The Pilgrim

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“Domine, quo vadis?”, Annibale Carraci, 1601-1602

A powerful wind batters the yellow grains of this arid landscape. Far, in the distance, an acute moan can be heard as it reverberates from East to West in the stony silence of the desert. Enrobed by the engulfing heat, eyes can barely discern the smoky figure of this Stranger as he walks nonchalantly, wading through the mountains of sand whipped by a violent column of air. As he advances, the moan becomes more acute, imposing itself on the mind by the urgency of its most somber tone. Panting, and sweating, he approaches a rare oasis in this vast land of the desert where life and community are nonexistent. It is a small community of nomads living in squarely huts made of mortar spreading semi-circularly about their oasis around which their social and communal life appears to be centered. At the far west side of these camps, resides a slightly bigger hut, apparently made of a mixture of cement and mortar. One can tell by its preponderant whiteness distinct from the orange-redness of the other huts, that it is the chief’s house.

And the moaning ceases as the stranger reaches this lone site of human society in the desert. Tall and green palm trees stand as they surround a tranquil spring, forming around it a protective crown. Their green and swift leaves branch out radially, they are blown in the wind and with the shade of their lengths provide relief to the dryness and dizziness of the hostile landscape with a tantalizing fresh air one cannot resist. Attached at the trees, camels are slowly replenishing themselves, as they gracefully bend to quench their thirst from the waters of the spring. At the approach of this solitary figure, its intense plight cannot help but draw attention. He has been noticed from afar, and at the sight of him, two individuals — one of the men is a short but robust man in his old age, the other one is taller and in his posture is reflected the vigor of youth — walk out to meet him at the entry of the village, undoubtedly in the hope of offering him their hospitable services.

“We greet you, dear pilgrim. We are most honored that your path may have crossed ours. You must be tired walking under this intense heat. Please, do us the honor of your stay that we may tend to your needs.” Says the elderly, by whose manners one can tell he is the chief of the community. The pilgrim man, visibly exhausted and dry, acquiesces silently with a motion of the head. “Oh, how pale and warm you are. Come, come in.” And patting this strange, solitary man on the shoulders, they escort him past the entrance point of the village. The place is traversed by a serpentine route carved into the sands by its inhabitants and whose path deviates into smaller ones, each leading to its own hut.The chief of the village and his aide are following the main stem, leading their guest to the main white house at the end of the camp. The pilgrim whose identity still remains anonymous directs his gaze at children. His visage seems to light up as he observes the little boys at his left, running in the sand one after the other, their feet stomping the ground in a dance reminiscent of the most folkloric celebrations. A few feet away, a group of women are tending to the various activities of the day. One of them has detached from the group and is now trying to separate the little players at which point she now notices their new invitee. At this sight, all life seems to stop as all eyes now aware of the presence of this unknown man, stand fixed on his solitary figure. A few men, sited in the center of the camp interrupt their traditional game of dice-and-throw at the sight of this presence to which they react with the look of suspicion in their eyes as they study the nonchalant movements and manners of the pilgrim, who is now displaying visible signs of fatigue.


“Mmmmmmm…!!!!” A grievous moan leaps out from the entrails of the peculiar stranger in a sound that is incomparable to the howls of even the most fearless djinns. The whole village surprised by this sudden vibration coming from the bowels of the earth itself is terrified and trembles in abject, repulsive fear. The elderly who had been holding the stranger’s shoulder until now, steps back violently and the appearance of his face now takes a countenance whose paleness rivals even that of the unknown pilgrim. Then, coming back to his senses, he utters a sigh of relief, gathers his courage and with the wisdom of age and experience, he orders:

“Bring him water! He is perhaps going into shock. Walking all day under this blazing sun…Poor, poor man.” Yet, people stand transfixed and unable to move wrapped in a silence that reflects their sudden fear. Finally, the word of authority takes effect, a young man runs frantically into his hut. He comes out seconds later with an oval gourd filled with water which he hands to the elderly chief. “Take, and drink. It is good water, fresh from our spring; it will replenish you while we prepare for you a good meal.” The stranger sensing his host’s generosity meets him with a look of sadness mingled with gratefulness, and yet remains stoic, striking a pose that disconcerts his benevolent hosts. The chief elder attributing this to fatigue, attempts to feed it into the mouth of his guest. With a solemn motion of the hand, the Stranger gestures not to, rejecting his host’s benevolent intentions and thereby preventing him to perform his sacred duty of hospitality.

