When one lives on the wrong side of the edge of the desert, and when one is as aged as I am, one accepts that he will see certain things that other people would not. Mostly this is good, as the things I see are interesting.
I was sitting in my chair in the shade of the little porch I added to my little wooden home, which is built well enough to keep out most of the wind and sand and rattlesnakes. This is where I often am when I see interesting things. This day, I saw in the far distance an upright line. As I watched, the line grew and became a man. Although he walked upright with dignity, his gait told me he was tired. By the time he reached my little home I had water from my good well and a plate of food from my little garden ready for him.
I motioned that he should enter my little home and sit at my table. He nodded his thanks and sat and drank and ate. This is what men do when they have been walking a long time in the desert, and it is not particularly interesting.
When he finished, he cleared his throat and spoke an honest word of thanks. I made a small gesture toward my bed and asked if he needed to rest. He again spoke an honest word of thanks and accepted. He rose and unbuckled the sword he wore around his robe, a robe that reminded me of one a monk would wear but which was not a monk’s robe.
“A man is following me. He may arrive while I am asleep. If he sees the sword and asks for it, perhaps you can think of some words to dissuade him from taking it. But in the end, give it to him. He has a bad temper and it is not good to provoke him. I would not wish you to be hurt.”
He went to my bed and lay on it and was quickly asleep. This also is what men do when they have been walking a long time in the desert and is also not particularly interesting.
I did, however, have a sword and the promise of another visitor. This was interesting.
I took the sword and went back to my porch. I leaned the weapon against my home and sat in my chair to wait.
Presently, I saw another line sticking up from the desert and I knew my second visitor would soon arrive. I prepared another plate of food and drew more water. These I set on my little stand on the porch, as my first visitor was still sleeping inside. I brought out the chair from inside and placed it beside the stand.
The new arrival did the common and not particularly interesting things with the food and drink. All the while he studied the sword leaning against the wall of my home and listened to the gentle snoring from inside.
When he had finished, he gave an honest word of thanks, then said, “I would have that sword.”
“I was told this,” I said. “I was asked to say some words to dissuade you from taking it, but as I do not know the particulars concerning this sword and its possession, I have none to offer. Also, I was told that you have a bad temper and that I should surrender the sword rather than vex you.”
“I confess my bad temper, my only moral failing. As for the particulars of the sword, all you need to know, my host, is that I am going to take the sword and kill the man sleeping inside your home.” He stood and moved toward me, his hand reaching out to grasp the sword.
I frowned and shrugged and looked away from him. “Is that all? That is not very interesting.”
“No?” He seemed genuinely curious.
He remained stopped in his motion, his hand still near the sword but not touching it. He regarded me and seemed puzzled.
“You do not find the taking of life interesting? The spilling of the blood of life onto the ground, the last whispery breath, the end of a man’s earthly existence? These do not interest you?”
“I have seen men kill and die. When I was young I found it interesting. With repetition it has lost its appeal.”
Both his hands went to his hips and he stood akimbo, regarding me oddly.
“Perhaps it would touch your interest to know why I am going to kill the man inside your home.”
“It might. But the killing and dying will still not be interesting.”
He stared at me a long moment, his head tipping slightly to one side. Then he shook his head as a man does to clear the vestiges of sleep. “Whether it interests you or not I am going to kill the man inside your home.”
I nodded to show that I understood this and I scratched an itch under my beard, but my scratching had nothing to do with what the man was saying to me and I was pleased he understood that.
Then I yawned. I know from previous experience that it is best not to yawn around a man with a bad temper, but the yawn happened before I knew it was coming.
“Do I bore you, my host?”
“Not at all; my apologies. It is about the time of day when I take a siesta.”
“Then I will get on with my work so that you may sleep.” He sounded peevish. “Or, should you fall asleep before I conclude my business, we will hope he does not scream and awaken you.”
That was an interesting thing for him to say. He apparently knew something of how old men slept and I wondered how he had come by that knowledge. But I did not ask him; it would be something for me to think about later.
He reached again for the sword, still resting in its scabbard against the outer wall of my little home. But his hand could not seem to find it and he looked hard at me again, anger and puzzlement fighting for control of his face.
The hand that he meant to take the sword with instead leaped in my direction and a finger pointed at me.
“Truly!” he said loudly. “Truly you find nothing at all interesting in the pageant of life and death about to be played out before your very eyes? In the godlike” – he shrieked a little on that word – “power I will hold over my foe to call an end to his days?
“I am about to-” he searched within himself for words grand enough, came up short and was forced to repeat himself. “I am about to spill a man’s very lifeblood on the ground! How can this not be of interest to you?”
I found it interesting that the snoring inside my home had stopped. But I did not think it proper to call attention to the fact. Perhaps this visitor did not find snoring, or the lack of it, interesting. I did not wish to impose myself further than I already had.
“I beg your pardon. I do not mean to be insulting, sir. It is simply that I have seen much of what you propose to show me. It is like that saguaro over there.” I gestured slightly toward the desert. “I have seen it every day for almost twenty years. Through that familiarity, I barely see it at all.”
He whirled to regard the saguaro, which was a lordly specimen of its kind and was interesting to me for a few years when I first took up living here.
“That is a cactus!” he raged. “I am speaking of a man, created in the image of Almighty God and ensouled by Him and whose mortal existence, decreed by that same Almighty God, I am going to end! My hand,” which he showed me, “will be like that of God’s as I destroy that which God has made! Can you find nothing … interesting in this?” he shouted.
“I can,” said another voice.
My first guest seemed refreshed by his siesta, as I often feel after mine. He held a gun in his hand and it made a loud noise.
My second guest looked down to see his life’s blood spilling onto my little porch. He was no longer able to speak, but he looked at me, imploring me, it seemed, to find something of interest in his death. I could not oblige, which made me a little sad as it was of such importance to him and I try to be a good host on the rare occasion I have company.
Very soon, the pageant of life and death ended and I was left with only one visitor. This man, who wore the robe that was not a monk’s robe, gestured at the dead man.
“He promised he would kill me with my own sword. I told him that if he was fortunate he would get his chance and that he should make the most of it.”
“Interesting,” I said.