Playing Stories — Chapter 22: Viva la Vida

Chapter 22: Viva la Vida
from the 2008 album “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends” by Coldplay
posted at 02:09, 11 April 2019

For some reason I can’t explain, I know St. Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word, but that was when I ruled the world

Nobody in the Second City of Jerusalem had thought there COULD be a sunset. Just a few minutes ago, stormclouds had appeared, and everyone had run for cover, fearing the hail or the wrath of God. But nothing happened except for a loud peal of thunder, and then the clouds went — just as quickly as they’d come.

A man furtively slipped out of his house down in the city and walked towards the city gates. He looked down, but his sandals scraped on the dusty floor, and every so often he would raise his head to see if anyone was glancing at him.

He had made the same journey last night, out from that terrace across the street. It was a journey where he had tasted power for the first time — everyone hung onto his every word, followed him around town as he showed them all his friends’ hideouts. They patted on him on his back, told him he was doing a good job for God and the Empire. But the pay they offered meant nothing to him, and he’d refused it immediately. What he wanted was a kingdom, a place that he could rule over, like the rabbi himself had wanted.

“Take your pick,” said the priests, sniggering behind his back.

From his new kingdom atop the Valley of Hinnom, he had surveyed that afternoon the entire city of Jerusalem, lying at his feet, and imagined the adulation that he could one day receive from the people below. Yes, he had not been loyal to the rabbi. It was because of him that the rabbi was dead. But what was it compared to the fact that he had done something for himself? The rabbi himself had said that he was destined to be famous. Never mind how he came by that fame. The important thing was that people spoke his name.

Yet nobody had come up to him today. Nobody had thanked him for ridding the world of an impostor. In fact, now that he was no longer looking down all the time, he could see that they all seemed to be averting his gaze. Talking amongst themselves, even. Perhaps they were talking about him. What he did last night. They just didn’t do it loudly because they feared the wrath of his friends — so fanatical, especially the sons of Jonah. The two of them needed to be taken down a peg. He would see to it personally when the priests called him in again, needed more information.

He walked on. Near the Pool of Siloam, he spotted two familiar figures walking in his direction. They saw each other at the same time, but Yonatan and Mordecai looked away and continued talking almost immediately.

“Wait… Mordecai! Yonatan! Where are you going, my friends?” he said, running up to catch them before they could turn down a side street. Yonatan turned.

“Yehudah. I see you survived last night.” He was biting his lip, and his eyes blazed. “Pity.”

Surely they hadn’t believed the rumours? “I did. And the priests were delighted.” He straightened up a little. “The man calling himself the Saviour of the Jews is dead, and I helped them get rid of that hypocrite.”

Mordecai scowled at him. “I’ll see you later, Yonatan,” he said to his companion, sprinting off into the sunset. This could not be happening. “Mordecai, please, let me explain!”, he said, trying to grab his friend’s sleeve.

He felt a rough tug on his shoulder. Before he had time to breathe, Yonatan had turned him round and struck him — hard. As he fell on the ground gasping, he heard his friend say, “how dare come up to us now? You, nothing more than a traitor to your fellow-men?”

He picked himself up, rubbing his shoulder gingerly. Well, no harm in saying the truth. The more people knew, the better. “I simply did what God wanted to happen. The rabbi only knew how to heal diseases… how could he have been the Messiah! He would have been useless against Rome… but I, I can be — no, I AM the chosen one. I struck out, and look what MY initiative has got me.”

“A plot of worthless land, overlooking a valley tainted by child sacrifice,” snarled Yonatan. “Is this what you entered his sect to do, then? To betray a master, somebody who taught you for three whole years, even let you run his finances? Is that what he taught you then, Yehudah? To betray your friends for a meagre promise of power? You do not deserve that paltry slice of land. Not even as a burial spot.”

“Can’t you listen to me? I don’t care if God punishes me later: all I know is that I have a name and a place now. And I will make sure that legacy is known and corrected, once I have enough power to lead the charge against the Roman Empire —“

“Yahweh does not reward snitches,” said Yonatan, his voice now a deadly whisper. “The world does not make them kings. Given time, we would have had enough evidence against the carpenter’s son on our own, and God’s judgment on this man would have been fulfilled. Now nobody will trust or follow you, not the priests, not your former fellow disciples — and not me.” He retched and spat directly into his friend’s face. “Let the name Judas Iscariot go down in history, then — as a byword for traitor.”

Before he could wipe his face clean and look around him, Yonatan had disappeared around the corner, and Judas was alone on the street. His insides burned. Everyone knew that the carpenter’s son — attention seeker, lunatic, saviour of the world, whoever he was –– was a man incapable of saving the Jews. He had people following him everywhere, he could perform miracles, but he had no idea how to galvanize his flock. So Judas had simply pushed him out of the way. These replacements were sometimes necessary to invigorate the group. He was the only one who had thought to do that, the only one who knew what it took to lead.

Only now did he realize that nobody wanted a leader. They merely wanted somebody who listened to them wail about their petty grievances.

For half an hour, he walked around the neighbouring hillsides. Whenever he approached shepherds, trying to talk, they all walked away. They didn’t even look at him. Or if they did, they always made their excuses. The words of Yeshua came back to him: “woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” How prescient his words seemed now! It certainly would have been better if he had stepped in the way of Peter’s sword last night. At least he wouldn’t have had to deal with their coldness, their ignorance of the facts.

He stopped at his field, a jagged outcrop of rock. Now the light was rapidly fading, Jerusalem had been thrown into shadow. The glorious cityscape he had seen that morning seemed to have vanished, replaced by deserted alleyways, darkened streets that nobody ventured into. He scanned the city for a face, a face that would recognize his own, stop in awe of what he had done. All he saw were two women walking through the valley below. They glanced at him briefly. One of them looked disgusted, her face wrinkled in distaste — they obviously loathed him. And now he looked at his hands: a pair of hands which had not achieved anything. What good was he now, exactly, except as a laughingstock for the world to see?

Yet something inside him screamed. “YOU CANNOT GIVE UP THE FIGHT. There will be much more to do. Get down from that cliff, go to every door and tell them what you did, and convince them all to rise up again.” How would God be so cruel, to allow somebody who was only doing what was right, somebody who saved the whole of Judah and its religion, to perish? He closed his eyes, uttering a silent prayer: “if God has not willed this, then let Him speak. I must know.”

He strained for a few seconds. Nobody called his name from behind, nobody stepped out to stop him. Now he could only hear the whisper of the wind as it snaked through the grass behind him. And somewhere, from far above him, the mocking squawk of a vulture. Waiting for him to die. His eyes filled with tears, and he let himself fall.

There was a crack: the branch had splintered, but did not snap. A few days later, strained by the burden, it would finally break off, sending Judas Iscariot flying into the valley of Gehenna. All the believers in Jerusalem would watch in quiet satisfaction as the betrayer of Christ was dashed to pieces on the cursed rocks, his soul damned beyond perdition. In their eyes, it was just another case of poetic justice fulfilled by their Lord.

Look, I’m really sorry, okay? I know that I should have asked you to fix it earlier, and I’m sorry I didn’t come as soon as I heard you shouting. I didn’t know that that man would be there and I thought he was just a passer-by…

Are you still okay?

It’s a tough ride being here at the lighthouse, and I — well, I don’t know what to write, but I promise I’ll try and be… less standoffish? More willing to talk? I dunno. It feels like too much. I just want something to hold on to.


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