Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #133, Soul at Midnight, 1

Beggar? Messenger? image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Van Gogh, Sorrowful Old Man, in the public domain.
Beggar? Messenger? image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Van Gogh, Sorrowful Old Man, in the public domain.
In this episode… Batkol walks out.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Eighteenth Era, Part 4, ~1425 C.E., Genoa

Turbulent silence follows these scenes, as our moods and thoughts simmer and seethe. Strange how anger morphs into guilt, and cold contempt will burn itself into longing and sorrow, or at other times into simple relief, as if all resolved.
But our resolution weren’t like that. Batkol come back from the market one day and gone and packs a bag with her stuff, with nary a word. Not long aft, here come that one, Juan and his boy, and off she gone while I sits with a sneer, tho it be false. Panic I feel. I give it a moment, then run to the door and watch them marchin’ down to the docks, and up a plank and onto a ship.
That got me up and runnin’ myself, down to the ship, but some burly dogs block my way, fight as I might. Now a toothy captain, shark-eyed, struts up.
“What’s this trouble you brung here, old man. You’ll find your ass flounderin’ in the drink if you don’t back off. Only them as paid their way can board my ship.”
And those buckoes throw me back on my butt.
“Just tell me, captain, where to you sail?”
“Palma, Valencia, Malaga. Now fuck off jack, and don’t come back. You ain’t welcome down on this quay.”
And there I be, stunned and alone. When I get back home a storm breaks out; howlin’ winds and rain in sheets, and all my grief pourin’ out of me.
I lay on my cot for hours aghast, snakes constrictin’ around my chest, demons a-riot in my head. Late, in the blackness, in the night I hears, like, a sound, like a scratch at my door. Is it her? Exhausted, I hesitate. I slides the latch. What in hell!? Some bent and gnarled beggar stands, his hands a-tremble.
“Let me come in.”
It’s like I’m seein’ myself at the door, so wasted and withered and weary he be. Fumble and fiddle, I light a wick and lay a crust of bread on the board. He stares down an pushes it aside, and lays his head on his folded arms. I go back and sink on my cot.
Some time later,
“Saadia? That right?”
The wick of the lamp sizzles and sparks. I grunt and turn to look at him. He’s older still than he first appeared. Maybe the moon made his beard look dark, and softened his pocked and chiseled face. By the dim lamp he were wrinkled more.
“Saadia, it’s been a long time for you; born so many a year ago. The hours, days, weeks and months all piled in a vast wreckage of memories. I just come down to Genoa today.”
“I ain’t been here so long,” I says. “What? At most a few months.”
“You been here longer than that,” he says. “A Jew like you been walkin’ the streets since Jacob wrestled with me back when. But time is so hard to understand…”
And he drifts off, mumbling his lunacies.
Long quiet, then suddenly,
“What do you know of me?” says he. “Can you feel my moods, hear my thoughts?”
And again he lain his head in his arms. The longer he sits here the more I think he looks like the spirit-double of me. My feelings so torn apart as they are, and fightin’ a madness that’s growin’ in me.
“Nothin’. He don’t know nothin’ in me.”
And he shakes his head. Is it weeping I hear?
“Can’t hear… Can’t see… Can’t remember who I be. I once were a spokesman for the king, and the wheel of law turnt around me…”
Is he drunk or have the fiery storms and tides of injustice broken him? The heavy wheels of time and chance roll on, and care not who they crush. Be this the hand of the Lor at work? Will the Lor of justice be unjust?
“These wretched walls are crushin’ me. Even the air is grimy and thick. Every breath is a chokin’ wheeze. Ruach*, don’t you fail me now. Don’t swallow my memories into your mist.”
* spirit-breath of life
I lift this piteous man from his bench and lay him by the fireplace. All trembles, I lay a blanket over him, and we both cry in our private despairs.
“How can I stop these memories from attackin’ me like wild dogs? What these punishments plunderin’ me every time I close my eyes? But dare I open my eyes, behold, nor God, nor light, nor truth be known. I’m cold, Saadia, and I’m afraid. My mouth so dry. Please hold my hand.”
A night of weeping, as I never knew, and the angel of death at the end of the bed, waitin’ impatient, tappin’ his foot, here to reap a wasted sheaf.
A sudden start or snore or cough during the night would let me know that reaper hadn’t took his toll. Don’t know when I fell asleep, but the screechin’ hinges and arrows of light startle me out of my anxious doze. A moment later he stands at the door, just a black silhouette.
“It’s good to piss.”
And now he sits at that same bench, them same ragged clothes, that same voice, but he seems to have shed about fifty years. Maybe old death stripped them away, tryin’ to get at the soul of him.
“You seem to know me, but I don’t know you.”
I says, tryin’ to recognize him. And once again I slide that crust of bread across the table to him. And again he pushes it off to the side, maybe waitin’ for cioppino instead.
“Nah. You don’t know me. I’m a messenger from afar, still dismayed and disoriented. Your ways are not the same as mine.”
“Ay. Genoese are a hard lot, suffered too many of fortunes blows. And you ain’t lookin’ so well yourself. Anyways, who are you lookin’ for? A merchant, captain, banker, prince? I’ll help you find him if I can.”
“No need. I already know the man. Just let me rest here these couple of days and I’ll be on my way and glad to be gone.”
His pasty face and twitchin’ eyes and tremblin’ limbs betray his ills as grave and beckons urgent care. And then he be gone, and the day is pass, I a-flounder in my stormy seas, and not givin’ him another thought.
In the next episode the messenger finds who he’s looking for.
About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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