Divine Madness

“And Seth killed and dismembered
his brother Osiris, and scattered the
pieces all over the sky, and from
each piece, a star was born.”

An Egyptian Legend

Rain burst into the bar. “Hey, close that door,” yelled,
Paul, the bartender.

“Look what the wind blew back in,” said the only customer
at the bar, a man named Harry.

The bartender took a second look at the thin, gray-haired
man hanging up his raincoat. “Juan, I thought you were
halfway home by now.

“Paul, give Juan a Johnny Walker,” said Harry. Juan sat
down next to Harry. “Here wipe your face. Isn’t that a
bitch! You got laid off today, and it had to rain on you
too. What else is going to happen to you, eh?” Harry
handed his friend a paper napkin.

“I am going to win the lottery.”

“Not with your luck.”

Juan grabbed Harry’s shoulder. “Listen to me. A few
minutes ago, on my way home, it started to rain—”

“I thought someone was watering the lawn downtown.”

“Will you listen?”

“I’m listening. You said it’s raining. I knew that. Did you
know that, Paul?

“Listen to the man, for Christ’s sake,” said Paul bringing
the drink over.

“No one can talk to this guy when he’s drunk,” said Juan.

“Okay, I’m listening.” Harry feigned attention.

Juan turned his back on Harry, and spoke to Paul, “As I
was saying, I took cover in an empty doorway. I was
brushing the rain off my coat, when I heard this deep
voice behind me, `Excuse me, sir.’ It scared the pants
off me. I turned around and saw him. He was wearing
an old suit, black and heavy with rain. His hat was
crumpled, and hid his face.

`Could you spare a five, sir.’

`No, I have no money.’

`You don’t have to lie, just say you don’t want to help.
No need to be afraid.’

`I’m not lying, and I’m not afraid of you.’

`Juan, I know you have money.’

`Do I know you?’ I tried to discern his face.

`No, you don’t know me. I could be God for all you
know. This could be a test.’ He drew closer and the
wind picked up driving the cold rain into the doorway.
Lighting flashed and I saw the face under the hat.

`Yes, you’re right, I could spare a five.’ I handed him the
bill and said I had to go.

`Wait, you passed the test. Make a wish, anything you
want.’

`No thanks.’ I tried to turn, but he grabbed my arm.

`Certainly, there must be something you want. Only the
saints want not. Are you a saint, Juan?’

I saw his face in a flash of lighting– the scraggly beard,
the blue acetylene eyes.

`I want to win first prize in the lotto tonight.’

`Are you sure? I can only grant one wish. Is it really
money you want?’

`Yes, Im sure.’

“I grant your wish then. You may go now.’

Let me tell you I hurried back here. I needed another drink.”

“Bah!, he was just a crazy wino. What’s wrong with you?”

“He knew my name.”

“He did not, he just called you Juan because you sound
Hispanic. Just a coincidence.”

“Maybe, but it was eerie.”

“Hey, Paul, I think Juan thinks he met God. Well, do you
have a lottery ticket?”

“Yes I do.” Juan took out of his wallet a lottery ticket and
placed it on the bar.

“We’ll soon find out,” said Paul reaching for the remote
control. “It’s time for the lottery drawing. I expect a big
tip if you win.”

On the screen the young woman operating the lottery
machine tried to move like a fashion model. The large
C.P.A. supervising the drawing stared at the camera
with a fixed smile. Paul took a pen from his shirt’s
pocket and began writing the numbers on a paper
napkin. He lifted the ticket from the counter, and
moved toward the light.

“Holy cow! You won! Look at this.” He waved the napkin
like a flag.

“Oh, you’re bullshitting,” said Harry with a dismissive
gesture.

Paul brought the ticket and napkin to Juan.

“Jesus! Even all the numbers are in the same order.
What are the odds for that?”

“Give me those. You’re pulling my leg.” Harry snatched
the ticked and napkin. “I’ll be damned!” Amazement was
reflected in his fat red face.

They looked at each other in silence. Harry spoke first.
“Hell, is this a funeral?” Let’s start celebrating. Paul, give
Juan another drink. He looks like a ghost. Start laughing,
Juan, you won four million, baby.”

Juan pointed toward the door. “That bum said I could
have anything I wanted, and I just asked for the lotto to
get rid of him. I could have asked for…” Juan snatched
the ticket from the counter and ran out of the bar.

“What the hell! “Harry looked at Paul.

The rain had stopped. Juan ran as fast as he could. In
the deserted street his footsteps echoed wet and loud.
He darted into the doorway. It was empty.

At ten o’clock Juan went down the subway stairs to
catch the train to Howard. The two teenagers at the
foot of the stairs stopped smoking their reefer and
stared at Juan. As he approached the first bench in
the station, his heart stopped. There, asleep on the
bench, was the bum.

Juan was sure it was him. He recognized the black,
wrinkled suit, the wet dog smell.The man slept
peacefully, his hat over his head. Could this be
God? He thought. Oh get off it! This is just a bum.
The lottery was a coincidence, nothing more. Get
on your train and forget it. But wait. What if this guy
was really God? What if he could grant me another
wish? Juan moved toward the bench. He was
about to touch the bum’s shoulder with a trembling
hand, when the sleeping figure sat up abruptly.
Juan gasped and pulled back his hand.The blue
glaring eyes stared into Juan’s.

“Dissatisfied already, Juan? Do you want to change
your wish?” He smiled showing missing teeth. The
few left were stained dark yellow.

“Yes, sir. It’s about my daughter, if you could…” Juan
couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Resurrect her?”

The question hit him like a blow. “Yes, sir, please!” He
fell on his knees.

