“Did you bring it?” the old man rasped earnestly from his bed.
I looked down at him. Emaciated and yellowing, he forced a grin, as he painfully raised a withered arm as if to confer a stunted benediction. “Look at all these tubes. Truly I am being trussed and seasoned for sacrifice, just like the Pascal lamb.”
Pushing aside the multitude of tubes attached to various parts of his person, he asked again: “Did you bring it?”
Slowly, I revealed the box of chocolates I was hiding behind my back and tried to balance it on the bedside table, between a desultory vase of nonchalant flowers and a rather large leatherbound tome, open at the centre and almost completely covered with pencil notations.
“Oh joy,” he exclaimed, licking his lips. “By your Passion we were set free from our passions, O Christ, and by your resurrection we were redeemed from corruption.” Steadily, his fingers enclosed a truffle and, looking furtively at the door, quickly enveloped it with his mouth. “Bliss. Take one.”
“After Easter,” I responded. “We aren’t there yet.”
“Oh yes,” he snorted. “Let all mortal flesh keep silent and stand in fear and trembling, giving no thought to things of the earth. Yet it is the flesh that betrays us in the end you see, because the soul and the flesh are interconnected. Plato was either a blithering idiot, or set out deliberately to mislead. Chrysostom on the other hand …”
“Don’t get yourself excited,” I murmured, grasping his hand. “It’s ok.”
“Well, imagine how differently Christian theology would have evolved if the Holy Fathers had access to chocolates, or for that matter, if Kierkegaard had had someone to sleep with. The whole thing would have been unrecognisably different, don’t you see.”
He reached over to pour himself a glass of water and became entangled in an unspeakably complicated contraption and full of buttons, and tubes and emitting high pitched, rhythmic bleeps. “They do not know nor understand; They carry on in darkness; all the foundations of the earth shall be shaken,” he grimaced, as a nurse, entering the room, silently wrested control of the water jug, helped him back into bed and fluffed his pillows for good measure.
“Bloodsucker, ανέραστη,” he cursed. “They are not humans. They are automatons. No feelings to speak of at all except for one, some type of South East Asian. A beautiful bloom. His skin radiates jasmine and hibiscus of the East. When I was in the South East, this was before the war, you understand, I was captivated by the scent. And I told him, if there is a Paradise, this is what it will smell like. Because at that time, the whole South East smelled of him, or the other way around, I don’t know. And he just smiled, the bastard. Smiled like he always did. You know we were together for 40 years?”
“No, I didn’t know. No one ever told me.”
“I don’t imagine they would have. Together ever since Cairo, me and my British Tommy. We came to Australia together. I was the first Greek your grandfather met here. That much you must know. And HE was the first non-Greek he met here. Simply because he was wandering around the dock like a lost sheep with that frown on his face, yes, exactly like that – it’s uncanny how similar yours is, it’s like I’m looking at your grandfather resurrected – and we felt sorry for him and took him home with us and helped him find a place of his own. And I remember he would always scold your grandfather for frowning and tell him: ‘Lift up your finger and say: “Tweet Tweet, Shush Shush, Now Now, Come Come”, which were the words of a popular song of the time.’ Your grandfather thought he was insulting him and looked like he wanted to throw him a punch. He never liked him you know. And even when he would come round, never with your grandmother, you understand, the first thing he would do, was ask gruffly:’Is your husband here, αφορισμένε? No? Good.’ A tremendously dry sense of humour, your progenitor had.”
“Pappou is long gone,” I mused.
“They all are,” he spluttered. “All gone, and left me alone, an ageing fag, to find my pleasures turn to ash in my mouth, to face Death alone. What does it say in there?” he asked, pointing to the fat tome on the table.
I picked it up and flicked through the pages. It was an old service book for Holy Week, so well-thumbed that the corners of most pages were almost translucent. The text was so heavily annotated it was barely legible. Taking my place from a large pencil asterisk, I begin to read: “Now then, if you are ready, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, the pipe, the harp, the four-stringed instrument, the psaltery, the symphony, and every kind of music, that you shall fall down and worship the golden image I made.”
“Not like that,” he snapped. “Properly. Chant it, the way I’ve shown you. Now read this.”
I said, “You are gods, and you are all sons of the Most High. But you die like men, and like one of the rulers, you fall.”
Grasping my hand so tightly that I let out a gasp, he closed his eyes and intoned: “Today, Hades groans and cries out, ‘It would have been better for me if I had not received the One born of Mary; for when He came here, He destroyed my power. He shattered the gates of brass; and, as God, He resurrected the souls, which I held captive for ages …’ Then, leaving off suddenly, he asked: “Will there be a resurrection, do you think? And stop frowning, boy.”
“There has to be,” I responded after a time. “Otherwise our hearts would break.”
“But that is precisely the point, dear boy,” he chortled, his eyes widening. “Down there amongst the mud and clay, you won’t have a heart for very long will you? How long do you think it will be before it disintegrates? One month? Less? So why do you need a resurrection?”
I remained silent.
“Will you go to the service of the First Resurrection on Holy Saturday morning, the one that anticipates His rising?” he asked.
“Yes. I always do.”
“When the priest comes out with the laurel leaves, I want you to bang your pew hard. I want you to hammer at it. Make an almighty ruckus so I can hear it all the way down in Hades. Harrow those gates of Hell,” he pronounced, almost with manic urgency. Sitting up on the creaking hospital bed, he pleaded: “Please, do this for me.”
“Yes, alright. It’s only a few days away and then I will come to see you again. And next year, we will go and hammer those pews together.”
“Oh no,” he smiled, waving me away. “I’m going off to meet not one, but two bridegrooms. I’m the luckiest person in the world.”
On the third day, Holy Saturday, very early in the morning, I took the koulouria and eggs I had prepared and went to his chamber. I found the curtain drawn away from the bed, but when I entered, the bed was empty and his body was not there. While I pondered this, suddenly a nurse in whites that gleamed like lightning stood beside me. In my fright I turned my face away from her but she said to me: “Why do you seek him? He is not here.”
“The Lord awoke as from sleep, and He rose and saved us,” I recited, as I discerned an empty chocolate box poking out of a drawer of the bedside table. As I walked away, light penetrated the four panels of the window, flooding the empty chamber. And I wept.