As usual, another season of betrayal must follow the harvest.
During the harvest, we are safe. On the field, we whisper half a phrase and hum fragmented sounds of words amongst us, messages of the Carpenter-Son hidden in broken phrases of weather and harvest. We bend our backs to cut the stalks, huddling as close to the ground as we can, but not falling. Even the strongest of us bow our backs as low as the translucent stalks of rice, golden skeletons bowing with the autumn bounty. Cutting the fistful of stalks in the rhythm of gravity, hoe against the bundle, fist around the bunch, we gather this year’s harvest slowly. Then, after the harvest, we will turn the earth upside down to dig out roots that have clawed their way down, deep into the soil. But until then, we drag the harvest time out as long as we can, and time becomes elastic, easily moldable in our hands.
The harvest is good this year, and because of that our season of betrayal follows immediately afterwards.
All hours are hours of apostates for us who must live through the season of betrayal. All hours are a litany of passion, though our passions are invisible, less obvious than those of the Carpenter-Son. In this hour of apostates, in the field, all of us are alike: men take on the slender napes of women, bobbing up and down with the northern wind that signals the arrival of autumn, and women take on tree-like stumps for legs because we are so near to the ground, because our days are measured by how close we can get to the ground without falling. As we rhythmically cut down the harvest, the Elder starts a hymn, a chant unlike the one Domu-niku had taught us, but the one we have cut out from the original to bury the message into songs more familiar to us. The Elder sings of the paraiso, of the Carpenter-Son, the promised land and of ourselves, who amongst us will carry on the season of betrayal. And who amongst us must die. It is decided: this season, the Elder will die because De-us our Father has given the permission, to him and his family. We will carry it out, we sing out. The Elder sings in praise of De-us, in praise of the sun and the rain that give, that destroy whatever tries to ground itself to earth, he sings of De-us and His mysterious way, of the sweet revelation, the little lamb, lamb, of the paraiso, yes, the paraiso.
Abruptly, his song turns into a hushed hum of one note, suspended like the body of the faithful, as we hear of the procession of our landlord, steps and grunts of horses on the mud road, that ground that sounds softer than it really is, and no one can say that the mud is soft when they have been thrown into a hole filled with mud. The cold kills; the slow oozing of mud clogs the pores until the flesh begs off, when the flesh begs off the soul it encases. And we have all done that. We have betrayed De-us in those moments when we were encased in mud, confessing the crime of believing Him.
The Third Elder sings one note, and one note only, as his face masks into empty indifference, as our faces take on the faces of the apostates.
We call it season of betrayal. They call it cleansing. It is a law, they tell us, why do you only want one god when there are so many amongst us. Why believe in a god when so many of you have fallen, and He still remains quiet to your prayers? They tell us many things as they line us up and tell us to step on the face of our beloved, and we, one by one, step on the face, step on the face of the Carpenter-Son and His mother, Maria of the miracle, Maria of the Stabat Mater. After each harvest, we line up one after another, the procession of all the apostates before us, all the apostates that will come after us, even after our bodies have been rooted to the earth, after our bodies become another element to feed the bodies after us. We step on their faces to prove we do not love them, though we do. Our hearts break. It has been going on for twelve years, ever since Domu-niku fell.
The hours of the apostates started out one day when a man with sky in his eyes appeared in front of us from the cave by the edge of our village. He spoke our tongue in fragments, but when he spoke, he spoke of the Land, of De-us. In his halting tongue, he pointed at his tattered sparrow-brown robe, said. Domu. Niku. Domu-niku, we called him. He spoke of a world better than this one, about the world where hunger was kept at bay, where the tilling of earth was as forbidden as the utterance of the real name of gentle Father in this world. De-us. Domu-niku told us, he told us many things and we drank his words greedily as if we were thirsty, as if we never knew we were thirsty until we drank the first word, and we became thirstier and thirstier the more we heard him talk. See, he told us, your hands are not used properly. See, he told me as he gently cupped my hands with his, see how your palms are like slightly eroded maps with so many rivers running through? How they have been telling you that your palms are a map of your life, the life you must live? Press them together, like this, like this, he said as he pressed his hands together and pressed my hands as if he were pressing a flower between pages to be kept, there, your life disappears. This is the life you are meant to have, a life in prayer. He gently pulled me into his arms, and he smelled of a cow, a pig, something so earthbound that if it were another man, I would have thought that he could never be a man carrying the words of De-us.