“Why, O stranger, do you deny him this right? Have we not met you with hospitality, why now do you reject our services? Look at how pale you are. Now, please, drink”, says the chief’s son who at the side of his father, had been silent up till now. “I have no need of drink”. The Stranger replies in a statement that leaves the assistance aghast. Villagers, sensing to be in the presence of a man taken by delirium now gather in the center of the court, curious to see the rest of the events unfold. “What do you mean, you need not drink? Who are you? Where are you from?” At this, the Stranger becomes even increasingly pale; his dark hair falls back on his face and around his neck as his head bends in a melancholic sigh. His head then straightens as his hair which had been hiding his face, now gracefully falls back against his neck. Turning his back away from his audience, he gently lifts his left arm and points to the sky. “The East. I come from the East.” “Where in the East? What land?”, asks a woman seemingly fascinated by the exotic nature of this peculiar man, who later covers her face in shame as she is scolded by the silent but severe glances of the males in the crowd, upset by her audacity.

The Stranger now turns back towards the people, and utters in a solemn tone:

“I come from a Land where living water flows in abundance. Where the rays of the sun are caressing like silk and warm as a mother touch. There is no desert, no scarcity of food. Oases of palm trees exist, such as these you see, that provide comfort and rest for the fatigued. A sweet breeze sweeps across the Land and a rain sprinkles the earth that makes it fertile and ripe with fruits of all kinds. That Land is where I come from.”

Men and women alike, even children, also stand perplexed, bamboozled, and manifestly eager to hear more from the mouth of this mysterious individual. Here and there, sneers are heard as some are increasingly convinced that their unknown guest is an unfortunate victim of the malevolent jinns of the desert while others, more rational, attribute it to vapors that have collected in his head due to the heat of the blazing sun and have affected his capacity of judgment and his power of memory. Still, more has to be heard. The chief of the village, speaking for his people, continues the interrogation.

“We would love to believe you, but does such a land truly exist? And what of you? Why have you left your land of abundance? Why come here, in this desert, this arid place? What is your purpose? Are you perhaps looking for a trade, a place where to sell the goods of your land?”


Visibly disappointed and saddened at the same time, the Pilgrim responds with the assurance and confidence that does not waver. “I am a Pilgrim. Elders from my Land have sent me to this earth to carry with me living water. I am to labor tirelessly and walk all the lands of the earth to bring all the peoples this living water. That is my purpose.” A few young men can no longer contain themselves; they break out in a sarcastic laughter expressing their contempt over the ramblings of this strange man whom they now understand to be mad. The village chief, out of respect, and quite annoyed with their incivility, gestures for silence to return. He then desperately tries to reason with his host, gently tapping on his shoulder: “Water? What water? You have no bottle, no gourd, and no bag. Where is your water? Are we not in our right to say that you have a fever and no longer know what you are saying? Already, it is the after midday and the sun is burning even more vigorously. Now come, come to your senses and let us tend to your needs. ” No words are uttered and the Pilgrim does not budge. “Perhaps you would like some money? Here, I have a few pieces of silver; you can bring me your stocks of water afterwards. But please, come on in.” The Pilgrim still does not budge. The chief and his people are now running out of patience, for this reason, he feels compelled to speak.

“I have no need to sell it; indeed I must give it till its very last ounce is left. All you have to do is ask.”

These mysterious words are met with an even stonier silence as the complexion on many faces takes a more somber yet mystified tone. Doubts over whether this man is as sick as previously thought rise to the surface while murmurs are uttered between the villagers who are now concerting with one another. At the same time, people stand terrified and the remembrance of the mysterious moaning prevents anyone from engaging in any sudden course of action. The chief’s son in an effort to appease to his guest’s wishes acquiesces to his demands. He positions himself, right in front of him, with a semi-open mouth and the palms of his hands held together; ready to receive into them, a most precious liquid. “Give me then some of that living water, that you may be satisfied.”

The Stranger responds with a deep sigh that reflects his apparent disappointment towards the young man’s disbelief. He slowly unfolds his hands which had been clasped together all this time and crosses them on his heart, one against the other. A shout of horror comes out of the mouths of the people at the sight of his hands covered in leprosy and run with wounds from one end to the other. One can also see his nails, dirtied by dust and brittle as if eaten from within by land mites. Once again, a mysterious moan rises out, his entrails seem to howl and growl and cry grievously and the people of the village recoil in horror and fear before this grim spectacle. Then, as both hands press against his chest, a column of water seems to gush mysteriously out of the beat of his very heart mingled with a fluid carrying with itself the sadness of roses which pours out gracefully, yet forcefully onto the head of the son of the chief. In no time, this young man is immersed in this clear liquid randomly tattered with red spots. Men, women and children are bamboozled, unable to believe the reality of the grim and mysterious prodigy that has just unfolded before their very eyes. Some come to wonder whether they are in the presence of a wizard, a doer of wonders, a miracle-worker. “It’s hot. This water burns, and it tastes bitter. And blood, you have spilled blood on me. What manner of magic is this? What gruesome art is this?” inquires the young man empowered with the strength of authority.