The two teens, he had seen in his way down, walked
by looking on in amazement. One said something to
the other and both exploded with laughter. They
walked away, performing an elaborated hand slapping
ritual. A train pulled up to the station. Juan sat next to
the bum, not daring to look at the passengers. He pulled
a cigarette out, and offered the bum one.

They smoked in silence.

Finally, Juan asked, “What shall I call you?”

“Osiris.”

“Isn’t that the Egyptian god of the underworld? I thought
you were God the father.

“I am, but don’t like to brag. When I visit mortals I like to
assume a lesser identity. Humility is one of my favorite
virtues. God should be inconspicuous, otherwise it gets too
oppressive. Don’t you think?”

“Listen, Osiris, I don’t want to sound ungrateful but my
daughter is more important than the lottery.”

“Why did you ask for the lottery then?”

“Frankly, I didn’t believe you could grant wishes.”

“Exactly, but you asked for it, and it’s done.”

“Osiris, how could I have believed you were a god
when you look like this?” Couldn’t you at least have
wore the traditional dog face?”

“It’s not a dog’s face, it’s a jackal’s face. Don’t you
people study ancient religions anymore?”

“Okay, my fault, but why come disguised as a bum?”

“Do I really look like a bum? See, I’m not self-
conscious. You’re my mirror. You’re a faulty mirror.
I look like this because you don’t believe. Rather,
it’s because you believe that God is evil that I look
like this. In reality I don’t look like anything and have
no qualities.”

“Sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to offend you. I know I’m a
sinner, but from now on I’ll believe in you.”

“Cut the crap. He, who believes in me, believes
only his own ideas. No one knows me, and I don’t
know myself, either. Besides, I can’t grant your wish.
Don’t kneel again, please. A train is coming. I just
can’t.”

“But, sir, you already, granted me a wish. It was a
miracle.”

“Juan, there are no miracles. I just told you in
advance what was going to happen anyway.”

“But it’s in the bible, Lazarus was resurrected, Jesus
was too.”

“Oh, well, excuse me. I must be wrong then.”

“I did not mean you’re wrong, but—”

“No buts. I can’t. This is what I came to tell you. God
is not in control, you guys are.”

“I can’t accept that.”

“Juan, look around. Do you think I would allow so much
suffering? Your daughter was raped and murdered,
was she not?”

Juan nodded thoughtfully.

“Believe me, I have no supernatural powers.”

“Wait a minute, you knew my name. You know my
daughter was murdered. You knew I was going to
win. You must have some powers.”

Osiris smiled his jackal smile. “Do you know about
madness?”

“A little,” said Juan giving him a suspicious look.

“Is a madman aware of his own hallucinations?”

“Yes.”

“You bet. He’s aware of every horrid detail, but he
can’t control his visions, can he?” Osiris pointed a
finger crowned by a long curving yellowing nail at
him.

Juan shuddered. “No he can’t.”

“That’s right, and neither can I. I’m aware of every sordid
deed you bastards do, but can’t change a thing. Come
over here. Let me tell you a secret.”

Juan leaned over.

“God is crazy,” whispered Osiris.

A train roared by. The noise panicked Juan. He stood
up gasping for air. Osiris jumped up and shook him by
his coat. “Steady, boy. This is heady stuff, isn’t it?”

“But what about my daughter?” Asked Juan with tears in
his eyes.

“What about her? Forget her. She never existed. You
don’t exist either. I’m the only one who exist.” The
manic eyes were inches away from Juan’s. ” Isn’t that a
joke? Some people believe I don’t exist, and it’s they
who really don’t exist. This world is my worst
hallucination. Do you know how I lost my mind?”

” No, and I don’t want to know. Go away.”

“Loneliness. God is very lonely, more lonely than you.
That’s why I chose you. You understand loneliness. I
know how you hesitate before opening your front door.
How that silent house sucks the energy out of you. How
you rush to click the TV on. Now imagine being alone
in the universe. Wouldn’t you go crazy too? Things can
get very complicated when an infinite mind goes mad.
We must help each other, Juan.” Osiris extended his
grimy hand.

Juan pushed the hand away. You’re a lunatic. You’re not
God.”

“Bingo! And the nightmare is about to get worse.”

“You killed my daughter, you bastard!”

“It was God’s will,” Osiris whispered in Juan’s ear.

“You son-of-a-bitch, you’re the murderer. That’s how
you know so much about me.” Juan lunged at Osiris.

Osiris fell on the tracks and the screech of a speeding
train drowned his last words. The train vanished behind
the nearest curve, and Juan watched with horror the
bloody body parts strewn on the tracks. He ran up
the stairs, and hailed a cab. He got off six blocks away
from his house as a precaution.

He couldn’t go to sleep. He was sure the train operator
had seen him push Osiris onto the tracks, but maybe he
had not seen the bum fall. He did not hit the brakes,
but kept going. Juan listened to the radio all night long
to hear news of the death. There was none. He
expected the police to knock at his door at any moment,
but they didn’t.

As soon as the new day broke, he went out and bought a
newspaper, but found not a word. He used a pay phone
to call the Chicago Transit Authority. He told the
information clerk he was inquiring about the man who
fell and was killed on the tracks last night.

“No one has been killed on the tracks in two years,” she
said.

He was completely puzzled. What was going on? Was
that guy really God? He remembered the lottery ticket,
took it out of his wallet and checked the numbers in the
newspaper. He had won after all. That much seemed
real. In a daze, he walked to the nearest bar.

“What’s it going to be?” asked the bartender.

“Uh?”

“What can I get you?”

“Beer.”

“Which one?”

“Old style.” Juan looked at his watch. ” I guess it’s
breakfast time. Give me a bag of potato chips, too.”

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