THE RELUCTANT PENITENT

 

 (Rated = A bit twisted)

Jesus Rodriguez was abandoned at eight years of age. He ate well, though, on the dumps of Lagazpi, the Bicol, Philippines. Wiry and dark skinned with onyx eyes, he was the natural leader of the other abandoned ones who he ate with.

Business attire required minimum clothing, a protective cloth for cold evenings, and a short machete that was well worn due to its daily sharpening (over a period of sixty years) by the previous owner. It was a lucky find on the garbage heap. Adding to its mystique was the stamped legend on its base; “U. S. Army, Occupied Philippines.”

Food was never horded; it was consumed on the spot. Carrying extra baggage (such as food) limited one’s ability to scour deeper into the leavings of others. Things that did become baggage were items that were temporary until sold; copper wire was always in demand, as was burlap bags. However, copper maintained its value whereas burlap could bring a fortune one day and next to nothing the following day (and it was heavy if it rained; as it often did in Lagazpi).

On rare days Jesus found enough copper to walk to the edge of the city where he could sell it to the local scrap dealer; Senior Santiago. On those trips he was always amazed at the penance seekers who walked to the local Catholic Church on proud and bloody knees. On major Holy Days (not that Jesus would recognize one day from another) he was treated to a spectacle; men engaged in self-flagellation using barbwire as the choice of joy.

Holy people often visited the Lagazi mound dwellers; some with promises of heaven and others with promises of fresh food. Jesus had no concept of heaven, hell, purgatory or fresh food. Therefore he never followed the ones in black and white costumes. However, as language often creates twists and turns, other trash mavens came back with stories of faith, hope and charity (which Jesus translated as laziness, dream-world, and begging). Jesus would go hungry for days before he would let himself act as those lazy beggars who had cut off their own hands or feet as an example and extension of their own weak minds.

Jesus also had no concept of ancestry. If he had he would have realized where his deep pride originated; The Extremedura, Spain. Decades upon decades, changing over to centuries upon centuries of cultural and political upheaval had made pride come to the forefront. What else was there after eons of humiliation? Neanderthal beaten by Cro-Magnon beaten by North Africans beaten by Celts beaten by Phoenicians beaten by Romans beaten by Visigoths beaten by Muslims beaten by Catholics beaten by Napoleonics beaten by Kings beaten by Franco, beaten by democracy, beaten by socialism. And the local ancestry lived through each change.

As often happens (in stories of this nature) a holy person visited Jesus on the mounds of Lagazpi. This time the costumes were not simply black and white. The long dress (that captured the man inside of it) had beautiful and ornate dashes of brilliant red. He approached Jesus; Jesus instinctively withdrew his machete.

“Wait” the, man in the dress. “I have information for you.”

Jesus knew that there was no specific information for him. No one, outside of those on the Lagazpi mounds, even knew his name. Jesus had forgotten about Senior Santiago, the scrap dealer who knew both his name and his abilities. Those abilities were:

 1) the uncanny ability to know what was owed to him for his scrap    and   

 2) the ability that made him a leader among the mound people.

Senior Santiago knew nothing about his ability with the machete although he had been threatened with it on those occasions when he had attempted to cheat Jesus on a scrap deal.

This man in the red dress had nothing good to offer.

The man stopped short of being anywhere in the circumference of the machete’s swing.

“I have information to help you live a healthy and long life” the man continued.

This verbal opening apparently caught Jesus’ interest. He lowered the machete to his side, but, kept a strong grip on it as his mind echoed “Just in case.”

“What is it you have for me?” asked Jesus.

The man took a can of food from beneath his dress and offered it to Jesus. Jesus held up his hand in the standard refusal of Extremeduran pride. The man put the can on the ground and backed up a few paces.

“Please”, the man said. “Take it and read the bottom.”

Jesus could not read and was deeply embarrassed. His ancestral pride and anger took control of him. He struck the can forcefully with the cutting edge of his machete. The can flew open and splattered both him and the man in the dress.

Immediately following the splatter the stench arrived. Both Jesus and the man swept their hands over their own faces, clothes and whatever bare skin was exposed. The rotten food had escaped its tin lamp much like the genie who had escaped his confinement of centuries.

Jesus, upon recovering from this unwarranted invasion of a man in a pretty dress who had been bearing spoiled gifts, raised his machete and took a stance in preparation for charging.

“NO – NO” cried out the man. “Please I have not given you the information yet.”

Jesus stood his ground as the man attempted to explain. “The can, look at the bottom of the can. See the numbers?”

