another fragment from Nikos

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Are you familiar with the case, then?

If the praetor wishes, I could advise him about the Jewish religion. But…

But what?

The actual point of Roman law is yours to decide.

But you know these Jews, then? Do you speak their language?

Yes, governor.

Aramaic? Or their religious language, Hebrew?

I can read the Hebrew but I am better at speaking Aramaic.

Hmm. Where are you from, exactly?

Campania, sir.

Oh, but… look here, the boy who accused you, he… he said you were… you had been… one of Tiberius’… toys, on his island. You know what I mean?

No. It is true, I was a captive there, and it is also true that I was raped, when I was… there. Twice. But not on a regular basis. He had slaves who let him do those things.

How long were you there?

The soldiers kidnapped me when I was fifteen. I was sent to Alexandria three years later.

What was the problem… were you too old for him?

My lord, please…

Ahem, well, yes. But try to see my position, young man. A servant in my house has falsely accused you of several… crimes. And he seems to know something about your past. Says he heard it from some sailors in Caesaria harbor.

You are worried that I might report this to the emperor.

Yes.

Sir, if he asks me, I am bound to answer him honestly.

And me, a lowly provincial officer – will you answer my questions, honestly?

Of course, yes. But my lord governor is hardly a lowly officer, no, you are the chosen man to rule this province for Rome.

Thank you. Sometimes I think I have died and gone to Hades, rather than be the chosen man to rule this stiff-necked nation of Jews on behalf of Rome.

Chosen man, that is serendipitous, my lord, considering these people think they are chosen people, chosen by God.

Yes, they do, don’t they. And they practically kill each other arguing about what their God wants to do, or not do.

Yes, except they don’t call him “their god,” no, for them there is only one true Creator God who made everything in the universe.

Oh, yes, that too, I have heard. At least it sounds like you have heard the same stories. But tell me then, while we have a moment to eat, tell me what they really believe.

They believe that there is only one God. Everything else we humans call the gods, they say are only devils or sometimes angel messengers from the true Creator, king of the Universe.

King? Like the Greek word, too?

Not exactly, but… well, honorifically, I suppose. Yes.

You studied it. Don’t you know?

No, because they have so many different opinions about the details.

Oh. But tell me this, young Roman Greek from Campania, do they have kings at all?

No. I mean there was a king of the Jews. But now only prophets speak for God, really.

Is that who he is? A prophet?

Is my lord governor referring to the Nazarean?

Yes. This man I have to give a hearing for. The temple priests tell me he is a rebel, and that he wants the people to rise up against Rome. Start riots during the holy days. Terrible threat to peace and safety of Rome.

Yes. That is exactly what they would say.

What do you think?

Ah… again, I am not sure. That is, I believe he would not start a riot. He would rather preach and pray. No fighting.

But if a riot started, would he stop it?

Maybe. Or…

Or maybe not.

No. I mean yes, my lord governor.

Do you know him, young man?

I have heard him preaching in the temple this week.

Yes. We have heard about him making fun of the temple priests and teachers.

Uh… my lord has touched on the real danger here.

Oh?

Danger not to you, but to the temple rulers.

Oh. Yes. But I knew that already. You know that I knew that already.

I just wanted to remind you of the truth here.

Truth, young man? The truth is we must keep peace and order here. Both. The order we keep with our fortress, our prison, and above all our soldiers. The peace we must keep by sharing this… religious landscape, for want of a better word, sharing this holy landscape, this stretch of hills which this stiff-necked nation of Jews has decided is the center of the universe or some such thing. What do they call it, young man, or didn’t you learn that.

Yes, lord, they call it the holy mountain, or Zion.

Oh. You know, I think I have heard this before. Yes. What else can you tell me about them? Will they riot if I kill this prophet from nowhere?

No. It will take more than killing an accused rebel to make them rebel.

Witty young dog.

Your honor is too kind.

Thank you.

 

 

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The first day. 2020.

Yes. Today it begins. The year we name Twenty-Twenty.

There remain sixty days until I am scheduled to move out.

A mountain of sorting and storage awaits my elbow grease and sweat and blood and toil and tears, as the saying goes.

Some of it has been greased already, and sits in boxes, waiting to be moved down the hill into freeway valley, where I pay four hundred and twenty-two dollars a month for a rather large storage unit.

Much more of it waits to be arranged and put into boxes. I linger over old photographs of my grandmother. My father when he was a young boy. Me when I was a young boy.

Into the box. Lable the box. Put the small boxes into a larger box. Lable the larger box. Pile it in the room where we are putting everything we will take away to storage. I, we, they, us, me.

This is the first day. Sixty days remain. Or is it already fifty-nine?

. . .

3rd day

Friday 27 December 2019             Third day of Christmas                   7:06 a.m.

Up at sunrise, the first beams shining across the city, lighting up the hills, whispering down toward the little cannyons and valleys, warming the chill off last night. A cup of leftover coffee warmed in the nuclear microwave, sweetened with honey – not much, just a touch – the dark tang embraces my palate with hot touch, strong taste, yes, strong yet mild – it is Kona, a Christmas gift from the brother who adores Hawai’i. Even recycled – too much leftover from yesterday afternoon, I simply cannot pour it down the drain, no, but… reheat and savor once more. Ah, I remember the first time I understood the magic and power of that name, Kona.

We had gone to Hawaii for two weeks, my parents and my brother and I. We landed at Hilo on the big island, and then drove around. Crossed over to Maui and then Molokai and on to Kuaui, each for a few days, until we ended on Oahu. I was furious with my father. He got so drunk one night we missed our early morning special Pearl Harbor tour. C’est la vie, the loving critics say, and complain I should not write such cursed memories, but I believe the truth shall set me free.

My mom loved Lahaina best. Years later she went back with my brother and his partner. A photo of her smiling next to the wooden sea captain still hangs on the refrigerator, gracing the kitchen with remembrance of her precious life.