Friday, August 29, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“The Second Time”

“I’m sorry to do this,” I said, “but the moment can’t be put off any longer.”

The old man looked at me from the depths of his cell. “They asked for me?”

“No, but the State can’t be put off any longer. I have orders to carry out the sentence immediately and -- well -- orders are orders.”

I unlocked the cell door and led the old man out. He went along slowly but uncomplainingly. As we got to the courtyard, he looked around in puzzlement.

“Last time there was a crowd,” he said. “A big crowd.”

“My superiors want you to be executed in private,” I said. “They do not want another martyr to the cause.”

“In that case,” he said, “you should let me go.”

“I’m sorry. I can not. You’re much too dangerous for us to keep alive.”

“Too dangerous, huh?” The old man smiled.

“Of course. The world is very unstable nowadays. All it needs is one more fanatic to send it over the edge and plunge it into World War III. We can’t have that.”

“Have you no tolerance for a man with strong beliefs?”

“Sure, if he keeps them to himself. But when he starts gathering crowds around him and trying to convert others to his viewpoint... he’s a troublemaker.”

“Your world doesn’t seem to have much room for strong personalities.”

“Of course it does. We just can’t afford chaos.”

“I see,” said the old man. “And a man like me…would start chaos.”

“Of course.”

“You don’t really believe that.”

“I believe what I’m told to believe.”

“Then I pity you.”

Something about the old man got to me. If I were in his place, I would be scared to death, but the old man did not flinch an eyelash. I knew he must be trembling inside at the thought of his imminent death, yet he did not show it. Perhaps he was gripped by self-doubt about the validity of the cause he espoused and he didn’t want to show it. Yes, that was it.

If so, he didn’t say so. He just stood there silently, daring me to speak.

Finally he spoke. “All the healings I did... I suppose they don’t mean anything?”

“There was no reliable witnesses to any of them, “ I said. “Therefore, there were no healings.”

“What about the patients?”

“Either con-men or fools. In either case, hardly very convincing.”

“What about the dead man I resurrected?”

“Another phony miracle. And just as well, considering the population explosion.”

“You’re quite cynical for a young man. Surely you believe such things can happen.”

“I would not know. I have never seen them happen.”

The old man sighed. “Your world sounds like a sad one, Sergeant. Surely you must believe in something.”

“Sure, I do,” I said. “I believe in God.”

The old man laughed.

I glared at him. “Did I say something funny, old man?”

The old man fell silent.

“If I did, I wish you’d say so,” I said, “so that an old soldier like me can get in on the joke.”

The old man sighed.

“You wouldn’t understand,” he said.

He walked brusquely towards the end of the courtyard and turned towards me.

“Finish it,” he said.

I frowned. Something about the old man made me uneasy. He was not acting the way I had expected him to act.

Moreover, there was an air of familiarity about him -- as if he reminded me of an old family friend or a favorite uncle. Impossible, I thought. None of my family or friends would be caught dead associating with the type of scum the old man has associated with. Yet he talked to me as if he had known me all my life. As if I had known him long before he had been assigned to my prison.

Perhaps he was a fanatic, I thought. That would explain his reaction. In his mind, he was dying for his cause. Never mind if it was the right one. At least in his mind, he was doing something for the sake of whatever it was he believed in.

As for the air of familiarity, that could be explained too. People like him thrived on making converts wherever they went. No matter how unlikely the place or how unlikely the convert. And how better to make such converts than to feign friendship in even the most hostile environment.

I smiled when I realized this. Seen in that light, the old man no longer seemed so impressive.

“Turn around and face the wall,” I said.

He did so.

A couple of shots from my revolver and it was done.

Good, I thought, as I summoned some guards for burial detail. The old man was finished. One more would-be revolutionary had bitten the dust.

I started to turn around, then remembered to cross myself. As my fingers brushed across my crucifix, I suddenly seized it and brought it before my face.

It was at that moment that I finally realized where I had seen the old man’s face before.

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