The preacher

Printable PDF version (in Italian)

The time came for him to die as well, but it was not a quick passing. On more than one occasion, the old preacher, now bent by illness, tired, with a hissing breath that often exploded into a wheeze, even blamed his family members for his misfortune.

“Unbelievers!” he kept apostrophizing the people who stood vigil at his bedside. “Because of your sins, I am in this state! The Lord has deprived me of the strength to punish myself. I should have left this roof long ago, but instead, I behaved like a clueless person. Here is the consequence!”

At 10 p.m. on a Friday in early autumn, the man finally died, leaving behind the echo of his curses and the burden of a proper burial.
He reopened his eyes after an indefinite time. He could not immediately focus on the scene, but he realized he was lying supine in a warm, quiet clearing. He forced up his elbows and tried to raise his torso to better observe that environment.

All around him stretched an expanse of brownish earth as compact as marble, and on the horizon, neatly separated by a perfectly horizontal line, began a cerulean block with pale, faded reflections, almost as if the painter had finally decided to dip his brush into the jar of gray as well.

A person walking in the dunes of the desert

“Where am I?” he wondered under his breath, hoping to hear an answer. “What kind of a place is this?”
He turned his head in every direction to ensure he was not dreaming: he saw only yellowed earth cracked by the heat, the same ashen sky, and a few sandy eddies swirling inches above the ground. Not a blade of grass, a puddle, or a bird looking for food.

“Damn them!” he exclaimed, clenching his fists. “Look at the place they took me to! So much more than dying. I was alive and well. They were the ones who drugged me to play this trick on me!”

He tried to get to his feet; he felt tired, but not to the point that he could not walk. He shook off the dust and, flexing on his knees, noticed that his Bible had been left beside him. He picked it up by kissing it on the cover and again railed against his unbelieving and blasphemous family members.

“And what clown clothes they made me wear!” he yelled, spitting the sand in his mouth. “Reduced like a wretch, without even a pair of shoes!”

In fact, he was barefoot and dressed in a rather sui generis black suit. He would never have spent a penny on such an extravagant garment, but evidently, his relatives had wanted to humiliate him without caring about the consequences.

He began to walk, hoping to figure out sooner or later where he was. He did not remember ever having been to that place, and to be honest, he was not even sure if a region with those characteristics existed in Italy. He was reminded of Western movies in which the landscape resembled that desolate heath. Still, it was unlikely that he had been transported unconscious to the deserts of Mexico or the United States. So there was nothing to do but walk, hoping that a known landmark would appear on the horizon.

He traveled several hundred meters, moving left and right like a fly trapped in a box until he spotted a boulder in the distance on which a slender-bodied young blond man was leaning.

“Finally!” she exclaimed, brightening up at that discovery. “That man will certainly be able to tell me where I am and how far away the nearest town is.”

He quickened his pace by gesturing to be noticed, but the wanderer, also dressed as bizarrely as ever, seemed to take no notice. He kept staring at the ground and a group of ants coming out of one crevice and entering another.

“Excuse me!” shouted the preacher, now within a few feet of the man. “I say to you! Can you hear me?”
The young man finally looked up. He smiled slightly and seemed to be enjoying that idle state.

“There you are!” he told him, unsurprised at that meeting. “I was sure you were going to keep sleeping for quite a while longer, and instead…”
The old man squinted his eyes, “What? I don’t understand. Do we know each other?”

Silence. Only wind-driven sand could be heard creeping in the distance.
“No, don’t tell me!” he continued after coughing like a consumptive in the throes of a fit. “You are one of those who set up this sham! You are an accomplice of my family members!”

The young man did not flinch; he ran a hand through his hair and sketched another smile.
“Ask me that question,” he murmured without moving his gaze. “I don’t like turns of phrase. Just do it to me.”

“But what question?” shouted the preacher. “By now, I understand everything. Not only are you sinners, but you don’t even shine in cunning.”

The two remained silent, staring at each other. The young man was motionless, and the old man paced by a trembling that started from his feet and went up to the last vein in his forehead.

“You’ve been wondering the same thing ever since you came to your senses, but maybe you’d rather keep deluding yourself.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t understand you!”

The wanderer, without even flexing a muscle, abruptly raised the tone of his voice, “I’m talking about the fact that you’re dead! Dead! This is no joke, and your family members are still on Earth crying for you.”

The preacher ran a hand over his forehead: he felt hot but was not sweaty.
“Am I dead? Is that what you want to tell me?”
“But then what is this place? It doesn’t say here that…”
He paused and began flipping through the Bible, jumping from side to side.
“Here… Here…”

The young man reached forward, gently grabbing him by the arm, “Throw that book away,” he told him in an almost compassionate tone, “Where you are is no longer needed.”

“Blasphemer!” screeched the old man. “How dare you call God’s Word useless?”
“God…” repeated what sounded like a distant echo. “To you, God is only a hegemon or a creator without a will.”
“Don’t…” the old man began to say but was immediately blocked by the gaze of his interlocutor.
“A hegemon responsible for all evils and therefore an object of constant blasphemy or, much more often, a straw being who should stick to what is written in that book! What about you? Whose side are you on?”
“But I…”
“Would you like to rail against him or scold him for his carelessness?”

The old man began articulating a sentence but stumbled like a novice child. He only managed to ask, “Am I in Hell? Have I sinned without realizing it?”

