Do you want to be healed?

An extract from my novel, ‘Gospel, Rumours of Love’. The scene is based on a gospel story which may be familiar to you. Yeshua is Jesus and Rocky is Peter. Yeshua tells the story.

‘So do you want to be healed, Shimon?’ I ask.

He has called me over to him, as he has done before, many times; though often only to mock. He gestured to me from his stool, as if a throne, from which he sneers at my prayers or keeps himself apart. He always makes himself known, and usually to destroy.

‘He heals others but he can’t heal me! That’s Yeshua for you! Raises the dead but can’t help the living!’ He shouts this at passers-by. ‘And all you who can walk, praise God, praise God, for I cannot! And kind shekels in my bowl please – and give ‘til it hurts ‘cause my legs hurt more!’

He has collected coin in Nain for many years, his twisted leg on show; while the rest of his body contorts around it, as does his mind. One twist leads to another; and one pain to another. I feel the disturbance, the demons gathered within and I have no time for this man. Yet I am here, asking if he wishes to be healed – your kingdom come, father, I would see him free.

‘So do you want to be healed, Shimon?’

‘Of course, I want to be healed! Who wouldn’t want to be healed!?’ He speaks to the crowd, a comedy turn. ‘All I need now is a healer! Do you know one Yeshua?’

I kneel down beside him in the dust. He stinks. ‘So I ask you again, Shimon, “Do you seriously wish to be healed?”’

His voice snarls. ‘You’re a piece of shit, Yeshua, I knew it! You don’t ask that of others, do you?’ I look at him, his face in mine. ‘Well, do you? I’ve never heard you ask anyone else if they wish to be healed. Did you ask that Jeremiah fellow? I don’t think so, not with his family watching.’

‘He was asleep.’

‘But you ask me, you ask me – Shimon of Nain! I’ve been here fifteen years and you ask if I wish to be healed.’

‘So do you?’

‘Fifteen bloody years!’

‘Then bless the kind people who support you.’

Kind? I was abandoned and not given a chance. These people say they’ve never heard a story like mine. Never!

‘And I’m sure you tell it well. But I say to you: forget your story now.’ He looks at me with hatred, but I reach out and touch his shoulder, seeking his heart. I would like to reach his heart but he recoils from my touch. I need to reach his heart.

‘Forget my story? That’s easy for you to say. You walk easy – too easy perhaps! You walk out on your family, I hear.’

My God, I could do without Shimon! Contain him, Yeshua, contain him – I speak with myself, advising myself, calming myself. He stirs a storm in me and I am to contain the storm. ‘I seek God’s path as I’m sure you do, Shimon… so forget your story. You wear it out by constant telling, it is threadbare, so let it go. It’s like an old cloak that no longer warms. It does not serve you, but holds you back, like the chain on a slave. See what holds you back, my friend!’

‘I am no friend of yours.’ He whispers it, but as a curse, like spittle. I do not listen; I still reach for his heart; I need to find his heart.

‘Your story is past, Shimon. Do you understand? It is not now. So un-fence your mind, my friend, and free yourself from…’

‘It’s my leg that cripples me, not my fucking story. What are you talking about? Are you mad or something? Someone said you were mad. Or bad. Who knows?’

‘Do you wish to be healed?’ I ask him again. His hate can be held; I can hold his hate for now, I believe I can. ‘But remember this: If I heal you, you will need to speak differently with people.’ I see his plate is full of coins; not gold or silver, but enough to live. ‘Oh, and you will say goodbye to such coins. Do you have a trade, Shimon?’ He looks down and hastily gathers the coins together. He puts them in a leather pouch round his waist. ‘Do you have family?’

‘It’s not fair, Yeshua. One day you’ll discover that – that life is unfair.’ He is in my face, but I laugh.

‘If you wait for fair, Shimon, you will wait a long time. Many winters, many summers for nothing is fair… nothing. Never imagine anything is fair; all is unfair.’ How can he not understand this? ‘Though blessing appears.’

‘I don’t know what you’re on about.’

‘Fairness is a tyranny! As if my father in heaven can treat two people the same. He greets the first and shuns the second. Then he breaks the first and gives silver to the second. Do you not understand? How we live and how we die – nothing is fair! Though blessing appears.’

He eases away from me, shuffling on his stool, pulling his leg with him. He sneers again. He grips onto all that is unfair, I see this, he cannot let it go; he holds it in his heart like rotting treasure.

‘I must have the wrong voice, Yeshua…or the wrong look? Which is it? Or perhaps I don’t say how wonderful you are, like all the others? Perhaps I don’t kiss your arse enough – or, and here’s a thought – perhaps I’m not a woman. They say you like the women, how they follow you around. Or perhaps you follow them, who knows? Perhaps if I was a woman you would handle me a bit better!’

I feel a terrible rage; no light…only rage. It holds me, I cannot move, I cannot speak. I look in his eyes which dart around like fish in the shallows; but I hold my stare as the storm rips through me, uncontained, everything overturned. I wait for it to pass, wait to be left alone and free from its hold. I manage a prayer, “Deliver me from the time of trial.”

‘Perhaps I’m my own man,’ he says. He sees me shaken. ‘Well, I’ve had to be, haven’t I?’

‘So perhaps you don’t need me.’

‘Perhaps I don’t need you, no!’

‘So do you want to be healed?’

We return to the start, like wrestlers resuming their pose.

‘Perhaps you can’t heal me, Yeshua! Perhaps that’s why you’re so full of shit, with all your questions. You’re no healer at all, are you?’

Rocky steps forward. He is a bigger man than the cripple, bigger and stronger by far, and over-bearing.

‘You shouldn’t talk to the teacher like that, you vagrant! You should show some respect to your betters! Manners of a bloody pig!’

‘Oh, I see your fat monkey’s here, Yeshua…’

‘Rocky – leave us alone.’ I do not look at him, but hold out my hand. I stare only at my present foe. Rocky doesn’t move – but I will not back down, I will not allow him here. ‘Leave us!’ He will be angry and all shall know it; but he returns to the crowd, which has grown around us; I feel it keenly. We have become as two warriors, fighting to entertain.

‘Come away,’ I say and point to a quieter place. I need to reach his heart.

‘“Come away?” What’s that supposed to mean?’ And now I face one who is no longer himself, but a second self, who acts a part. ‘Do you fear what people will see, healer man?’ He asks and smirks at some who watch.

‘Let us end this in a quieter place,’ I say. ‘Where we can be ourselves…I will help you there.’ We are in the valley of decision; I do not know which way he will take. My own heart beats wildly. He longs to be well – yet fears it above all things. ‘Let go of your story.’

‘You come here to judge!’ He turns on me again and then to the crowd: ‘He comes here to judge me, I see that now! He knows nothing of my suffering! Nothing! Let the good and generous people of Nain see that Shimon has been failed again, abandoned again!’

He shuffles away, feeling his money-pouch, back to his place by the wall. The crowd is disturbed. Rocky is the first to step forward to help me; and I am grateful for his arm. He lifts me up from the dust where I have knelt and guides me to the shadows behind the pillars; and there I hold onto him or I will collapse.

‘Where shall we go, teacher?’ asks Rocky. I cannot speak, my body too punched and battered, my spirit mauled, as if by a lion – I am destroyed by hate. ‘You don’t need his sort, teacher. You just don’t need them.’