“What’s a god to a non-believer?”
It is often said that boredom is good for creativity; almost a precondition for it. It is said that the tastelessness of a situation or routine which does not excite us will often drive us to think up far more exciting enterprises. This is true for the most part, but what is often excluded, is that the fruits of our creativity may not always be wholesome.
Severe boredom was the catalyst for the first step in the chain reaction leading up to my current predicament. I remember so clearly the day when everything changed. In its progression from sunrise to sunset, I suppose it was a regular day. But in the grand scheme of things, the events which transpired that day served as the fulcrum about which I was catapulted away from regularity of everyday life and downwards into Limbo.
If the days of our lives in Golgotha were like grains of sand in an hourglass, every grain leading up to this day was identical. What made this day distinct was that every grain following it was non-uniform; peculiar, unique, indescribable.
That day, like every other day before, I visited my friend, Xenophilus. When I arrived in his domain, he was in his garden, as I expected him to be. He was kneeling in the mud, perspiring heavily and beaming at his blooming sunflowers. As I cast a shadow over him, he looked up at me and smiled.
I do not think I can remember a time when Xenophilus’ face was not lined with age, when his mouth did not twitch at the corners of his smile, when his eyes did not twinkle like starlight, when his hair was not streaked with grey.
We began our conversation as we were accustomed to doing.
“You’re getting fat, Constantine,” Xenophilus said.
“You’re getting fatter,” I replied.
This simple exchange was just the build up to something which would become much more intense as it went on. To beings like Xenophilus and me, conversation is the only true escape from ennui. All other possibilities have been exhausted, all other activities are unsatisfactory. True release is obtained only in the heat of an intellectual exchange so rigorous that it borders on violence.
When the activity takes place between two beings of superior intelligence, the act of conversation takes on a new meaning. It ceases to be just a means of communication. It transcends that, to become something much more. Xenophilus and I were always challenging each other, were always pushing each other to the limit. Two entities locked in an eternal battle, like the immovable object and the unstoppable force. As often as our debates were ugly, the products of our debates were beautiful. I often left Xeno’s domain feeling invigorated and energized.
In conversation with Xenophilus that day, something happened. A suggestion was passed from him to me. A suggestion to partake in an activity that changed my life forever. Looking back at it now, I suppose this was the beginning of the end. You would think that with my great intelligence, it should have been apparent to me then. The sad reality is that some things can only be appreciated in retrospect.
I can still hear the words Xenophilus said to me that day as loudly as a crashing waterfall. The words echo about my being, causing my bones to ache, causing my muscles to tremor. I curse Xenophilus and his great intelligence. I curse Xenophilus and his beautiful mind. I curse Xenophilus and his smooth silky voice. I curse the day he said to me, “Constantine, I have something to show you.”
I sat in my chair, staring at my arm for minutes. A crimson tear leaked out of a small incision in my arm and fell towards the ground like a corrupted raindrop. My demeanor was calm, but my mind was a raging sea.
What was this feeling? What was this sensation?
At first glance, the sensation was unpleasant. Any lesser mind would definitely dismiss it as so, but to a being such as myself, I could never be satisfied with such a basic description. In my opinion, displeasure and pleasure are simply polar extremities of the same condition. The sensation I felt then spanned all the lighter shades in the spectrum of displeasure. This simply meant that given the right perspective, the sensation could be perceived as euphoric.
I took my eyes of my bleeding arm to look at Xeno, “What is this?”
Xeno looked back at me, bloodied knife in hand, eyes twinkling, “This, my friend, is pain.”
I was like a scientist, looking out of a telescope for the first time and discovering a whole new universe above him. I was like an amphibian, stepping out of the water for the first time and onto the land. This was a new frontier, and I could have been driven mad by the excitement.
“Cut me again,” I instructed Xeno.
He chuckled. “My dear Constantine, be patient. We have much talking to do.”
I willed myself to take my attention away from my bleeding arm, and the sweet, sweet pain.
