One More Messiah
Fragment of a novel
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 was said: “You are a messiah.” And I believed It.
The next night, I did not sleep at all. I asked aloud: “Why ‘messiah’? The only people who call themselves that now are lunatics. Why not something else?” “You are a messiah,” I heard again. From then on the Voice was no longer somewhere beside me or coming from the next room. It was in me. When It wanted to speak to others, It became one with my voice, which now sounded deeper and more profound. This did not go noticed by others.
Bombs exploding in Russia, causing much destruction. But no one was waiting for the Messiah, least of all in Moscow, that Temple to the Idol of Happiness, where I lived. No, the people of Moscow, bewitched by the Idol’s golden, coin-like eyes, were too busy flocking to his celebration. They wanted only one thing: to fling themselves into his arms. But the Idol didn’t have any arms—and it never stayed in the same place for long. The only thing the Idol of Happiness cared about was running around town, always on the move. His party was never far behind, breathing down his neck. And yet, 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 happening 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 apathetic to the things happening around me; I felt uncomfortable when I had to speak about myself. My past had flown away from me like a child’s helium balloon. Events that had happened two thousand years ago seemed closer to me than any recent experiences. My own statements amused me. I spoke of things I’d never even thought about before. The ease with which I spoke was uncanny. My speech was filled with archaisms and pathos. It created friction within my family. Although it didn’t feel right, I tried to speak in a modern way and keep myself from sermonizing. That is how, with the help of the people closest to me—my wife and son—I found the right words.
When I began to instruct my son, he said to me: “Father, you’ve lost your sense of humor.” In the early days, this was the only thing that confused me: I was acutely aware of the tediousness of my own 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 was ever too convoluted, it was because there was a surplus of my own voice in there. However, even when the Voice was 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 without at least some of my individuality shining through. Any messiah—any prophet—always speaks with two voices: his own, and the Other’s. With any flight of the soul, which we call inspiration (imparted by the Other), the speculative material already present in someone’s consciousness is blown about like dust at the moment of revelation.
Of the feelings I experienced, the one that surprised me most was the degree of my own amazement. I had never known such a feeling before. To call it “ecstatic” or “inspired” would be to limit its implication; to call it “religious” would cause misunderstandings (as the word “religion” calls to mind presuppositions of a type of cult or faction, it is best avoided). So, I began searching for a more suitable word. The consideration of these various concepts and words was as engaging to me as sports or the arts are to others. “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 had at first been so opposed began to repel me less and less; “messiah”—it designated my destiny. I began to grow close to it, merging myself with it, but still, I did not use it. If someone called me “messiah”, I did not try to correct them. But when referring to myself, I simply said that my name was Vladimir (I did not want strain attitudes, which is what inevitably follows the utterance of such high-voltage words). Never did I doubt that I could be a messiah—after all, I would only be one among many who have appeared since the Crucifixion. I felt in myself that I was “messiah,” just the same as any of the others walking 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.
At first, the Voice spoke only to me. I began to grow. I broke free from my shell and began to spread outward. When I would say the word “I”, I was no longer sure what it meant. To others, I was Vladimir Ivashin, but to myself I was at first a kind of cluster of meanings, and then a flood of sensitivity through time and 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 was difficult to say. The outline of my individuality had lost all its distinctiveness. I perceived it as a process of construction, but in fact it was not I who was under construction—I was the space in which this construction took place. And it was becoming less and less important whether or not what was being constructed would be the same as what had existed before the Voice. The important thing was that I felt like a space—a living space. I expanded and contracted, things appeared and disappeared, germinated and died off, and, with these changes taking place, 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 shimmer. Its splendor, which until recently had excited me, now appeared crude and vulgar. I stopped venturing outside. I saw only my wife and son. That is to say; I perceived them, but really, they were little more than animated forms that moved around in my apartment. My son would glance up at me with curiosity, but he asked no questions. My wife would say, again and again, that she didn’t recognize me anymore. I no longer read books or followed current events, I had no interest in visiting our friends or going 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 this way, and then my wife had had enough.