Jesus may as well have attempted to understand the numbering system of the planet “T7”. The man knew beforehand that Jesus could neither read, write, or do arithmetic. The man in the pretty dress had a plan; and it was working better than he could have hoped for.

As happens (in legends similar to this) word had travelled from mouth to mouth between the people of the Lagazpi mounds. This word was simply how clever, bright and independent this Jesus was. No one ever told Jesus himself though. Not even Senior Santiago who understood how intelligent Jesus must have been. Their reverence for his intellegence, their recognition of his Extremaduran temper (and their fear of his machete) placed a wall between Jesus and the others. They would comment upon his major ability; to find enough good food to eat without poisoning himself.

And they would comment upon his abilities to control others whether older or bigger than himself. They would comment on his bright eyes and wondered what would be found inside that head.

The words and wonder about Jesus finally escaped the mound via the holy people dressed in black and white (and Senior Santiago dressed in filthy clothes). The words and wonder about Jesus finally escaped the holy people (dressed in black and white) and reached the diocese. Words turned to action and the holy people (dressed in black and white and red) decided to draw Jesus into their circle.

And so the plan was worked out and on this particular day was apparently working quite well. Jesus’ well known pride would be wounded (just enough) so that he would deeply wish he could read. Then the holy people could teach him to. And then to write. Following that he could join their circle and their souls would be saved.

Ah! The sacrament of conversion. It not only saves the soul of the converted but also saves (and salves) the convertor.

Jesus was shown that if he could have read the can he would have known that the food contained therein would likely have poisoned him. He was brought to the local church for his first lessons; once per week. He was brought to the diocese for additional lessons; once per month. He was fed, therefore, once per week (rice and beans) and once per month (tenderloin and petite peas).

The plan worked quite well and Jesus’ intelligence was the fodder for honing his cultural skills. He was taught to dress well, speak well and to be devotional to the church. (Yet, on the other hand) Jesus had one problem with the church, or, possibly it was the opposite; the church may have had a problem with Jesus. It does not really matter which way you look at it; it was only a problem if you dwell upon it. Therefore we will not dwell upon it. We will state it and then treat it as the church did; ignore it.

The problem was that Jesus fell in love with most of the sacraments of the church but absolutely loathed one of them; Penance. He felt that if you did something bad and you wanted to crawl to church on your bloody knees, then you could bloody well do so. But, if you did nothing that would be considered a serious sin, public penance (or private penance for that matter) was out of the question. Especially for an Extremaduran temperament.

Of the seven sacraments there were only four that Jesus could love; and of those the best one could only be experienced once; baptism. There was second sacrament that Jesus could only experience once and that was confirmation.  Therefore the Eucharist would have to suffice as his main and enduring sacrament. Jesus would always take this sacrament in both forms; the wine as blood and the bread as body (of Christ).

One sacrament was never offered to him (the anointing of the sick) for that was kept by the priests for themselves. Jesus never thought about the sacrament of joining the holy orders (although the diocese had that in mind for him) and matrimony was a question that never arose in his mind (much like holy orders).

Penance, as a sacrament, was definitely out of the question. However, he wondered why everyone made such a big deal about confession and why it was never named as a sacrament. Jesus put that question in his bucket of questions about the church.

Jesus, over the four years of his tutelage, had learned to read and write Spanish very well. He could speak English quite well also. His acceptance of the cultural norms of the city was evident and he had accepted the protocol of the church (to some degree).

On one particular beautiful day the diocese asked him if he would like to take part in a special service in the United States. Jesus was thrilled. He still had his machete and would often take it out and stare at those words; “U. S. ARMY, Occupied Philippines.” Jesus did not fully understand the meaning of those words but he did get an idea about them as he was being taught to read and write. There were books available in the diocesan library that told of the U. S. Army in the Philippines and he read all that was available.

The special service that Jesus was to take part in was to be held in New York City. The diocese explained to Jesus that there was a special ceremony called “The Washing of the Feet.” It was also explained that even though this was not a sacrament it was “almost like one.” That caught Jesus’ attention.

Additionally, it was a rare invitation that he received. To take part in the washing of the feet was a tremendous honor. Jesus had been chosen because of his ability to be a leader, his ability to read and write Spanish, and his ability to speak English. “You will become a leader, just like Christ’s apostles became leaders” he was told. “The ceremony is a reenactment of Christ washing his apostle’s feet during the time of his crucifixion and his ascension.”

This was the beginning of Jesus’ new life. A life promising new horizons, honor and pride. The trip to New York City was an once-in-a-lifetime experience in itself. Helicopter taxis, jet planes, solid clouds made of nothing, flying into a storm and out of a storm, being treated as if he were a king.