Pray, and De-us will respond.
Pray so that the land will parch, cracks opening for the rain that would never come; pray so that the water will submerge the land, so that people will be covered in boils and scabs, so that the faithless will die and the Gates of Paraiso will open up to spit out winged men. Pray so that we can be delivered to the arms of De-us.
Pray so that our palms will erase all the foredoomed lives we must live; pray so hard that our palms will blister from the pressure.
Only then will the Man-Bird listen, only when all the faithfuls’ palms are bleeding like the hands of the Carpenter-Son, the hands of the holy as he bled from his hands in order to purify the land.
But not until then.
They came at night and caught Domu-niku with three of us. One of us betrayed us though we do not know who. When three of the villagers were bound together in the shape of a rosary, their torsos and strong arms bound, when they whipped them forward up the mountain as we followed, slowly, when they stood at the mouth of the volcano mountain, Domu-niku cried out once, then twice. They did not hold him down; they only asked that he watched, and we watched him as we watched with these three martyrs. All you have to do is to renounce your faith, and you will save these people, a voice emerged out of the forest as if it was not a voice of a man but the sky itself, but if you don’t, then they will have to die for your faith. They first kicked the old Elder into the broiling mouth, and held the next-in-chain by the lip; the Elder bobbed up and down mid-air, unable to go down, unable to go up, burning, but not burning. The Elder cried out the name of De-us, only to be erased by roar of the volcano. Foreigner, your god tells you not to kill, but you are killing them. Domu-niku, unable to run toward them nor run away, kneeled and turned to us for prayers, but we did not offer him prayer or consolation. We just looked down, making ourselves unnoticeable. We could be next, but we did not tell Domu-niku that we feared dying, we feared that we have not seen De-us as Domu-niku has, but we believed him. We believe him so that we can dream of a better world. And mostly, we feared that after all the prayers, all the praises and all the dead bodies, we feared not finding De-us when we crossed over to the other side, that all our prayers were made in vain.
The elder’s rope burned. He fell into the mountain, disappeared. The next one in the chain hanged from the lip of the mountain, his scream as loud as the boar fighting back during the hunt. The woman at the end of the rosary jerked forward, and they held her tight, Domu-niku’s refusal held her to the top, she was at the mercy of one word, but it was only a mere word. It’s your last chance, Christian man – say you will renounce, and you’re saving these lives. Domu-niku kept shaking and praying, pressing his palms together, praying for guidance, for mercy, God, god why have you forsaken me at this time of need, I am only human, god, please, tell me what to do, and he raised his arms toward the sky, kneeling on the ground, digging deep into the sand. He raised arms upward, his palms still pressed together.
Last chance- where’s your god when you need him?
God, Domu-niku shouted, God, what can I do? His hands still held in the form of a prayer, he yelled, his face upturned to the sky, and not even a bird replied.
The voice, in a startlingly sad tone, almost a wail of a gull’s before the storm, crooned out of the water, Well, so be it. I’m sorry.
The last bead of rosary disappeared into the volcano; they all looked at the place where the three of us fell. They turned to us. We kept our eyes to the ground.
Still kneeling, Domu-niku’s hands flew apart, some force greater than the one in his heart, pried his hands apart. Palms orphaned from each other. He clawed, he would have clawed out the sun, the eye of De-us, if he could have. Veins grew on his upturned arms, fists grew at the end of his upturned arms.
He collapsed to the ground; he fell to the ground and cried.
He became the first to fall.
Domu-niku the apostate.
