A loud voice awakened me in the night. For several seconds (how many?) my heart stopped beating. This was the beginning; from now on everything would be different. The Voice spoke again and I listened. It said: “You are the Messiah.” And I believed It.
The next night I did not sleep at all. I asked aloud: “Why ‘the Messiah’? The only people who call themselves that now are lunatics. Why not something else?” “You are the Messiah,” It repeated. From now on the Voice was no longer somewhere beside me or in the next room. It was in me. When It wanted to speak to others, It became one with my voice, which sounded deeper and more profound. This was noted by others.
Bombs exploded in Russia and there was much destruction. But no one was waiting for the Messiah, least of all in Moscow, where I live, that Temple to the Idol of Happiness. No, the people of Moscow, bewitched by the Idol’s golden, coin-like eyes, were too busy racing to his celebration. They wanted only one thing: to fling themselves into his arms. But the Idol didn’t have any arms—and it didn’t stay in the same place long. The only thing the Idol of Happiness cared about was running about town, moving fast. His celebration kept close behind him, breathing down his neck. But this discouraged no one; every day millions of Muscovites tore about the streets, trying desperately to apprehend him.
Meanwhile, from up high—at least as high as the 8th floor gets you—I was becoming accustomed to the changes which were occurring inside me. At first that was the only thing I did: acclimatize. I started breathing in a different way; my skin felt strange; I became indifferent to the things happening around me; I felt uncomfortable when I had to speak about myself. My past had flown away like a child’s balloon. Two-thousand-year-old events seemed closer to me than recent experiences. My own statements amused me. I talked about things I’d never thought about before. The ease with which I spoke was uncanny. My speech was filled with archaisms and pathos. It created friction with my family. I didn’t want to, but I tried to speak in a modern way and to keep myself from sermonizing. That’s how, thanks to the people closest to me—my wife and son—I found the proper words.
When I began to instruct my son, he said to me: “Father, you’ve lost your sense of humor.” In the first days this was the only thing that confused me: I myself noticed the tediousness of my monologues. That Voice, which I designate here with a capital letter, was, to a varying degree, present in everything I said. If what I said turned out to be too convoluted there was a surplus of my own voice. However, even when the Voice became very strong there was still much of myself left in my words. Having tested the sound of my voice, I can tell you this: it was not possible for the Voice to speak completely without my individuality showing through. Any Messiah—any prophet—always speaks with two voices: his own, and the Other’s. The speculative material already present in someone’s consciousness is, with any flight of the soul which we call ínspiration' (the inspiration imparted by the Other), blown about as dust at the moment of revelation.
Of all my feelings the one that surprised me most was the degree of my own amazement. I’d never known such a feeling before. To call it “ecstatic” or “inspired” would be to limit its implication; to call it “religious” would cause a misunderstanding (as the word “religion” presupposes a cult or faction type feeling, it is best to avoid it). So, I began to search for a suitable name. The very consideration of concepts and words attracted me much as others are attracted to sports or the arts. “Words—they are yours,” the Voice said to me, and I took it as a guide by which to direct my pursuits.
As time passed, that word to which I was at first opposed began to repel me less and less; “Messiah”—it named my destiny. I began to grow close to it, mingling myself with it, but I did not begin to use it. If someone called me “the Messiah” I did not try to correct them. But when referring to myself I said simply that my name was Vladimir (I did not want strain attitudes, which is what inevitably follows the pronunciation such high-voltage words). Never have I doubted that I could be the Messiah—after all, I would only be one among many others who have appeared since the Crucifixion. I felt in myself that I was “the Messiah,” just the same as any of the others walking about through the Graveyard of Truths: the Absolute, the Center, the Highest, the Universal, the Eternal. Our type peers not at the monumental gravestones and ghosts, but at the gleam of the interstices; we try to feel the ground alive under our feet, we try to feel the lives buried under the ashes of relics, idols, and discarded words.
In the beginning the Voice spoke only to me. I began to grow. I broke through my shell and began to spread outward. When I would say the word “I” I no longer knew what it meant. For others I was Vladimir Ivashin, but for myself I was at first some sort of cluster of meaning, and then a flooding of sensitivity through space. I was a rumor trapped in a Moscow apartment, I was the throat through which the Voice made itself known. What remained of me? It is difficult to say. The outline of my individuality had lost its clarity. I perceived it as some sort of construction, but I was not in fact this construction—I was the place where this construction existed. And it was becoming less and less important whether or not this was the same construction that had existed before the Voice. The important thing was that I felt myself as a place—a living place. I expanded and contracted, things appeared and disappeared, germinated and died off, and, among all these changes, nothing remained for more than a short while.
What was happening inside me was much more interesting to me than what was happening in Moscow. I cared little about the things that made the city cry and shake and move and shine. Its splendor, which until recently had excited me, now appeared crude and vulgar. I stopped going outside. I saw only my wife and son. What I mean to say is that I saw them, but really, they were little more than animated forms that moved about my apartment. My son would glance at me with curiosity, but he asked no questions. My wife would say again and again that she didn’t recognize me any more. I no longer read books, I didn’t follow current events, I didn’t want to visit our friends, and I never went to the movies. Most importantly, I stopped thinking about business (half a year had passed since my company had gone bankrupt, and the opening of my new firm was experiencing one delay after another). When my wife would rail against me I would take her hands in mine, and, if she would let me, I would hug her. We no longer spoke because she didn’t want to listen. A month passed in this way, and then my wife had had enough.