Jesus could not have imagined such a thing even if it was told to him in details. The emotions that he felt were all new, all encompassing and all inspiring. He would not allow himself to fall asleep during the Pacific leg of the trip and he fought sleep all the way across the vastness of the United States. “I will be the best apostle of all” he told himself just before dozing off.

Jesus was rudely awakened by the shaking of the plane. Almost instantly he heard a bell going off somewhere in the cabin of the plane. He sat upright, almost frozen by fear. A stewardess came to him and spoke softly in Spanish.

“It is well. The plane is approaching New York and we will be landing in a few minutes.”  Jesus sat back in his seat and checked his belt. It was still fastened.

The approach to New York City was as exciting as the previous two legs of the trip. Buildings, houses, water, islands, more buildings, tall buildings, more houses, more water, and then; the landing strip. Jesus could not wait to tell his friends back home. He was very anxious to visit the Lagazpi mounds and his original friends. He had so many tales to tell, so many experiences to relate, so many new opportunities that he could pass on to others.

The stewardess informed Jesus of what he needed to do after the plane landed; luggage pick-up, exiting from the airport and looking for someone to meet him.

His small carry-on and his medium sized luggage was enough for him to lug to the exit and enough for him to exist for the next two weeks in New York City. As the stewardess had stated, a man was at the exit holding a sign; “Jesus Rodriguez” in block letters. The eyes of the man and Jesus met. Each one smiled and they were soon on their way to Manhattan.

The man spoke Spanish extremely well and this intrigued Jesus. After some inititial questions the man told Jesus that he was from Puerto Rico. Jesus asked about Puerto Rico and received in return the man’s life story. When the man stated that he was in the army Jesus asked him if he had been to the Philippines, did he ever own a machete, and was he ever in Lagazpi. The man said “No” “No” and “No” to the three machine gunned questions. Jesus did not listen as closely to the rest of the story; he sat dejected for the remainder of the trip. The driver did not seem to notice and he kept up his life’s story.

Jesus was dropped off at the rectory of the “Church of the Eucharist” where the parish priest was waiting for him. General information was politely exchanged between the two. The parish priest informed Jesus that he had his own bedroom.

“There are two beds in your room. Take whichever one pleases you and get some sleep” stated the priest. “The bishop would be arriving that evening in preparation for the washing of the feet early tomorrow morning.”

Jesus was pleased to hear both pieces of information. He wished to meet the bishop and he was dying to get some decent sleep.

It was a sharp rap on his door that awoke Jesus. His nimble mind brought him to his senses almost immediately. He asked who it was and the parish cook announced (through the door) that dinner would be ready in forty-five minutes. Jesus was relieved that he had time for a quick wash-up and to unpack his small suitcase.

Underwear went in the top drawer of the chest-of-drawers that the parish priest had so kindly pointed out to him. The next drawer down was for his socks, then down for his shirts, and the bottom drawer held his spare trousers. Nothing could be placed on top of the chest-of-drawers due to a large bowel and pitcher of water taking up all the space. A wash cloth and drying towel sat next to them.

The only thing that remained in the suitcase was his pride and joy; the stubby machete emblazoned with “U. S. ARMY, Occupied Philippines.” That was placed, with reverence, under his pants in the bottom drawer. It was not that he had to hide it, it was simply easier to be kept out of site than to attempt to explain to anyone what that machete meant to him. It was like a security blanket to a child. Jesus knew that he was not a child and that he had no logical reason to be so attached to the machete. It was just an attachment and that was that; period.

Jesus took a few minutes to clean up. He took advantage of the bowl, pitcher of water and towels. He was pleased to think that someone had thought about having them available.

At supper that evening the parish priest informed Jesus of some very bad news.

“The Bishop called me while you were sleeping” related the priest. “He will not be able to make it here for the washing of the feet. He did inform me that a monsignor from the Boston Diocese will be taking his place. He will be arriving on a private plane this evening.”

“I am disappointed” said Jesus, “but I do understand that things happen to the best of plans.”

Jesus stated that he could accept the situation. The priests in Lagazpi had taught him that certain oversights had to be made if a high ranking priest could not meet a certain obligation. It did seem strange, though, that all the lower ranking officials of the church always met their obligations but the higher ranking ones were not always expected to meet their obligations. However, that was just another of those mysteries of the organized church.

Supper was completed. The cook was picking up the dishes when the doorbell rang. The parish priest answered it and was pleased to see the monsignor from Boston had arrived already. They exchanged greetings. The monsignor was traveling light; he had only his carry-on.