He now carries the cross on his face, though he is no longer the Domu-niku who stood straight, his legs firm on the ground as he taught us about paraiso, of the Carpentor-Son, his Mother, the Domu-niku who had held my hands, the Domu-niku who had traveled three years across the ocean in order to spread the words of De-us. He is of the outcast, orphaned from his Father, Ada-mu outcast from paraiso, orphaned and left to live in a country so far away from the origin of his faith.
Domu-niku the man, a mere fallen man who has thrown away the frock he had arrived in and has taken on new clothes, a new name, and many new gods. He no longer hold our hands in the dark night, listening to our confessions; he no longer talks of his paraiso, the Land kept behind his shut mouth, and now, he talks of the starry sky and of the lands we have never seen nor believed to exist.
He became the first fallen one, and our season of betrayal began that year.
And I hold on, as we all do, on to the words of Domu-niku, as we cup our hands around the rice husks, the golden husks standing out radiant as Domu-niku said about the ray of god and the beloved, and each harvest, we hold the god in our hands, our private god, our own because Domu-niku said that he is in our hearts, because He is the only thing that is ours, because the land is not ours and our lives not our own. The husks, brilliant, as our love for Him. Then clouds cover the sun, always at our moments of illumination, and the golden husk returns to this ordinary earthiness, the rice which measures our worth, and our lives which have no meaning.
De-us the god of the golden husk has been silent all these times.
We pray in vain, late at night, when no one is around, when it is only the apostates awake, uttering our prayers into holes in houses where no one can hear. We carry our faith as all apostates do, and we call it the hours of apostates. And for apostates, all hours are hours of apostates. Our lives are measured by all these hours we must live as apostates.
And this year, at the late hour before the gathering of harvest, a week ago, our Elder gathered us, because we no longer have Domu-niku to call us, because the season of betrayal will start soon. He said that he had a dream, a dream so beautiful that if what he saw was paraiso, he’d rather be there than where he was. Maria the mother was there, the Carpenter-Son, and all the 26 martyrs who died, they told me that it is my turn to be the apostle. He told me that my job is done, and I can do nothing more. In the dream, he lifted my robe and touched my cross, and he unrobed his tattered robe, one for each season of betrayal, I have cut myself deep, and I carry twelve lines to show, the black welts as thick as worms, twelve fierce worms wiggled vertically as he breathed hard, it is my turn, they told me, I no longer have to step on Their faces. I have been carrying the weight of our burden. His wife and daughter clasped their hands together in prayer.
You are now the leader, he turned to me. You are now the leader; you must lead these children as I have done, hiding our faith, hiding who we truly are so that you can deliver them to paraiso. Your path will be hard, but remember that it is not as hard as the Carpenter-Son. You know what you must do.
Harvest has been good. We will not eat what we have worked hard at. The earth itself is full of bounty, golden and already luxurious before it must sleep during winter in order to repeat the cycle all over again. The harvest has been good. And the season of betray will start soon. It has been like this for twelve years now. They test us, to see that we do not believe in De-us.
We go to the temple, as we always have done. We stand in the line with our eyes downcast, now betraying us yet. The Elder is the only one who looks straight at them. At Domu-niku, who stands with his back stooped, down to our heights, not looking at anyone. Domu-niku who is no longer Domu-niku; who now has a new name, new wife, and new role. The line crawls forward as one by one, we step on the faces of Maria and the Carpenter-Son. It is quiet, though our hearts are breaking inside, though we are wailing as we step on the faces of our beloved. And suddenly. The Elder calmly steps away from the line. His wife and daughter step away from the line with him. He announces that he can not lie, no matter what, not anymore, not ever. The Elder says that he is too tired to live the life of a lie, an apostate, and he is an apostle, he has been the apostle who has had to live as an apostate. Taken by surprise, they ask him kindly what he means. Domu-niku does not look at the Elder.
And the Elder recites what all of us hope to recite openly, the names of De-us, the Carpenter-Son, the glorious triangle of mysteries; he pours forth the forbidden stories and glories of De-us. Paraiso, paraiso, the Elder sings, Deus, deus, deus, he sings, and his daughter and wife join him, their voices weaving into a triangle of songs in the fall sky of the harvested earth.
