“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it”
The crowd gathered hesitatingly around the crouched young man whose wails of agony had been shattering the calm and minty early morning air. The sun’s watery rays beat down unevenly upon his ghastly form, too afraid to light up what most could not bear to see. The crowd gasped, the crowd shuddered. Many turned their faces away, many covered their eyes. Mothers pushed their sleepy-eyed children into the safe shields of their homes, the brick walls a barrier from the madness just beginning its ascent.
The man at the centre of attention had a frail body coated with blood. He lay moaning on the gritty soil, his bloody figure a stark contrast to the lush greens and white fences behind him. The man’s long, spidery fingers were clawing at his back, where two large cuts formed a barely decipherable upside-down V. Flies were beginning to settle on his ripped flesh; the shimmer of bone could be seen through the muck of blood and soil. It was a horrifying sight – one that took the breath out of you and replaced it with the stench of raw flesh.
“He is insane,” whispered one man in the crowd, edging towards the bloody, moaning figure.
“They say he wanted to meet God,” breathed another in awe, his tone pushing the crowd together in a tighter circle.
And the bleeding man had wanted to meet God. A life of poverty and hunger had forced him years ago to turn towards various forms of escape from reality. His childhood was spent gazing at rich children playing in parks and eating their leftover snacks. His adolescence was spent gazing at voluptuous girls through intoxicated eyes. Soon, the gravity of his situation settled inside him like a cancer waiting to grow. He had no family, he had no friends. He slept under benches and beneath trees. He ran with the stray dogs and joined them in their hunt for gold (a rotting piece of chicken leg or a half-empty packet of rice) in the piles of garbage that dotted the outskirts of his small town. He admired the rich folk from afar, and hoped fervently that their eyes would meet his, recognizing pitifully the hunger in him. It never happened.
The little white church in his town had often offered him food when it had wanted to look philanthropic. He had never considered the idea of God; to him a church was just a space for rich people to form singing groups and, ultimately, ignore reality. One day, it struck him that this church might help him escape his reality. He had gone with a hopeful smile, grumbling stomach, and bright impoverished eyes to the church, and the events that followed thereafter had soon become a haze of memories in his mind that almost always led to a feeling of intense hatred and anger. They had shunned him and insulted him; many had laughed and many had closed their noses to avoid his homeless stench. “God doesn’t concern himself with little thieves like you,” a shiny-suited man had told him, and he had choked in anger, unable to speak, unable to express how this very God had stolen the chances of a good life from him.
Weeks had gone by, yet the man could not shake the feeling that this unjust God would somehow provide him with happiness. The songs that floated out of the cruel church day after day raised goose bumps on his bony arms and filled his heart with a warmth he could not comprehend. He quietly followed children who discussed stories of God they had learnt in school; he eavesdropped on religious old men who sat with cups of tea in park benches, talking about the beauty and grace of God. Day after day, God reeled him in, and he knew control was slowly spiraling out of his hands. He watched the rich people and their superficial devotion, and he knew they did not understand the dizzying power that was held by God. The church, to him, was just a man-made building misused by men who wanted to pretend. He stole books from children, and he read stories of angels who sat by the feet of God, of creatures that spent eternity wanting to serve God. Of poor men who dedicated their lives to finding God, of rich men who misused him.
Hunger changed forms; it was no longer food that he craved.
He wanted to reach this God, to feel him, to experience his love and grace. He went around, thinking of ways he could leave his earthly life (a life that seemed so similar to the hell the people around him talked of). He began to experience other-worldly feelings; he saw angels in grocery stores, felt the comfort and affection of outstretched arms as he dozed behind parked vehicles. His eyes took on a brightness that became too much for the townsfolk to bear – they looked away from him, unwilling and unable to acknowledge the starving man and his delirious dreams.
He wandered around town day and night, quoting Shakespeare, Keats and the Bible, and thought of ways he could use to reach God. The ‘religious’ townsfolk weren’t consumed with God, and he knew he had to lose his mind to God in order to have him accept his selfless devotion. He had no ulterior motive. He was pure in his intentions, and he knew (from what he had gathered from many torn pages and snippets of conversations) that he deserved to be with God. He could feel his pulsating mind, his feverish body, and he knew that he just had to find a way. Everything else would fall in order.
And one day, as he sat amidst rats and garbage, it had hit him. The angels were the servants of God – they sat the closest to him, and they experienced day after day his grace and might. Beautiful, strong, devoted angels.
He knew what he had to do.
When he had asked to borrow a sharp weapon from the butcher, the latter had handed him an axe and had conversationally asked why. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it,” the starving man had replied, his hands trembling in excitement. The butcher had paid no heed to this, waving him away without a second glance.
The man spent the night in a trance, knowing he was close to his goal, knowing he had developed his own method to reach God. He knew he would be acknowledged; he knew he would soon be where he wanted to be.
And when morning came, he walked to the centre of town, kneeled, and raised his shiny axe. The screaming started, the blood began to boil, the body started to shudder. He kept going. Swing after swing after swing. He needed openings on his back, for how else would his wings come out? He could feel his wings throb beneath his flesh; he could feel his bones tremble. Blood flowed freely, and his screams blended with his ragged breathing. He was losing his vision; his extremities had gone numb. Yet he knew what he was doing was right, for he could feel the thrumming of heat inside him, the inexplicable force that kept him going.
The crowd around him could see the man was about to die – he lay in a fetal position, and his blood formed a boundary around him.
The whispers of the crowd sounded like a quiet breeze to the dying man. He knew he was succeeding. He could feel himself being pulled away from his earthly life. The years of hunger were left behind; he could feel a new strength inside.
He was floating. He shouted with joy.
The crowd shuddered as the man let out a piercing scream.
He was floating, and he felt his back arch and bend as his wings slowly spread out. The world was a white haze around him.
Many in the crowd moved away, unable to watch as the man’s body began to writhe uncontrollably.
He rose and rose and began to feel the warmth of outstretched arms that were waiting just for him. An embrace he had been craving for, an embrace he had lost his mind for. His heart was fit to burst. His eyes were filled with tears.
He had succeeded.
The crowd watched as his convulsing body stilled, as his ragged breaths came to an abrupt stop.
He had died.