“How did you discover this?” I asked Xeno
“Yesterday, while doing my gardening, I accidentally cut myself with one of my implements,” Xeno replied. “It has been eons since I have made such a mistake. The feeling was oddly familiar, and trying to remember it was like trying to hold on to a dream in the moments after waking.”
“A fortunate accident then,” I said with a laugh. “What I feel now is transcendental. Well, what are we waiting for? Cut me again.”
Xeno did not move. I looked at his face to see he had a smug expression on. This was the face he always wore when he was about to counter one of my points in an argument with a better one. I began to feel irritated.
“My dear Constantine, I could cut you again. I could cut you all day, and it would feel good. But what you feel now pales in comparison to the type of pain you could feel.”
“What are you talking about Xeno? There is another level to all this?”
“When I first felt this sensation, I knew it was familiar. So I read Zoroaster’s old journals to find out more about it.”
“Well, you know how dense that old fool was. It took me a while but I eventually got to the bottom of it.
“This feeling is known as pain,” Xenophilus continued, “It is one of the primary emotions experienced by the Humans.”
“The Humans,” I said. “You mean they feel this too?”
“Yes they do! All day, every day, but their minds are so primitive that they can never appreciate it.” He paused, so that I could process the information.
I looked up.
“What I am about to propose now might sound insane,” Xenophilus said. “But I trust that you have the presence of mind to appreciate it. If Zoroaster were here, he would call it an abomination.”
“Go on,” I said.
“I will show you terror in a handful of dust”
The two doctors arrived in the army base on a Sunday. The night before, the transport helicopter had been blown out of the sky by the rebels. This meant the only form of transportation they had available to them was a jeep. Going by road meant they would have to path through the jungle and into enemy territory. This prospect excited neither of them. They would have preferred to wait for a backup helicopter, but this was a luxury they just couldn’t afford. Their mission was time sensitive. Reluctantly, they boarded the jeep.
As they moved through the jungle, the junior of the two doctors began to experience an intense type of anxiety. The masochistic part of his personality would not allow him to admit his fear, and he was thankful that he could blame his heavy perspiration on the heat of the sun.
The elder of the two doctors was very passive. It was impossible to tell from his demeanor the nature of his thoughts. He was quiet, pensive. Every now and then, he checked the package he was carrying to make sure there were no malfunctions.
They arrived in the village by nightfall, safely. The villagers wanted them to get to work right away, but they had to set up their laboratory first. The chief was frustrated, but he managed to hold his peace. The government had promised his people relief almost three months ago. Many had died since then, many were still dying. And now that their “saviors” had arrived, his people would still have to wait. More would still have to die.
That night, the chief went to his hut with a heavy heart. He gripped his bedridden daughter by the hand and whispered, “Only a few more moments my sweet. Hold on.”
A day passed, and then another, and still, there was no relief. The villagers were growing increasingly restless. Increasingly impatient. The Chief did his best to placate them, but soon, even he lost his patience. His “saviors” were proving to merely be false gods and his pain and disappointment were turning into rage.
The two doctors were a mess. After setting up their lab, they noticed that the coolants which were carrying the vaccine had malfunctioned. They had travelled all this way for nothing. They contacted the army base about their problem but the general was not sympathetic. The general, in fact, was relieved that the presence of the doctors had created a cushion between him and the unceasing cries of the villagers.
More days passed, and yet the new vaccines did not arrive. As the villagers died by the number, the doctors shut themselves up in the lab in a superior display of apathy. Locked up inside, the doctors were being destroyed by guilt. Their government had decided to use biological weapons in a fight against the rebel forces. Unfortunately for them, the village had been caught in the blast radius and now many of its people were suffering from a highly contagious weaponized virus.
In an act of acknowledgement, and maybe apology, about the state of the village, the doctors had been sent with a vaccine. They had been sent with a vaccine, but arrived with nothing.
One day, while the doctors were wondering how much longer they would have to wait, the door of their lab was broken open. Frightened, the doctors thought the rebels had managed to invade the village. Instead, standing in the doorway with a cutlass in his hand was no one other than the Chief. He charged at them, swinging like a madman. They tried their best to avoid his blows.