Do you understand what you are doing, Domu-niku asks quietly, do you understand what they’d do to you once they know you are believer of a foreign heathen god?
The trinity of voices does not quiet, but insistently push themselves forward to their end. They are bound there. They tell us we must watch as a punishment for harboring these “Christians”, they tell us that in order that we will not protect any more of these people, we must participate in the punishment. They say that they’ll tell us what, later, what we have to do. We already know what we must do.
They coax him, holding his daughter and his wife, telling him that if he does not renounce De-us, they will have to make him submit. He shakes his head with a smile, See how foolish you are. De-us is closer than you think, He stands here, with me, and understands that I can no longer lie, even if I wanted to.
They, too, shake their heads, Do you understand what you are saying, this is your daughter and wife.
And the Elder stands firm in his faith, in his conviction, telling them that He does not allow His children to take their own lives, but if He gives permission, we can leave. And He has given the permission, glory and mercy.
They do not touch him. But Domu-niku steps up in the front, bind the daughter and wife. They pour cold water on them, Domu-niku jabs a dull knife under the finger nails, they scream, they scream, they pray and called out the names of De-us, and the louder their screams, the more joyously and loudly the Elder sings of paraiso and of De-us, and we watch with our closed faces. Domu-niku’s face is closed as ours as he jabs the knife one by one, twenty in total; he keeps his eyes away as he slices off their noses and ears, slowly.
And it does not end. Domu-niku makes the daughter and the wife dig two holes deep enough and wide enough so that a body can sit in each; the Elder sings from the cage like a domesticated finch. He stays like that for a week while the wife and the daughter sit tied to the tree with their faces branded with burns in the shape of a cross. He watches his wife and daughter poked around with hot rods while he sings of paraiso, never once wavering in his resolution. And we watch with him. We watch as Domu-niku stares at the ground.
Finally, they make the daughter and wife sit so that the Elder can throw the dug earth back around and they make him stomp on freshly earthened holes and he stomps wildly, almost a dance, a passionate dance. Two tired heads poke out of the ground as if someone had gently placed two beheaded heads on the ground. They hand the Elder a rusty saw taken out of someone’s shed and command him to saw off their heads.
It’s because of your foolish faith, they yelled, you don’t have to kill your daughter. We hate to do this, we do, you understand, we never want to harm you people.
The Elder’s head pops up and down as if his head is held only by thin skin, as if it is his head that is getting sawn off with a rusty saw. And he sings and sings, his voice breaks, cracking, so much like Domu-niku’s that day, anguished, breaking. Domu-niku wailed out questions; the Elder wails out songs of De-us. We stare at the ground, unyielding ground. The Elder sings and, following the rhythm of the saw, he begins to saw off his daughter’s head, and the wife joins him, singing joyously, wildly, insanely, rhythmically with the movement of his arm. They sing; he saws off as quickly as he can, as energetically and as fast as he can, first the daughter, then his wife.
Now, turning to us, you have to punish this man for killing his wife and his daughter in a brutal and cruel manner. The just punishment is to kick this man to death. Kick, they tell us, kick this man until he dies. And remember that you will not harbor any more of these foreign-god worshippers
And we kick, I kick as hard as I can, quickly, swiftly, we claw and kick, so that the Elder will die quickly, so that he will be delivered to De-us quickly, so he can tell Him that there are many of his believers still waiting, still praying for Him to release us, to give us permission to return to His arms, that we are still waiting. We cannot wait for the harvest to fail, we cannot wait for the faithless to die. And we kick, tear, praying silently, please take the message for us, for prayers have been lost somewhere between the ground and the sky, please take the message, we punch, pull until the Elder is nothing but a heap of tattered flesh, tattered meat, and he whispers, thank you, thank you, and we kick for easy deliverance, for mercy, for forgiveness, and for many things and he is no more. And our season of betrayal ends finally.