- “I love you.”
- “I love you too.” - he replied. And scoffed.
A happy sigh.
A cold, almost pitiful stare.
He closes his eyes. The last time he had spoken those words with a heartfelt sentiment lingered in a conspicuous region of his mind. The redundancy of this phrase, lacking emotion or veracity was now an allotment to his personality. Her warmth invigorated his soul, the touch of her youthful flesh stirred his innate desire for passion, his voracious appetite. Her heart, beating against his chest, was a caged bird, timid, with the arduous burden of liberating itself.
He remembered. At aged five, the central figure of his diminutive existence, of his evolving universe, was his maternal grandmother. She used to visit his family every weekend, true to her word she never failed to make her comic appearance each Friday at five o’clock sharp, hands brimming with soft caresses and bonbons, expectant gaze, lips prepared to kiss. As a child these kisses were the sweetest, they tasted of the ambrosia of tenderness and love, a shelter of protection, these honeyed kisses were synonyms of fun and good times. His grandmother was kind, gentle in her ways, amusing in her acts. She was beyond competition, or comparison. She was perfect. Perfect in the image of the God who had created her.
- “I love you too, Nan”
The inmutable farewell.
A sense of guilt.
Facing her is excruciatingly difficult. Her eyes. It’s her eyes. Her eyes that know everything. Her eyes that calmly rest upon me. It is the understanding that hurts the most. Not being pitied, but being forgiven. Forgiveness, the bittersweet inferno of the wrongdoer.
It’s nearly over. Resist. Show your strength. Rise triumphant among them, a deity of your own dreams.
I want her to speak. I want her to break this torturing silence. My self – asserted power means nothing, I lack the words, the expressions. I was never taught how to plead for forgiveness. I am overwhelmed with this remorse that is eroding and gnaws at my heart. How tortuous is the path towards righteousness! And God forbid shall you stray away from it, because once abandoned, return becomes but a mere illusion. Poor wretched that I am! I want to say sorry, I want to fall down on my knees, wash her feet and shout that I am indeed a sinner! But I can’t! I want to say I did it again, again! I am a worse sinner than Adam.
Flesh tempts me.
The horse seems to fly, galloping with the elegance and fleetness of Pegasus. Its sweated forehead, its wild eyes fixated upon its goal. Untamed, fierce. Like their owner, winning is their one desire, their one ambition. Winning at all costs. The end is near. The horizon visible.
- “What will you do next, marry royalty, Stephen?”
The words said in jest proved to be intoxicating. Vigorous enough were they to waken within him painful recollections. An unrequited love. Throughout his years of debauchery and carelessness, she had been his first paramount defeat in the art of conquest. But perhaps that was because he had never contemplated conquering her. Perhaps he had dreamt of loving her because she was unreachable, because it was impossible. Her elegance and beauty were enchanting, her wealth seductive. Yet with her he had learned how to pursue infinity.
- “I nearly married one”, he replied with a quick sneer. They both chuckled.
- “I should say the new royalty of the twenty-first century are the multi-millionaire's – like you”, he commented.
- “You’ll be expecting people to bow down to us next, then?” Stephen teased his friend.
“ I am fortunate”, he thought, “I should be grateful.”
The intentional exploitation of his myriad of talents, looks and intelligence had bestowed upon him the prize of a dissipated life, devoid of monetary distress, providing him with the delusional freedom dispensed by opulence. He obsessively chased wealth, money, with the fury of a maniac. It was diverting. It was necessary.
You did it. You won. It was supposed to be like this. There was no doubt or question about your ability, or the horse’s robustness. You have established your supremacy. The deafening applause continues, waves plunging themselves against the shore, dying on the rocks that ruthlessly pierce, waves shaking the earth without mercy. Until the uproar dies away, the commotion diminishes and the sound of voices mutates into the chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves, your horse’s heavy breathing. And no longer do you contemplate that multitude, but rising before you is the lonesome countryside. No one there to know you, see you, praise you.
The church is dimly lit, a monastery lost within the vast area covered by Apennine mountains, itself veiled by the undergrowth surrounding the place, hidden from the curiosity of the common tourist, arms open for the pilgrim that finds its path led by the lantern of faith. This sacred place resembles a small cathedral, with its voluptuous decorations, the finely carved statues of the saints, the dazzling stained glasses which reflect the obscurity created by the maze of trees standing outside. A mysterious atmosphere permeates this holy ambience, overflowing with the fragrance of incense. She holds my hand, tightly, and with the firm pressure she exerts I am comforted, because I am frightened, a sort of reverence urgently compels me to leave, to run and disappear, to never come back. She knows where she is going and I have to follow. I am hypnotized with the Gregorian chants which inundate this place of worship, originating from the walls, the paintings, the pews, emanating from the ground. We are alone. No devotee or priest offers hospitality or welcomes our arrival.
I have never been a religious man. For my religion was not the religion of wine and bread, of sacrifice and penance, of love and martyrdom. For if I grew in firm obedience of my parent’s orders I matured with the agnosticism accompanied with good fortune, I built around myself a temple, and at my feet I situated the promised utopia I aimed to reach one day. For God was unnecessary and non- existent. I had attained his power and omnipotence and I was one with him. Exasperated did I affront the destructive nature of man, where religion played the role of Satan, when the Prince of Darkness offered tentatively the best of riches and the most horrible of lives. And I witnessed it all. Temptation prompted my decisions and my actions. Until faith became but a forgotten memory of childhood.
I followed with the blind acceptance of an infant. I palpate the open and bleeding wound, and my side aches, the thorns piece the flesh of my breast and my heart weeps, the blood oozing down my mutilated body. The nails cut deep inside me. Bones breaking. The sour taste of vinegar burns my throat and soul. Naked, banished, I face my vulnerability. The bruises, the injury, the abuse, the torment, the agony. My voice quivers, my body trembles. But she’s there, with me, sharing with me this affliction, this awakening. We are in front of the Altar. The Altar of Salvation.
“I am the Light of the World, Whoever follows me will not walk in Darkness, but will have the Light of Life.”