From The Psychological Benefits Of Exercise
Jesus wonders; when he named him did his father know he would turn out this way? The gaunt face, the dank, straggly vines of hair, the rope thin body? But then how could his father have known, back then, when Jesus was just a fat baby like all the other fat babies? Jesus supposes he couldn’t have known - it was just a name like any other. Still he feels different because of it, knows that people think it when he passes, there he goes, there goes Jesus.
He knows a great many people, but also he does not truly know any of them. Most of what he feels is not loneliness, for to be lonely, after all, is to feel a sense of missing something that others have. And if he has never had this something, how can he feel its lack?
What he feels, then, is alone, which is not the same as loneliness. He is alone almost all the time. But that is alright, too.
Tonight is a good night. Thursday is usually good, people out drinking, talking, laughing, music playing. Sold - four lighters, three mini-torches, two of the toy dogs with the nodding heads. Before he goes home he stops for a drink. Michelle brings him his beer, he watches her walk away from his table, turn and look back at him, smile at him.
Jesus, he knows she is thinking, though she does not know his name.
Sometimes he even feels like Jesus, moments like this, when he finishes his beer and pays and walks away through the crowds, for alone amongst all these people, passing from one bar’s tumbling fall of music into the next bar and its tumbling fall of music, the night sky above him milky white under a coat of sea clouds, he has somewhere to go. He, unlike them, is not merely carousing. He is working, thinking clearly, his mind not fugged by alcohol. And when he has finished working he will go home, to where his sister and brother and father are waiting for him.
He has a mission, like the other Jesus had, even if his mission is only to sell lighters and mini-torches and toy dogs with nodding heads.
He wonders would he feel like this if he believed in God.
He stands at the bus stop and looks back across the road to the praça. From here it looks both quieter and more busy, the crowds thicker but less chaotic. From here the moving people have a rhythm like ballet, the children screaming and running between the tables, the silent old men underneath the tree in the middle, the girls lapping the square, sucking on popsicles, ignoring but not ignoring the men, the men in the bars staring at the girls in a way that seems to Jesus impossibly obvious. It is not that Jesus does not stare at the girls too, only that he likes to stare in a different way, a little more surreptitiously.
Surreptitious Jesus. He tells himself that he stares this way because he thinks it is impolite to stare openly like the other men, which is partly true, but he also knows that he stares this way because he thinks the girls like it better and will think him different.
And when he has to, Jesus knows how to turn it on, how to stare intently, to let the girl know it’s her, out of all of them, that he wants. The staring intently, coupled with the whole Jesus thing, works sometimes, doesn’t work other times.
It worked with Michelle, that one time. It was only afterwards he noticed she had not asked his name, and when he went back to the bar the next night although she smiled at him when she brought his drink it was as though nothing had happened at all. Perhaps, Jesus considers, nothing had happened at all. Perhaps Michelle had been like a sound in the night strong enough to wake you but that afterwards you think - what was the sound that woke me?
Did the other Jesus think like this?, he wonders. As he hung from the cross did he think, what, was I just kidding myself all along?
So he is not always alone. There was Michelle, and there have been other girls too. Mostly he pays, it is easier, Jesus has not the time for romance. Though he likes the way it can seem like romance, sometimes, the girl coming over to his table, sitting next to him, Michelle bringing her a glass, him pouring them both out some beer. He likes to remember their names, Alice, Bel, Maria, Lizia. So they talk for a while, not long, and then she asks him does he want to go somewhere, and they stand up and go across the street behind the bus terminal and he pays the motel owner, five for the hour, and then they go upstairs, the room neither clean nor dirty, the roar of the buses outside, the smell of the engine fumes coming in through the open window. Afterwards he gives her the money, ten or fifteen, and they go back to the square and he has another drink and goes home.
He wonders did the other Jesus ever do it. There was Mary Magdalene, he knows that, but what about the other stuff, the stuff not in the Bible, the shitting and the pissing and the fucking? Doesn’t everyone do it, even the Son of God? Didn’t Jesus ever sit in the square on a Friday night and have a girl come over and ask him if he liked her? Didn’t he ever drop a few shekels (if it was shekels they used – Jesus doesn’t know history) on the ground and have the pair of them slip away from Mathew and James and John and the rest of that doleful lot, even just for a few moments of relief from all the pressure, all that aching responsibility?
Jesus likes to think so. When he goes into the motel room he likes to think of the other Jesus doing the same in dusty old Bethlehem, all that long silver time ago.
Once, a long time ago, there had been someone important for Jesus, but she left, and for forty days and nights Jesus was sad, until he decided she didn’t matter anyway, not one of them really mattered, no-one was to be trusted.
And now he is as he is.
When he gets home his sister is on the couch naked with her legs in the air; everything is on display. Her belly is fat and tight with the baby. She gets up and hugs him and her thick glasses bump against his neck and fall onto the floor and she bends and picks them up and then lies down on the couch again and puts her feet in the air.
He watches for a moment, then goes into the kitchen and puts water on to boil. They used to go to the cinema together a lot, Jesus and his sister. But she would talk throughout the film, even when he didn’t answer, or told her to stop. She would commentate on what was happening in the film. Look, he came back, she would say, or she likes him, or that’s his father, as though she could not stop her thoughts from coming out of her mouth. Other people turned and stared. His sister is nineteen. The father of her child is sixty seven. Sometimes when he cannot help it Jesus imagines them together, the old man’s body, as crinkly as old newspaper. Then he makes himself stop thinking about it.