He wanted to kill them. He would have killed them, but fortunately for the doctors, some of the villagers charged after the chief and held him back. They did not care much for the doctors; they simply didn’t want to see their chief soil himself with the sin of murder.
The chief broke down in tears, moaning. It was a hurtful, guttural sound. The doctors did not understand the language the chief spoke, but the full depth of his pain was communicated to them. Their shame knew no bounds.
The villagers gave up on the doctors and their government. They resigned themselves fully to their fate. The survivors gathered themselves at the town center and started to pray. The new gods had failed them, and with shame, they went back to their old gods. That day, they sang haunting melodies into the night. They lamented the dead, and their destiny.
The doctors felt relief. The encounter they dreaded so much with the chief had come to pass and they came out unscathed.
Or so they thought. This was just the beginning of their suffering.
The Chief had barged in unannounced, and in doing so, he had compromised the laboratory environment. The doctors were now infected. Their bodies would be subjected to the worst kind of pain. The same condition which had resulted in the death of the chief’s daughter.
It was gruesome. Their cells were being destroyed by a self-replicating microscopic particle. Their torture started with a severe cough, as their respiratory systems were compromised. Next, their cardiovascular systems failed too, leading to intense pains in the chest. Eventually, the virus arrived at their brain, eating away at their neurons and causing them to lose certain functionality; like the ability to talk, or move, or see. Eventually they died, choking on their own mucous.
It was a sad story. One lacking in protagonists but brimming with antagonists, and in the aftermath, no one was shown mercy.
“I am standing here in your poem–unsatisfied”
The first trip was very surreal experience. Throughout the whole episode, there was a duplicity in my psyche. There was the part of me which was “me” and there was this other distinctly human part. It was as If I was a spectator in my own body, watching helplessly as my less developed human self blundered and failed.
Perhaps that was the most uncomfortable aspect of the whole situation; that my supernatural consciousness could not integrate seamlessly with the human mind. It was like trying to inhabit a worm, or even worse, a rock. I was helpless to the impulses and base desires of the human brain, acting on instinct like a common animal.
Regardless of this discomfort, my expectations had been met immeasurably. When Xenophilus first mentioned his plan to me, I must say, I was quite skeptical. After the first episode however, I realized he did not exaggerate about the euphoria I would feel. It was pain and suffering beyond my wildest dreams, and it was oh so very liberating.
In Golgotha, there was no pain. There was no suffering. There was no lack. There were no needs. Everything was so perfect. Everything was so boring. We went about our days challenging each other in conversation, searching for a scrap of stimulation, searching from the tinniest escape from ennui. What Xenophilus introduced me to, was not so much about the pain and suffering as it was about the vulnerability, about the mortality. Being afraid of death for the first time in my life opened up new regions of my consciousness I never knew could exist.
In the years to come, there were many more expeditions. Always the two of us, living, suffering, loving, losing and dying. We were generals, inspiring and leading our men into a battle in which we were outnumbered ten to one. We were children, trapped in an orphanage home with a Matron who was deranged and abusive. We were soldiers, returning after a war to a country which barely recognized us; we would never know the meaning of home again.
At first the trips excited me, but eventually, as my experiences as a human increased in number, so did my disillusionment. I loved feeling pain, but something else about the human condition bothered me. An imperfection which they acknowledged and indulged, an imperfection I could never fully grasp, an imperfection which I could never characterize. In time, the trips began to tire me, immensely.
Xenophilus, on the other hand, was unstinting. He loved being mortal, he loved being vulnerable, he loved being human. He looked forward to the trips with an eagerness that startled me, with an eagerness so vast that it could easily be called a devotion. I always went with him, because no matter how annoying the experience, to live and to die was far better than the great emptiness of mere existence in Golgotha.
I do not know exactly when I reached my threshold. I had been considering for a while the option of taking a break from the trips. The biggest obstacle was Xenophilus. I could foresee no outcome in which he agreed to my proposition. He was too far gone.
I was sitting in my domain, brooding about my situation, when things took a turn for the worse. This time, it was Xenophilus who cast a shadow on me.
