Thomas Manuel | Fiction

THE APOSTLE

I remember when Jacob first told me he was Jesus.

I was squatting underneath the leaves of the Ashoka tree in front of my house, trying hard to ignore the shouts of the children from the apartments next door as they played cricket. There was an earthworm wriggling in the dirt in a way that made me sick. Too caught up in my own disgust, I didn’t hear Jacob unlatch the gate and enter the garden. He walked up behind me and waited. I don’t know how long he stood there but when the hair on my neck stood upright, I swung my head up and met his gaze.

Krishna, he said. Yes, I replied. I am Jesus, he said.

We stayed silent for a moment. Him standing, eyes solemnly downcast, me squatting, looking up. He told me he trusted me with this knowledge because I was the right kind of Christian. When I asked what he meant, he looked me in the eye and said, the kind who believes.

Jacob lived in the apartment complex next door with the children who never called me to play with them. My mother would tell me to invite myself, to ask if I could join, but she didn’t understand. So I spent most of my time in the garden, reading or drawing stories in my notebooks with colour pencils and sketch pens and crayons. I was in the middle of a story about dogs with troubling secrets when I first met Jacob. He said hello from outside the gate. I didn’t think the rule about strangers applied to children, so I said hello back. He asked if he could join me. I didn’t know what to say. He didn’t wait. They’re evil, he said, pointing at the Ashoka. They hurt the other plants. I looked up at the tree, and saw it for the first time—it was shaped like a wolf.

He was always right and I told him so. He asked me if I believed him, though I’m sure he knew the answer. I told him I did just to make it official. He smiled at me and told me I would be his first and only apostle.

I closed my eyes and my mouth began to sing a song about a star in the sky that no one could see except me. I can tell when my song is a good one because all the words come easily. I don’t know where the words come from but I know when I sing them my audience is God in heaven. When I was done, I opened my eyes in time to see Jacob bend down and kiss me on the forehead. Then he pointed down. My earthworm had stopped wriggling. I asked if it was dead but Jacob only shook his head and pronounced it resting. Then, he performed his first miracle.

Reaching down, he touched the worm and it began wriggling again. He looked at my face, filled with surprise, and told me that I too could perform miracles if I was a true apostle. God’s grace was abundant, he said, it should be obvious in your garden.

I knew I was a true apostle because I believed in him even before he started performing miracles.

In the following week, many strange and wonderful things happened to us as we travelled to spread the good news. The greatest of them was the Conversion of the Children Next Door. We were sitting in my garden, talking to the lizards, when we heard angry screams coming from the apartment. Jacob immediately got up to go over there and I followed behind, my hands shaking in a way that made me angry. When we got there, a child was waving a bat around, shouting about how everyone was cheating and that he should get an extra wicket or he would leave. Everyone else was shouting back at him for being a spoilt brat.

Jacob walked up to the child, took him by the hand and said, I know you’re upset about getting out but it doesn’t matter anymore. I love you, Nikhil. Let’s all play cricket.

The match lasted half an hour and I even got to bat.

These momentous events made the time I spent away from him more and more unbearable. Jacob didn’t go to the same school as I did so I had to wait the whole day to see him. He didn’t go to school at all. But Jacob had the power to make things make sense. In my textbooks, I would learn about the circle of life, which was lions and gazelles. But Jacob showed me how it worked in my garden with the mango tree and the icky black bugs and the bats. He said it was obvious when you understood that everything was happening according to God’s plan.

Our group had become a lot bigger by the end of that holy week. Nikhil and Raghav from next door began to play with us. I asked Jacob if our two new playmates were apostles also, but he said they were only disciples and I was still his only one. This made me love him even more. Nikhil still gave his bat to the others so they could continue their cricket matches. We didn’t need it after all. In my garden, we made up our own games. It was clear that Nikhil didn’t like playing these kinds of games. He said that he never knew who was winning, which is a very grown-up thing to say. Because of that I never really trusted him. I was proven right when things went wrong later and it was all his fault.

I would’ve been more careful but I was distracted by the news that we were getting a dog. My parents had owned a dog before I was born, but they were worried it would hurt me so they gave it away. I was quite angry when I found this out. I had always wanted a dog and Spotty, my parents’ dalmation, sounded really nice. Of course, he would’ve been their dog while this one would be mine which made it even better.

