There are flowers along the way, yellow celandines, and the small insects of early Spring. These leave him, but the flies stay. They cling to his bloodied face as he staggers up the hill and then as he hangs there, a minor irritation, but all the greater for that.
Swimming in and out of consciousness, even as he staggers under the weight of his own gallows, faces appear. Some from the past, imagined or dreamed. Others from the immediate present. The curious, the indifferent, the vaguely grateful that this time it is not them or someone they know – goodness knows they can think of some who ought to be there. The angry. The disappointed.
He sees the face and hears the voice of one far off in the future, whose child’s cancer treatment has failed. Another whose life had been stunted by a parent’s selfishness or envy. These are the silent bitter faces. They have no words for what they are feeling. Even so, they sense in this tortured man one who takes what they can neither bear nor explain. Later, they will go down that same hill, beating their breasts, not in remorse but in a kind of release, a soulagement. They will accept themselves. They will accept the memories. They will have permission to forgive.
For the moment he hangs there, exposed for all time. Not beautiful. Supremely at one with the wrecked and the ruined, with the obese, the bulimic, the addict and the drunk. At one with the wrecker of lives. He is atoning.
He must summon everything he has in order to take the next breath. His life is his own, to hold to for a little longer until the time comes for surrendering it. He is in control. Religion swims into his consciousness, and the sins that will be committed in his name. The power games. The abuse. The control.
All this is offset by the waking nightmare of death as the end of life’s brutal, short and pointless trajectory. There is nothing at the end of it all. People are snuffed out into non-being. He enters the despair of future humanity’s cynicism, its disdain for the holy and into its most visceral fear, the fear of oblivion. He is in the body and out of it. He longs for oblivion. He atones.
In the midst of these mental meanderings someone speaks of punishment, the man on his left and right are talking over him. There is an incongruous association with other moments of being talked across, of being ignored. He witnesses countless suppressed or interrupted conversations that might have changed lives but were not valued, because the person being talked across, or interrupted, was not valued.
His forward-thinking memory, causes the past, present and future to meld into the moment. His mind swerves towards the cross-generational hatreds to be spawned in future wars. Whole peoples cut across, lives interrupted, entire nations displaced, ignored, whose people become the detritus, the unwanted packaging of human progress. He embraces their despair. Why have they been forsaken? Why is he forsaken? The two questions are the same.
Half in delirium he loses track of reason. He cries out in desolation. He thirsts. It is accomplished.