I looked up at him, and before I got the chance to speak Xenophilus said, “My dear Constantine, we need to talk.”
An unpleasant taste was forming in my mouth.
“I’ll make this as straightforward as possible,” Xenophilus said. “After our next trip to the human world, I will not be returning to Golgotha.”
I had anticipated that this would happen, I had feared that this would happen, I had denied that this would happen, and now that it had, I felt powerless. “Xenophilus, what are you doing?”
“My friend, I have lived for far too long in this cesspool they call a paradise. The thought of spending even another eon in this place drives me mad. I do not desire to carry on like this. Living as a human has opened my mind to new possibilities, to new frontiers, to new emotions and experiences. A single lifetime as a human has brought me more fulfillment than an eternity in Golgotha. After drinking from the river of human life, even immortality has lost its appeal. Surely you must have experienced this too. Surely you must understand me.”
“Xenophilus, think about what you are saying. You are addicted to the pain. It’s gotten into your head. Don’t forget what you are!”
“Constantine, I assure you, I am quite sane. It really isn’t about the pain. It ceased to be about the pain after the second or third trip.”
“Then why?” I bellowed.
“It appears I may have set my expectations too high again,” Xenophilus said with a sigh. “I was hoping that even in your youth, you would understand me. Maybe someday you will. You always look down on humans, Constantine, but they are more free than you will ever be.”
I buried my head in my palms and tried to hold back the rage, “They are worms Xeno, maggots, writhing about in their filth and muck.”
A moment passed, and then another.
“Come with me,” Xenophilus said.
I looked him in the eye. “You really have gone mad, haven’t you?”
Xenophilus sighed. “I was afraid of this. Goodbye my friend. You always managed to add a little bit of colour to my black and white days in Golgotha, and for that, I will always love you. Unfortunately, my days in Golgotha have come to an end and I simply have to move on to better things, with or without you.”
A part of me wanted to consider the offer, but the arrogance in his tone infuriated me, and in my rage, I kept silent. I heard his footsteps fading as he walked away from me. I wanted to run after him, grab him and shake him back into his senses, but pride held me back. Pride held me back, and I hated myself for it.
After the first day, I told myself that he would return. He too would grow tired of the endless life-death cycle. He too would come to see the humans for what they really were. I would wait for him and his halfhearted apology. I would accept it with a smirk and we would go back to our discussions about Zoroaster’s thirteen doctrines of self-actualization. I would even help him water his daisies and dandelions.
But he did not come. Not after the first day, or the tenth, or the thousandth.
At first there was boredom, but now, Xeno’s absence introduced a new crisis:
I soon learned that much like pain, loneliness was multifaceted. There was always a new level to it; there was always a new depth to which one could sink. Xeno’s absence had torn a hole through my being. I was a lighthouse with no ships to guide to the port. I was a work of art with no observer to inspire. I was a utensil with no utility. I had lost a part of my soul. A part, I feared, that would never return.
First there was ennui, and this was a nuanced kind of suffering, but there had always been someone to share it with. I always had a companion to keep me sane. Now, there was no tether. I was a ship without an anchor and my destiny was in the hands of a vacillating and treacherous wind.
The loneliness eventually metastasized into pain. There was nothing pleasant about this kind of pain. Not even vaguely. Its sole purpose was to accentuate and amplify my loneliness.
I was suffering.
There was a tightness in my chest. A tightness which made it difficult to draw breath. I lay on the ground, writhing, agonizing, regretting. It was pathetic.
Suddenly, I broke into laughter. Laughter which was inspired more by insanity than by humor. Wheezing on the floor, I began to grasp the full reality of my situation. Xenophilus had asked me to become human with him and left me when I declined. His absence caused me to suffer, everyday. An agony which was bound so tightly to the soul.
The irony of my situation struck a discordant chord throughout my entire being. Xenophilus had killed me. This perpetual suffering was deicide, and against all odds, I had become, human.
“I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: “Go down again – I dwell among the people.”
― John Henry Newman