My questions would start at breakfast time—how old will he be, how big, will he be a boy—and continue till I was sent to bed. Even my parents were excited. For the first time, they didn’t get tired of me jumping up and down, barking out questions non-stop. Jacob was excited too, but also a little sad. I told him that a dog would not stop me from being his friend and his apostle. I expected my dog to also be his disciple. He told me that there were no Christian dogs but I told him mine would be the first.

When he finally arrived, he was a she and her name was Rex. She was a Great Dane and at eight months old, she was already bigger than me. She was so big I could ride her like a horse and pretend to be a cowboy. Of course I didn’t do that because dogs don’t like it and it would be mean. I did spend the first day playing with her non-stop but my parents were careful to be around the whole time because they wanted to make sure that Rex knew how to be around children. I told them it would be fine because Great Danes are very gentle dogs and are not aggressive at all. They have sad, dopey expressions on their face which makes them look like grandfathers even when they’re really young. You couldn’t be scared of a dog like that.

That evening Nikhil said we should play cricket. We had never played cricket before. There was always a match going on next door that we could join if we wanted. And for us to play, Nikhil would have to take his bat away from them. That was not a nice thing to do. I thought we should’ve played with Rex but Nikhil and Raghav didn’t like animals that much. And Jacob didn’t say anything so I didn’t say anything. They were his friends really.

It was very strange when the match started because all the children from next door were just standing outside my gate waiting for Nikhil to return the bat. I think that he liked the idea of having an audience. We made the teams and it was Jacob and I versus Nikhil and Raghav. We lost the toss and they chose to bat. The first three overs were boring because Raghav kept missing the ball. Nikhil was getting angrier and angrier with him. At the fourth over, I was bowling to Nikhil, and Jacob was fielding at mid-off. Nikhil must’ve been really angry because they didn’t have many runs and so he smashed the ball hard, trying for a four. It went flying to the far side of the garden to where Rex was chained up. She was lying, curled up but she jumped up and stood dead-straight when all the boys outside cheered the shot. The ball had stopped right next to her and she shied away from it, backing into a corner. She saw Jacob run towards her to pick up the ball and just as he bent down to pick it up, Rex snapped. She lunged at him and sank her teeth into his neck.

Nikhil and Raghav screamed at the crunch and the blood. That’s why they didn’t see what I saw. As Jacob fell, he lifted his hand with his palm outward like he was blessing something. He was forgiving Rex. I saw it with my own eyes.

I should’ve screamed as well. But Jacob didn’t say anything, so I didn’t say anything.

Rex howled. Everyone screamed. Jacob bled. I woke up in my own bed and overheard my mom crying and saying Rex should be shot. I wanted to tell my parents about Jacob forgiving Rex, about how I had told him I would make her a Christian dog, but the words wouldn’t come out. My parents sat by my bedside for a whole week, asking me questions and telling me things. I don’t know how they got so many holidays from work. They’re not very good at having conversations but it was nice of them. I wish I could’ve told them that.

One of the things they told me during that time was that Rex had been treated badly by the children of her previous owner. They would pull her tail and throw rocks at her. She must’ve thought Jacob was like them. Poor Rex, she didn’t know what she was doing. I haven’t asked what actually happened to her.

No songs have been coming to me.

The conversations stopped after a while and my dad started to shout at me and my mom started to cry at me. They took me to the doctor, and then another doctor and then another. It didn’t make a difference. All doctors are the same person trying new offices and new voices. I’m not trying to be mean to them. They were nice to me and kept asking me how I felt and what I wanted. But they didn’t understand. It’s really simple. He didn’t say anything, so I don’t.

Thomas Manuel is a writer from Chennai, India. He has three plays to his credit. His latest play, Hamlet and Angad, won the Hindu Playwright Award in 2016. He works as a freelance journalist with by-lines at The Nib, The Wire, Nature Index, 3QuarksDaily, BLInk, Sunday Magazine, etc.  His journalism work includes data, comics, cultural criticism, labour politics and higher education. He occasionally blogs about fantasy books and role-playing games and is looking forward to setting up a second-hand bookstore in Goa. He can be found on Twitter @notrueindian.

2019-01-05T17:52:01-04:00