“Answer!”

The Pilgrim cannot help but sigh, he only sighs and replies with a lowly look of sadness and resignation. A little child, taken by pity for this solitary man, approaches him and as if to console him, makes a surprising request. “Good man, give me water also. Give me water. I have been quite thirsty all day. Work your magic once more.” These words resonate like honey and this anonymous man visibly overcome by elation responds with a wide smile, that reveals large, healthy teeth of great whiteness. And this time, as the Pilgrim presses against his chest, water and blood gush out in a sweet, enthralling song that melts the heart of even the most hostile among the crowd. And clear water blazing with the warmth of blood inundates the head and chest of the little child. The brave people of the village stand there, transfixed, incapable of speech and enchanted at the sight of this miracle worker. Seduced by the wonder of these miraculous signs, voices lash out.


“And what about me?”, “And me!”, “I want water too!”. No longer horrified by the stench of human water and blood, they cry out, eager to take part in this rare and unique experience that seems to break the monotony of their daily lives. Soon, men and women, children, even the chief himself are hoping and pleading to see wonders. With a motion of the head, the Pilgrim complies. Then, silence returns, all eyes are now riveted on the wonderful man whose very eyes seem to be projecting magnetic bolts of lightning to its audience. His appearance takes a graver complexion. People witness this individual as his face becomes white as snow; his dark-brown garments mutilated by the long desert walk, also robe themselves in incandescence. He is now unrecognizable such that one would doubt of his very humanity. Then, this man robed in light, crosses his hands on his chest. In the sound of one powerful heartbeat, droplets of water and blood rain down not from his chest this time, but from the very heavens while the murmur, the characteristic groan resonates accompanied by a faint melody of joy. And water and blood pour, and it pours, till the very ground appears soaked with this heavenly mixture. Finally, it stops. Then, there is only silence. Silence and bewilderment mixed with terror and fear. For a long period of time, the villagers stand there, unable to move a muscle, and incapable of taking their eyes off him. And then, rebellion suddenly erupts.

Some, in an attempt to reject the supposed satanic influence of their guest, have reflexively picked up stones, knives and pots. They brandish it and swerve at him in a menacing stance. The Pilgrim conscious of their defiance and hostility, now lowers his head and hands in resignation, in an attitude accepting of his impending fate. Then, nothing happens. Then, it is a cacophony of instruments as one after the other; those instruments of torture are thrown at his feet. One by one, the villagers retreat back into their huts after they have thrown their last glances of rage and contempt at their now unwanted guest. Minutes pass, until the solitary figure is left in the court with a few spectators. On some of these faces, are clearly seen expressions of gratitude and benevolence towards their benefactor. They smile at him, and he smiles back. “Stranger, Pilgrim. Please tell us, what is your name? That we may remember and honor it?” An even greater smile appears on his face, as he exults at this question. His reply is a sweet and grievous moan but which is now distinctly reminiscent of a lamb. Yes, a lamb. They now understand. They shall remember it. “The Lamb. The Lamb.” And imperceptibly, a change has occurred. Their lives, perhaps, shall never be the same. And the Pilgrim watches them leave too, as the necessities of life take back their rights.

“Too few. Always too few”. He whispers to himself as he marches on forward, following the long stem that divides the small village, he walks past the white house at the end of the camp. There, the chief of the village is sitted outside his house and in the sand, with his head held in his hands in shame and terror. And as their eyes meet, the solitary Lamb seems transfigured in a flash of beautiful light as if to reward the old man for his generosity; an experience which then returns to the fatigue of age, its long-gone vigor, and the chief now stands erect and empowered, in the dignity of age and the nobility of his character. “Thank you, Stranger. For everything”. At these words, the Stranger smiles, he only smiles. Then he marches on, following the path to its end where he reaches a wooden barrier that runs all around the village and protects it. He opens it gently and slowly, and walks out under the admiring glances of villagers accompanied and contrasted by the sneers and virulent remarks of the other inhabitants. Then, this solitary man, this Lamb, continues his arduous journey towards the West.


“Too few. Always too few”, he repeats, as he marches on, working tirelessly to bring his water to the earth. His living water. Far, in the distance, one can observe this lonely individual, his figure dancing under the haze of the heat, accompanied by two other mysterious individuals, each walking at one side. And with them, his silhouette progressively disappears behind the dunes of sand, caressed by a quiet breeze and warmed by the blazing heat of the sun. Finally, in the silence of the desert, the melancholy of a sweet melody reverberates from East to West, in all the corners of this dry, lifeless, landscape, a melancholic song of joy, is chanted in the Solitude of a tragic Soul.

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