by Paul du Preez
DARREN – UP CLOSE
While Saloni had challenged Leandré over her history of media addiction, Arno, seated in the deli, had explained to Darren that sins are like points lost, resulting in relegation to hell. And Darren had questioned why violence – such as his hitting Marcus – should automatically be a sin, since Arno had been a soldier. Responding, Arno had begun to emphasise the role of self-control when Darren broke in: “So if if I murder someone and steal their money, but I’m self-controlled about doing it – then, that’s not a sin?
Arno stops, annoyed (the phone video freezes).
“No man,” he growls. “We’re talking about you.” (Slowly, the phone scripts a giant blue ‘U’ that ripples lazily, like shadows crawling along the bottom of a swimming pool.) “You would never steal someone’s money. Or murder them…” (Its screen colours swirl, like rainbows reflecting on an oily and uneasy sea.) “Listen, I’m trying to help you understand. It’s a system. God is perfect.” (Cartoon angels geyser from the ocean and, flying in wheeling flocks, sparkle in the glory of radiant, spoke-like sunbeams.) “He doesn’t accept sinners into heaven. So…”
“What about Jesus?” I snap. “Forgiveness. That’s what I hear all the time. Jesus came so we could be forgiven…”
“Ja,” replies Arno, doubtfully (the phone greys). “Forgiveness…” He looks down, purses his lips, thinking, or pretending to. “Listen, have you ever actually forgiven anyone? Take Marcus, for instance – have you forgiven him?”
The waitress reaches right through the phone – as if it’s not there. It disappears, with an angry beep, and media silence falls.
“I was just…” Ka-boomba! I haven’t thought about it.
“I was just angry with him.”
“Ja, and after the anger? Maybe by tomorrow, or the next day. Or next week, then you’ll be ready to forgive him.” (The phone flickers, flashes up calendar infographics, counts days, plots trends, opens bar graphs, pie charts, as notifications click, ring, and warble.) “But what happens when he does it again?”
“Does what again?”
Arno shakes his head. This time he mimes long-suffering – another one of those biblical behaviours he pretends to admire. But before he can say anything, food arrives.
The waitress reaches right through the phone – as if it’s not there. It disappears, with an angry, electronic jangle, and media silence falls.
Like the bell in a boxing match, and the waitress is the referee. And, in my corner, nursing my bruises, I don’t pay any attention to what she says to Arno. She could be invisible for all I care. I ignore hands that put a cup of coffee I didn’t ask for in front of me; a plate of bacon, eggs, toast I don’t want.
The eggs are poached, exactly circular, yellow centred; the bacon arranged in three neat ribbons – purple-brown stripes on thick white china; browned white-bread toast makes geometric triangles. Weird what you notice.
Somehow, it’s not like what I expect from a deli.
Butter in foil-sealed plastic. Clunky china cup and saucer.
But Arno is talking again. “…that freaks you out. And maybe he’ll make a pass at your sister.”
Zap! But I don’t say anything out loud.
“Then you’ll have to forgive him again. And how many times do you think you can do that? Seven times? …Or four-hundred-and-ninety times? Not easy, hey?”
For a moment I think Arno is going to put a hand on my shoulder. Zap, no!
But he doesn’t. Instead he goes on, still miming thoughtfulness: “And how many times do you think God will forgive you?”
“God’s not human. He’s not limited the way we zapping are…” I push back. But it’s mostly reflex – I don’t really care where Arno is going with this. He can play dumb games… (The phone is back, totting up numbers.)
“That’s right. God is not human. And from my experience, he’s got a very long memory – an ‘inhumanly’ long memory. Don’t expect him to forgive you.”
This is way boring… But I’m annoyed: “The bible says that God doesn’t…”
“And, if he’s so forgiving, then why did he have to send Jesus? You answer me that. He even killed his own son…”
“No! You’ve got it wrong. Uncle Arno, the bible says God loved the world so much he gave his only Son…”
“As a sacrifice, to himself – nailed up on a cross to die. Worse than any combatant I ever saw. I told you: don’t expect God to show you mercy!” Arno grins, triumphant. (And the phone does stupid things with crosses).
“So, forget about ‘Father’ God,” he mocks. “Ha… Maybe you think you’ll have better luck with Jesus. How many times do you think he will forgive you?”
“Four-hundred-and-ninety times,” I bite back. “Seventy times seven. Jesus’ own words. Matthew – chapter 18, verse 22.” Don’t think I don’t know my bible.
A slow smile ripens on Arno’s face.
Splits and rots: behind stretched lips, teeth like pale maggots feasting on dead words.
“Ja, and after the four-hundred-and-ninety is finished?”
“I told you, it’s a points system,” he insists.
I know there’s something wrong with what he’s saying, but…
“So, let’s not beat around the bush. Self-control is important. How else are you going to stand in the gap for your sister?”
Angel Wings by Sergei Tomakov on Pixabay https://pixabay.com/illustrations/angel-wings-fairy-isolated-4870050/
Twin Figures Beneath a Starry Sky https://pxhere.com/en/photo/977164
Intro Music (on Podcast)
Excerpt from Black, White and Blue by Paul du Preez
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Syblings the Syrial is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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