"Remember me when you come into your kingdom."
IT WAS so hard to watch, but I did not turn away.
I wanted to share these last moments with him – the man I loved – no matter how painful.
So I kept my ears and my eyes open –– even though they were filled with horrors.
I saw them drive the nails into his wrists. Heard him scream. Watched, as they hauled his cross into position.
I missed nothing.
Everyone told me I was a fool to love him.
“Don’t you know what he does?” They scolded. “Don’t you know how badly the authorities want to get their hands on him?”
My women friends shook their heads, clucked their tongues.
“He’s a vagabond!”, they’d say. “A criminal! There’s no future for you there. Why don’t you find yourself a decent man, a steady man? Someone from a good family. The longer you stay with him, the harder it will be for you to put your life back together when it all goes wrong – and be warned, woman, it will go wrong!”
And, they were right. It did go wrong. Horribly wrong.
I told him over and over again: don’t go into Jerusalem at Passover. There are too many unfamiliar faces; too many eyes; too many soldiers. But he would go.
“Pass up an opportunity like this?’, he laughed, holding me at arm’s length, looking into my eyes. “Not likely!”
And, he went.
It’s grown cold on this hill-top. The sun’s disappeared and the wind is rising. Two more crosses have gone up. Two more tortured bodies. Two more screaming mouths. I don’t recognise the man in the middle, but the other is Dumachus.
Him I know.
He is a bad bastard. Cruel. Violent.
“Dead men tell no tales!”
That was Dumachus’s motto. Out there on the desert road. The robbed and beaten travellers begging for mercy through broken teeth. Mercy? Hah! Dumachus had none.
My man tried to save them. He pleaded for their lives. Dumachus just laughed. He enjoyed killing – it gave him pleasure.
Listen to him now! Taunting the stranger.
“Hey, Rabbi! They say you’re the Messiah. God’s son! So how about giving us a bit of help? Come on, get us down from here. Save yourself. And if you can’t do that then, Hell! At least save me and my friend!”
Messiah? Son of God? What in Heaven’s name is Dumachus talking about?
I squint against the darkening sky. The soldiers have nailed some sort of notice above the stranger’s head, and – Oh Dear Lord! I thought it was his hair – but it’s a woven circlet of thorns. The soldiers have pushed it over his forehead like a crown. The blood has flowed down, covering his eyes.
My man, Dismas, is speaking into the wind.
“Shut your mouth, Dumachus! Show some respect. You know how we got here – and why. You killed all those people for no good reason – and I, God forgive me, I didn’t stop you. What they’ve done to us here is no more than we deserve. But this man: this man has done nothing. Nothing that warrants this. Leave him be!”
The stranger inclines his head towards Dismas, and smiles.
I can read what the soldiers have written now. “Jesus of Nazareth. King of the Jews”
Dismas is speaking again. Speaking to this Jesus.
“Remember me,” he’s saying, “when you come into your kingdom.”
Those eyes, again. Staring out through the blood and suffering of our broken world. No pain in them, no anger. Just a gaze of boundless forgiveness and infinite love.
“It will be so”, he says, so softly I can hardly hear him. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Dismas nods weakly. Tries to smile. There’s no more strength in his arms.
I cannot bear this. I cannot.
But Dismas is looking down at me. He’s struggling to speak.
“Did you hear that, my love?”, he gasps through gritted teeth, fighting now for every breath.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times of Thursday, 28 March 2013.