“You are insane!” she screamed and walked out the door. My son, Svyat, remained with me.
“Svyat, you understand me, now you need to understand your mother,” I told him. “She can only do what she is capable of. She hasn’t the strength to live with me as I am now. So she has left us. She can’t give you more than she already has, and she didn’t ask you to come with her.”
When my wife left me she was offended. She wanted to take revenge and so she had the furniture removed from our apartment. All that remained was the rocking chair I was sitting in. I didn’t say anything to her, as the only thing I could have said was “Thank you,” and to say “Thank you” to a person who is taking revenge is to increase her suffering. So, as she was leaving, I whispered “thank you” so she couldn’t hear. Unnoticed, it followed my wife a little way and then burned out.
When my wife slammed the door, I saw and then heard what is called “emptiness.” There was so much energy inside this emptiness that I could no longer sit in my rocking chair. I literally jumped out of it, toppling it over. I rolled about on the floor, laughing like a child.
After righting the chair, I sat back down and let my respiration normalize. I was filled with a sense of melancholy: what is there left to wait for after experiencing such joy? Even before we begin, we know that the wave that will take us to such great heights will inevitably fall, bringing us down with it.
A rocking chair helps your worldview to function properly. My rocking chair was made by my grandfather. First it rocked him, then it rocked my father, and now it rocks me. A bit of smooth rocking is gratifying to a soul that feels the harmonies and disharmonies of life. My grandfather was unaware that he had constructed such a perfect thing—and my poverty stricken father didn’t know that he had left me such a valuable inheritance. In the rocking chair I could sense the physical laws of motion and my co-operation with them. “Co-operstion” is a good word. It’s a variant of “synergy.”
The empty apartment didn’t bother my son or me in the least—quite the contrary. He quit school and, like I was doing, relaxed and enjoyed moving. We chose different forms of movement. I rocked in my chair, while Svyat ambled about in the streets. He brought me food. I didn’t ask him where he got it.
The blurrier my self-image became the stronger the Voice became. My son was the first one I opened up to. Once, during one of my conversations with him, Svyatoslav picked up his guitar and played what he heard coming from me. That’s how he wrote his first song. Others soon followed. My son told me that he didn’t spend much time composing the songs: my words were like a melody already composed and all he had to do was to transcribe them on the guitar. Svyat would play each new song to me, and then he would go out and play it on the street. He enjoyed being a street musician.
In the evening, people started accompanying Svyat back home. Excited by his singing they would follow him, wishing to prolong the experience. They all felt lost—even the ones that could have led successful lives. These were people who had lost their faith: some of them no longer believed in the Idol of Happiness; some of them didn’t believe in a prophet; some—and that was the majority—didn’t believe in the Trinity—especially in God the Father. The glorification of His power made them nauseous because they knew Him to be impotent: around them they saw the perpetration of injustice, evil triumphing over good, children dying, and nature attacking. They no longer chose to recognize any God above them, although they still thought that there must be something that spiritualizes the flesh and connects everything together. Coming up with nothing better, some of them called this the “Highest Intellect.” When I talked to them, I also used this word, although I preferred another one: “God.” Like the “Highest Intellect,” this word also contains uncertainty, but it breathes; it is also universal, but at the same time, individual. The important thing was that what my guests called the “Highest Intellect” and I called “God” allowed us to sense itself as freshness, light, harmony, and omnipresence.
The people who came to me talked to me of their nostalgia. There is much delight in nostalgia, and many people enjoyed being far from the place they desired. I wasn’t their Messiah. I was the Messiah of those who didn’t want this distance. But they were not among my guests. The majority of them were different types of travelers: businessmen from distant cities, refugees, vagabonds. All of them were dreamers. They were the first people to whom I spoke about the “Black Fire,” but they could not see it inside themselves or others. Then I told them about the beast called Loveliness, and they understood me. I told them that at the center of every heart a hungry animal lives—Loveliness’ suckling. He feeds on love, but only if it’s pure. And if there is not much love in the heart, the suckling screams, and while he is screaming his teeth are growing. If the suckling is allowed to grow a full set of teeth, he will begin to gnaw at the heart, and he forgets about love. But, if there is enough love for him, after drinking his fill he will swim from the center of the heart to the sea that is the soul and spread himself out. At first glance, the story of Loveliness does not seem to have anything to do with the story of the Black Fire, but that’s just from the surface—for, the stories of Loveliness and of the Black Fire are both about what hides in our heart.
If someone would ring our bell, Svyatoslav would always open the door without asking who it was. He stopped singing in the streets, busy as he was helping me to entertain guests. Soon our apartment could not fit even half of those people who wanted to see me. They were led to me by curiosity and were taken from me by the fear of loosing their dreams. In the presence of my voice their dreams would flap like curtains in the wind and they would run away screaming, terrified that their dreams would be ripped to shreds. They didn’t want to see what was hiding behind those curtains. They thought that maybe it was nothing but a great emptiness—and that’s what they were afraid of most of all.
At the end of each day my son was exhausted. After fifty days had passed since the night on which I first heard the Voice, I said to Svyat:
“Tomorrow we are leaving.”
He nodded compliantly.