“I must return to Boston immediately after the ceremony tomorrow morning” stated the monsignor.

“Please take a seat at the table” insisted the parish priest. “I will have the cook set a place for you and we can discuss the ceremony. You will get an opportunity to meet our Jesus from the Philippines. Jesus, come, sit with us” said the priest.

Jesus came forward from the shadows where he had felt more comfortable. He wished not to intrude upon the two priest’s initial encounter. The monsignor did not wear a dress as the monsignors in Lagazpi did. He was dressed in simple black and white.

“Tell me something about yourself” asked the monsignor of Jesus.

Jesus told him of his life on the mounds and the benefits he had received from the church back in the Philippines. He did not dwell on it but simply told of the highlights of his situation.

The two priests and Jesus talked long into the evening. The parish priest had to excuse himself.

“I seem to be exhausted” he stated. “A man of my age needs a lot of rest. We will meet tomorrow morning for the ceremony. I am an early riser and will have much to do in preparation for the washing of the feet so I will not see you for breakfast.” The parish priest told the monsignor “Take the other bed in Jesus’ room. The cook will knock on your door to awake you.”

The three exchanged “Good night” and the room was silent. Jesus was also very tired but he did not wish to insult the monsignor by excusing himself to go to bed for a good night’s sleep. The stalemate was broken when the monsignor admitted that he was also tired and wished to get some rest.

The monsignor and Jesus talked as they ascended the wide oaken staircase. Jesus opened the door for the monsignor and motioned for him to enter first. The monsignor set his overnight bag next to the unused bed. Jesus had not straightened his bed out before leaving for supper and it looked quite messy.

Jesus was a little embarrassed about three things; first, that his bed was such a mess, second; that he had not emptied the bowl, replaced the water in the pitcher or asked for a clean towel; and third, he had used all the drawers in the chest of drawers. He was relieved when he realized that someone had taken care of the bowl and pitcher plus replaced the towels with two sets of fresh ones. He was farther relieved when he realized that the monsignor did not have enough luggage to bother unpacking.

“Are you prepared for the washing of the feet tomorrow morning?” asked the monsignor. Jesus stated that he had been told about the ceremony and had observed it only once back in the Philippines.

“Well let’s go over it just to ensure that we both are ready for tomorrow; OK?” asked the monsignor.

Jesus was pleased to hear the monsignor state that this preparation was for both of their benefits. “Apparently the monsignor is aware of people’s feelings and pride” thought Jesus to himself. “That is good for a priest of such high ranking to be aware of other’s feelings.”

The monsignor noticed the bowl and pitcher of water that sat on top of the chest-of-drawers. He filled the bowel with water from the pitcher and set it on the floor. He took the towel and placed it next to the bowl. He then moved a chair so that it sat in front of the bowl. The monsignor knelt reverently on the other side of the bowl.

“Please, Jesus, sit down so we can practice” said the monsignor.

Jesus sat down. The monsignor gently removed Jesus’ right shoe and sock. He then lifted his foot over the bowl and gently and thoroughly washed it. Taking the towel, the monsignor just as gently dried it.

He lifted Jesus’ foot slightly. As he did this he bent over and encircled Jesus’ large toe with his mouth and began gently sucking on his toe.

The next morning the collection basket was full. It contained the monsignor’s head and Jesus’ right foot; both hacked off with deftness and experience. Next to the collection basket was a machete marked “U. S. ARMY, Occupied Philippines.”

 

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About Waldo "Wally" Tomosky

I am proud of my work life (not the jobs, just the work).  Bait monger  Lawn mower  Paper boy  Windshield cleaner in a drive-in theater (if you don't know what a drive-in theater is there is no sense in you reading any farther)  Snack shack janitor in a drive in theater (ditto for drive-in theater)  Milling machine clean-up boy in a tool and die shop  Plastic injection press operator  Centurion in the US Army  Factory hand  Apprentice boy  Tool and die maker  Software user manual writer  Computer programmer  Ex-patriate par excellence  Engineering manager  Software test manager  Retiree  University administrator  System analyst  Retiree (2nd try)  Licensed amateur paleontologist  Retiree (3rd try)  Shovel bum (archaeology)  Retiree (4th try)  Delivery driver  Retiree (5th try)  Graduate student (skipped AA and BA due to the level of difficulty)  Retiree (finally got the drift of it) I have been writing for fourteen years and have fifteen books on Amazon/Kindle. Some horror, some twisted, some experimental, some essay and a few historical. I think that now I will really, really, really retire and just write. Lets see if I can do retirement correctly this time!
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