“You are insane!” she cried and walked out the door. My son, Svyat, stayed 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 cannot give you any more than she already has, which is why she did not ask you to come with her.”
When my wife left me, she was hurt. She wanted revenge and so she had the furniture removed from our apartment. All that remained was the rocking chair I was sitting in. I said nothing 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 their suffering. So, as she was leaving, I whispered “thank you”, too low for her to hear. Unnoticed, it followed my wife a little while before burning out.
When my wife slammed the door, I first saw and then heard what is called “emptiness.” This emptiness was filled with such energy that I could no longer sit still in my rocking chair. I literally jolted out of it, toppling it over. I rolled around on the floor, laughing out loud like a child.
After putting the chair back, I sat back down and let my breathing return to normal. I was filled with a sense of melancholy: what is left to wait for after having experienced such joy? Even before it begins, we know that the wave will take us to such great heights that it will inevitably fall, dragging us down with it.
A rocking chair helps stimulate your worldview. 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 experiencing all the harmonies and disharmonies of life. My grandfather was unaware of having constructed such a perfect piece—and my poverty-stricken father never knew he had left me such a valuable heirloom. In the rocking chair, I could sense the physical laws of motion and my collaboration with them. “Collaboration” 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 did, relaxed and simply enjoyed being in motion. We chose different forms of motion. I rocked in my chair, while Svyat roamed the streets. He brought me food. I didn’t ask him where he got it.
The blurrier the image of my self became, the stronger became the Voice. My son was the first I opened up to. Once, during one of my conversations with him, Svyat picked up his guitar and played back what he heard coming from me. That is how he wrote his first song. More songs soon followed. My son said that he didn’t need to spend much time composing them: my words were like a full-formed melody and all he had to do was to transcribe them using his 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.
People started accompanying Svyat back home in the evenings. Excited by his singing, they would follow him, wishing to prolong the experience. They all felt lost—even the ones that may 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—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 retaliating. They had chosen to no longer recognize any God above them, although they still felt that there must be something that spiritualizes the flesh and connects everything. Unable to come up with something better, some of them called this the “Highest Intellect.” When I talked to them, I also used this word, although I preferred another: “God.” Like the “Highest Intellect,” this word is also ambiguous, but it breathes; it is also universal, while at the same time being very personal. The important thing was that what my guests called the “Highest Intellect” and I called “God” allowed us to all sense its 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 missed. I wasn’t their Messiah. I was the Messiah of those who didn’t crave 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 dreamers. They were the first people to whom I spoke about the “Black Fire,” but they could not see it inside themselves or others. When I told them about the beast called Loveliness, they understood me. I told them that a hungry animal lives at the center of every heart—Loveliness’ suckling. He feeds on love, but only if it is pure. And when there is not much love in the heart, the suckling screams, and while he screams, his teeth grow. If the suckling is allowed to grow a full set of teeth, he will begin to gnaw at the heart, and forgets about love. However, if there is enough love for him, he will drink his fill and then he will swim from the center of the heart to the sea that is the soul and spread himself out from there. Initially, the story of Loveliness may seem to have nothing to do with the story of the Black Fire, but that is as it appears on the surface, for the stories of Loveliness and the Black Fire are both about what is hiding inside our hearts.
If someone would ring our bell, Svyat would always open the door without asking who it was first. He had stopped singing in the streets, busy as he was helping me to accommodate our guests. Soon, our apartment no longer fit even half the people who wanted to see me. They came to me, led by curiosity and were then taken from me by the fear of losing their dreams. In the presence of my voice, their dreams would billow like curtains in the wind, and they would run from me, screaming, terrified that their dreams might be ripped to shreds. They didn’t want to see what was hiding behind those curtains, thinking maybe it would be nothing but a great emptiness—and that is what they feared most of all.
At the end of each day, my son was exhausted. Fifty days had passed since the night on which I first heard the Voice, when I said to Svyat:
“Tomorrow we are leaving.”
He nodded compliantly.