“Heaven, Hell, Limbo, Purgatory… Names, they’re just names,” replied the young man, gesturing. “Forget all that, and don’t expect anyone to explain what only your heart can show you. Look at how many ants…”

“This is satanic madness!” screeched the preacher, involuntarily crushing a row of insects. “God cannot let one of his shepherds wander in this wilderness.” Unwittingly, he looked around, following the straight line of the horizon with his eyes, “How horrible! Not even goats could live there!”

“Take your grievances to him,” said the young man, touching him on the shoulder. “After all, it is your right. Are you or are you not one of his children?”
The old man puffed like a steam locomotive. White hair was now disheveled and resembled strands of smoke petrified by the sun.
“You can be sure!” she answered him. “Sooner or later, He or one of His emissaries will have to visit me, and then everything will be clearer.”
He paused to calibrate his words and finally exploded, “And if I deserve Hell, let me at least know the reason for it!”

Immediately afterwards, he touched his back, grimaced in pain, and resumed his walk. He didn’t know where to go, but staying to talk to that madman no longer made sense.

He looked at the sky again and finally realized that the strange color, impregnated with dust, was because there was no sun. Without trying to shield his eyes, he peered into every corner of the celestial vault: nothing — just grayish blue and thin clouds swirling slowly.

“I’m dead,” he said under his breath, swinging his head. “There is no doubt about it. And maybe really my family members are crying for me…”
He approached a knoll barely large enough to support a sapling and sat inside a natural hollow where the dust did not reach. He was tired, but he could no longer get sleepy, which exacerbated his anguish even more.

He stood motionless for a few minutes, hoping for a miracle, until, bored even by that wait, he grabbed the Bible and began leafing through it. He did not want to be found unprepared, so it was necessary to find all the verses describing the wonders of Heaven. He would have countered by bringing forward definite and unequivocal evidence and maybe even compromised, but that heath shunned even by snakes, no!

He began at the beginning, flipping through each page and pinning the book’s name, chapter, and verse on the floor. Even fatigue seemed to melt away, and within a few hours, he found himself surrounded by notes traced in the sand. There was no more room to move his legs, and if he had tried to stand up, he would undoubtedly have wiped out some of his work. He closed the Bible and clutched it to his chest, trying not to let it slip. Fortunately for him, that cove was relatively sheltered, and he could close his eyes without fear that a sudden gust of wind would thwart his work.

As he tried to fortify himself by repeating under his breath the words, “It will come. He will come for sure!” He heard footsteps coming from his left. His heart jolted, but as soon as he turned his gaze in the direction of the path he himself had walked, a note of disappointment was painted on his face.

“Ah, it’s you,” murmured the blond man advancing toward the knoll.
“You didn’t expect me?” he asked, feigning amazement. “And what a great job you did during my absence. Truly worthy of praise!”

The preacher did not move, although he wanted to. He merely replied, “I’m sorry, but I wasn’t expecting you. You know very well that I only want to talk to God or to one of His direct emissaries.”

“Exactly!” replied the man absentmindedly, leaning toward the expanse of notes. “Isaiah, Jeremiah, Psalms, Kings, John, Paul, one is missing at all!”
The old man seemed to pay no attention to that good-natured taunt; only one word resonated in his memory.

“What did you say?” she asked him, gradually raising the tone of her voice.
“That you did a good job!”
“First, first…”
“Ah yes,” exclaimed the young man, patting his forehead. “I said ‘memo.'”

The preacher whitened, “And what is that supposed to mean? That you are an emissary of God? You, of all people, with that passionate air?”
“Oh no. You are way off, dear friend!”
“I meant well,” sighed the old man.
“The emissaries thing is an old story that has never sat well with me. Do you want to know the truth? God doesn’t have any emissaries!”
“Here we go again with blasphemy!” thundered the man, recalling some of his sermons. “And I am surprised that I could have thought that an unbeliever like you could have received such an honor.”
“Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Proverbs…” the young man continued as if he had heard nothing. “And where are all the philosophers, the scientists, the wise men? It seems to me that you’ve narrowed it down a bit too much. Don’t you think so?”
“That’s enough!” shouted the preacher, slamming his fist against the Bible. “Go away and leave me alone. I have no time to waste with you.”

A preacher with a Bible in his hand

The young man got to his feet and took a few steps back as if startled.
“How inconsistent!” he muttered with a wink. “First, you make fire and brimstone to see me, prepare that list that even I have no memory of anymore, and now you kick me out?”
A tremor ran down the old man’s back as the Bible slipped from his hands and fell to the ground, erasing some of the last verses.”You…” he began to stammer, moving his head like an epileptic. “Not you! No! No!”
He sprang to his feet and, heedless of his efforts, walked toward the young man, grabbing him by the lapel. He was drunk even though he had not drunk a single drop of wine.
“You are not my God!” he shouted with all the breath in his throat. “You are not and never will be!”

He yanked him several times as his feet trampled the words of the prophets, sages, and evangelists. He ran to the knoll, bent down, feeling a twinge at the base of his back, and picked up a large stone with a sharp edge.

His eyes were red, and his hands shook from exertion, but he did not think twice. He hurled himself forward and struck the young man in the face, jolting him. He was furious, and seeing his victim standing still, unable to offer any resistance, made him even more ferocious.

“You are not God! You are not!” he kept repeating, dropping the stone on his bloody forehead. “Do you get it now? Die and leave me here! Better the desert than your damn will! Better the desert!”

Soon afterward, he too fell sprawled on the ground, panting, inches from the traveler’s lifeless body.
In the distance, a swirl of sand whirled, hissing while the ashen blue of the celestial vault remained motionless, like an old crucified man at the bedside of a dying man.

Filed for legal guardianship with Patamu: certificate

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