Jesus thinks people are rude, in general. On Sunday he goes to buy chicken sausages from the woman who stands on the corner with a barbecue grill. When he gets there the woman is talking to a friend. Jesus says hello. She looks at him and turns back to the friend. Are the sausages ready, he asks her. No, she says. When will they be ready, he asks. The woman says she doesn’t know. Well, he asks, will it be a long time, do you think, and she tells him to come back in half an hour.
Jesus goes away, and half an hour later he comes back.
Are they ready, he asks her.
She looks at him. How many do you want, she says.
Four, says Jesus, and gives her five reais. The sausages cost one real each.
I don’t have change, she says. I only have a two real note.
Jesus tries to think about the other Jesus, how he never lost his temper.
How about you take three sausages instead, the woman says.
Jesus remembers the other Jesus and the money lenders in the temple.
Because I don’t want three, I want four. So why don’t you go and find some fucking change, he says.
The woman looks at him for a long time then goes into her house and comes out with his change.
Don’t come back here, she says as she gives him the sausages.
I’m persecuted, Jesus thinks.
Persecuted Jesus. Just like He was.
One night they go out together, Jesus and his sister. There is a bar across the street from their building, where they have a band some nights that keeps Jesus awake. So tonight, tired Jesus thinks, what’s the difference, I won’t sleep anyway, and they go out.
Jesus and his sister sit and watch the band and the people dancing. Jesus notices some people staring at him. He looks away.
Jesus’ sister’s friend turns up. She is wearing a wooly hat and a short skirt.
They sit and watch the band and the people dancing.
After a while when they are talking Jesus’ sister’s friend touches Jesus’ hand with her hand, and a second later their fingers are intertwined. A little later when they are talking Jesus kisses his sister’s friend, and they sit holding hands.
Jesus’ sister’s friend’s cell phone rings, and when she has finished she says she has to go, but that she might come back.
You better come back, Jesus says.
She smiles at him. And she comes back.
The next day Jesus calls her.
Let’s do something, he says.
I can’t, Jesus’ sister’s friend says, I have to look after my kid.
I didn’t know you have a kid, Jesus says.
More than one, truth be told, Jesus’ sister’s friend says.
How many, he asks.
Jesus takes a moment to listen to the sound of crickets outside his window.
How old are you, he asks his sister’s friend.
Jesus wonders what the other Jesus would say in this situation. Would he condemn? Would he preach? Would he forgive, call her my daughter?
Jesus realises he doesn’t know that much about the other Jesus.
Later on he goes to his sister’s friend’s house. He brings her a toy dog with a nodding head.
She comes downstairs and they stand on the street.
They kiss for a while.
After a while they go upstairs to stare at the children, two of them asleep in his sister’s friend’s bed, a knot of pink sticky arms and legs, and the other, a baby, tiny and bald, lying in a cot.
After a while Jesus goes home.
It is late enough that the streets are empty, the wind blows, trees scatter leaves.
Jesus, God, the world.
Jesus finds himself going to his sister’s friend’s house most days. They sit on the couch, he watches her changing the baby’s nappy, bathing the baby, feeding the baby. He plays with the children who are not babies.
Do you have a job, he asks his sister’s friend one night, as they stand looking at the children in their beds.
I didn’t finish school, she says, you know, what with, and she makes a sweeping gesture with her hand across the top of three sleeping heads.
Where is the father?, he asks her.
-s, she says. One is around, one isn’t.
When she tells him these things she looks at him in a way that says, don’t go yet.
They sit on the couch, kissing.
Jesus puts his hand on her thigh, then her face, then her breast.
Not yet, she says, I’m not that type of girl.
Jesus walks home, the wind blows.
Jesus, God, the world.
When he works he thinks about her, thinks about the children, thinks about what they might be doing. When he visits he brings chocolate for the children, small pieces of jewelry for her.
And when he works now he feels different, more pure. Though the girls still come over to sit with him, now he says, sorry, I can’t. Now his mission is more than just nodding dogs and lighters.
Now he is more like the other Jesus, and he feels himself bathed in his own holy light, white and blinding.
On a Saturday she calls him and asks him to come round, says she needs to talk to him. He goes to the market, buys some oranges, thinking they will be good for the children.
It is raining, a grey thin day.
So, she says, sorry.
What, Jesus says, not understanding.
You’re a nice guy. Kind. Sweet. But this, and she holds up the bag of oranges, and shrugs, and makes the gesture over the top of the children’s heads again, and shrugs again, and says, the chocolate, the jewelry, it’s too much, you know?
No, Jesus says, I don’t know.
You’re too kind, she says. I don’t want kind.
One of the children starts to cry.
That night he works. At the bar he drinks one beer, then a second, then a third. Bel comes and sits next to him and he puts his hand on her leg and they leave together. Afterwards, when it is over and Bel lies dozing beside him, he stands and stares out the window at the bus station and the praça beyond.
Too kind, he thinks.
No-one ever told Him He was too kind.
Jesus looks for his wallet to pay. And later, as the bus rattles over pitted and cracked roads, carrying him home, he rests his head on the bouncing glass of the window and dreams of things impossible to know, impossible to have.