Power of Prayer, Chapter Three: The Villain
Even brave men fear death. As he stood on the platform in the windowless building, staring out at the sea of faces, he felt a drop of sweat trickle down the back of his neck. It was strangely comforting, the feel of sweat on his skin. He had lived in the ceaseless heat and sand dunes nearly his whole life. The parts of his life where he was not living near wide stretches of beige sea, he missed it. There was a particular way the sun glinted on the dunes that made the entire landscape seem bathed in crystals and diamonds and riches.
Of course, it was just sand, but to him it was home. The feeling of cold was foreign and dismal, oppressive, unkind. The heat could kill you just as quick, yes, but there was a comfort in the heat. Another drop of sweat made slow passage over his bronze skin, sticking to his coarse white shirt collar.
Off to his left formalities droned on. A small silver bearded man read from a paper and a host of equally bearded men nodded solemnly or stared at the floor. After today, the small host would go home to wives and children, breakfasts and coffee, the cool breeze of night diminishing as the sun rose.
He would not go home to wife or sons, to breakfast or coffee. He would die here today, as soon as the formalities were done with.
The hooded man next to him whispered a cruel joke near his ear. Only a short while ago no man would ever dare to speak to him with such flippancy. Anger bubbled in his heart. He was a leader, not some fool to be mocked. But that time was past. Long past. Another hooded man joined in the mockery, their voices harsh on his ears. Is this how it would end, then? The last words he heard would be mockery and cruelty?
He grimaced and closed his eyes. He would like very much to see his sons.
The men watching in front of the platform whispered and he thought he heard from them, too, mockery.
How long could this stupid bearded man take to read these charges? He was tired, very tired. Too tired to die. A man should face death ready.
He was not ready.
The chair rocked back and forth as the old woman watched the television screen. A slim young man in a navy blue blazer rattled off the crimes against humanity with which the man was charged and the speculation that this morning the man would be hanged. The camera flipped to a foreign television station which had cameras inside a closed room. A tall, dark haired man with a thick black mustache stood on a platform with a noose around his neck. He seemed both sad and strong, surrounded by hooded men and small bearded men and a small convocation of what she assumed were strangers. The hooded men were leaning in toward him, whispering at him, and leaning away. His face flickered with rage and pain.
The old woman stood from the chair and turned off the television screen. Her booted feet stepped surely across the braided oval rug, across the hardwood floor. She stepped on the quiet first step, the creaking second step, the silent third step, and on up the staircase. Her heart fluttered and her spirit compelled her to move, move quickly, move now. She grabbed the fog and magic shawl off the knobbed hook as she stepped through the door at the end of the hall. Throwing the shawl around her shoulders she half-fell into the rocking chair, her voice immediately a pitched caterwaul, filling the room with reverberations and brilliant blue light. On eagles wings her spirit poured out into the night, stretching upward and east and east, over seas of black and the black of the sea, racing and racing against time and wind.
The woman chanted and sang, willing her spirit forward faster and further. Over the ocean and land and desert, into the town and through the buildings. The spirit rushed forward through the concrete wall without hesitation, without limitation, and into the small windowless room where stood a solitary man surrounded by hooded men, flanked by bearded men, and faced by a small crowd of witnesses.
The spirit silenced the hooded men with a burst of righteous indignation and shame.
Each hooded man felt keenly his impropriety and the weight of his own cruelty in the face of a man being tried and killed for cruelty.
Hesitantly, gently, the spirit approached the white shirted man, his brown face tipped to the ground. She nudged him gently with her essence and his head lifted as the warmth of peace caressed his mind. His brown eyes looked around and noted the quieted voices of his guards. The spirit wrapped close around him and he was reminded of moment standing on the desert dunes, watching the sunlight dance on the grains. He was reminded of his sons, of goats leaping and bleating. He thought of the white tipped lips he got from sipping small cups of cream as a child, and the taste of fruit juice filling his mouth.
His mind tried to wander to the horrible things he had done, the cruelty and malice, the unmerciful violence he'd dressed up as justice. His mind wouldn't linger there, though. The spirit pushed those thoughts away and in place of them brought memories of cool nights under a black sky dotted with diamonds, and breezes easing sweat-stained cheeks from the warbling heat of summer. His fear and pain were replaced with comfort unlike any he had known in life.
Is this love? He didn't know if this was love, and then he didn't know anything else.