the age of thirty – and even then I should only listen to it, not read it myself – listen to it spoken from the mouth of my husband – the husband I never had – and yet I read that song secretly at the age of fifteen and kept it in my memory as my greatest treasure.
“All night long on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.”
Fragments of a text I used to mouth to myself so often, yet whose truth I found in no city, in no-one’s arms, with no human being – until he came – and one word from his mouth killed the death in my soul; until he came – and one look from his eyes planted the lily in my garden.
“I looked for him but did not find him.
I called him but he did not answer.
The watchmen found me
as they made their rounds in the city.
They beat me, they bruised me;
they took away my covering” –
The covering that he had given back to me. He, who is gone now. They took away him – I’d rather have them beat me. They took him out of my reach, behind these heavy stones, behind walls of rock he lies entombed. Never again will I be able to touch him. And even if I may, it will not be him any longer.
“His lips like lilies dripping with myrrh” –
Now they are cold and waxen, never again will I feel them on mine. My hoarse voice is screaming his death out into the night.
When they laid his corpse at our feet, I thought the whole world had died with him. When I saw his tortured body, the gaping wounds, I thought I would die. My brother was killed brutally, too, but he perished with a sword in his hand, with a suit of armour on his body. My brother lost his life as an outlaw, too – the Romans know we are one of the most rebellious tribes – but he died honourably in battle, in hand-to-hand combat. He was not publicly ridiculed, harrowingly tortured, ignominiously murdered. I’m whimpering softly.
A strong wind has arisen and blows through my flimsy garment, but I do not care. It slashes the dark, grey-black clouds to shreds, sweeps them away bit by bit. After the tempest here and there the first few stars are appearing. He had always loved to silently watch the stars. And I with him. They are so clear, so pure, unspoilt, inaccessible. Ancient Greek legends float through my mind, fragments like the shreds of cloud above me, stories of humans, animals, beings who died and were transferred to heaven, now illuminating mankind forever as resplendent stellar constellations.
For a moment it seems as if the faraway heavenly bodies were winking at me consolingly. But only for a fleeting moment. Those are merely tales, myths, lies which even Roman emperors claim for themselves. No human being is transformed into a star. Their bodies decay, putrefy, decompose. Their souls – I do not know.
The stars – they are twinkling as if there was still hope, as if there was still life, as if there was still something good in this world. But they are not of this world. Here everything is corrupted, hopelessly forlorn. All my strength has melted, run down and trickled away like the snow off the mountains. I am defenceless, vulnerable, orphaned, like an infant in the wilderness, like ashes in the wind, like a person without skin. My only star has been extinguished.
On the Eastern horizon a red streak is starting to show. Blood red. Crimson red.
Bright red like the jagged wounds on his back. Deep red like the pools in the chinks of the cobble stone pavement beneath countless unheeding feet. Darkblackred like the splintery wood saturated with his blood.
Glowing red like the embers of the camp fire whose gradual dying down I used to watch under the dark night sky so many times snuggled into the shelter of his arms. Scorching red like the flames within me whose blaze will never die down, which cannot be quenched by the tears that are biting their tracks once more into my smarting cheeks.
“Love burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.”
I take a deep breath and straighten myself, raise my face towards the dawn.
“Love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.”
If this grave does not yield up its body, how much more will my love not yield up the person it belonged to! If death is stubbornly persevering here, I will stubbornly persevere at least as long! We shall see who will win, we shall see whether love is not even stronger than death!
When the sun has risen, I will go and perform my daily tasks, I will do everything to pay my last respects to him. But I shall return, every morning, when the night draws to its end, even while the dark still lingers I shall return, I shall sit here, waiting and seeking. My love will stare death in the eye until one of us lowers their lids. My passion will ask, persistently, tenaciously, relentlessly, endlessly, ask everyone I will see, whether men or angels, enemies or watchmen, everyone will be asked, asked again and again. And if they chide me, if they curse me, if the watchmen beat me, if they take away my covering, yes even if the Roman soldiers slay me – I will not stop asking:
“Have you seen the one my soul loves?”
Slowly day is dawning, and looking around me I can see and hear the signs of life awakening between the trees.
“My beloved has gone down to his garden,
to the beds of spices”
Not this garden would I ever have had in mind thinking about those lines, not a cold chamber behind ponderous stones in which a lifeless corpse is slowly decomposing. And yet the lofty cedars are writing it into the sky, the delicate blue anemones are whispering it into the morning:
“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”
I will return to this garden, where the rock roses are hugging his grave, where the almond blossoms are covering the ground like snow, where the fragrance of the lilies is abandoning itself to the wind – again and again I will return, until I find it once more, his voice, speaking a word, just one word, a word of life from his mouth. That one word that he spoke to me the very first time, back then, when in his tone – unsaid, yet more eloquent than all existing language – there was present every single verse, every single sentence of that song, the King’s song, the Song of Songs; that one word, that had been lost to me for a very long time, that he gifted to me anew, and anew, and anew.
Maryam. My name.
© Linde Eller 2010