I Tertius (part one)

A Christian man was hiding in a hedge.

– What are you doing in that hedge, a Roman Centurion asked him.

– Nothing to see here, the Christian man said, hoping, by this lie, to put to bed all further enquiries.

– I see you with extreme clarity, the Centurion said. Come out of that hedge at once!

– I am not in a hedge.

– Perhaps you misunderstand how obvious your presence in that hedge is. This hedge you have chosen is incredibly small. I can see the entirety of your torso protruding from the hedge, as well as your face, which is turned towards me and making very conspicuous eye-contact. Your clothes, furthermore, stand out so clearly against this hedge that it would take a huge sum of mental exertion to avoid seeing you.

The Christian scanned his own memory, trying to identify the mistake he had made in order to reach this impasse.

His genius for stealth, he reflected, had not lapsed for one moment that entire day. He had practiced his masterful front rolls, energetic squatting, shrugging, denial, and all the manifold sly tactics in his arsenal to successfully build up the impression that he was an inconspicuous Roman citizen out for a legal jaunt in the forum. What had gone wrong? The only thing he could think of, which may, at a stretch, have led the authorities to a mild suspicion of him, was his simultaneous scream and leap, in a veritable storm of noticeability, into this hedge.

– I order you to come out of that hedge! the Centurion went on.

– Give me a minute.

– Now! The Centurion poked him with his sword.

– Perhaps you didn’t hear that I am not in this hedge.

– Your presence in this hedge is so unbelievably certain, I would stake my wife and child on it.

– Is it not written, ‘Sweat not at all?’

– Where is that written?

– The Aeneid perhaps.

– Where in The Aeneid?

– I am illiterate. I have never heard of the Aeneid.

– Where did the quote come from?

– Hedge? What hedge?

– On the order of Emperor Nero I command you…

The Christian ran away, making a great deal of noise, disrupting many market stalls, causing a great outcry of disapproval in the street, and somehow managing to outrun the Centurion.

It was a close call. He would need, from now on, to further cement his unassuming public image by the practice of crouching, crawling and sneaking, and to augment his arsenal of plausible excuses for doing so.

If anyone, for instance, accused him of being a Christian, or being on his way to a secret meeting, he hoped to deter them from the Visible Evidence of these facts, such as his Jangling Christian Emblems, Bright Christian Regalia, and Satchel Brimming with Conspiratorial Anti-Roman Texts, by the cunning deployment of Usual Acts, such as Leaning Carelessly Against a Wall and Gaily Laughing.

Should he see an Urban Prefect, a Centurion, or any other symbol of imperial state power, he must hold back the enormous urge to scream ‘Jesus is objectively superior to Nero’, ‘Nero is unobjectionably less powerful and influential than Jesus’ or some other such incriminating statement, but instead deploy phrases such as ‘The Roman Empire is okay I suppose, in lots of ways, perhaps.’

The Christian also tried to stop himself loudly singing songs such as:

 

Hoorah-rah-rah for Jesus, wham wham wham!

I am an irrefutably a Christian man yes I am am am!

Caesar is rubbish! This is my genuinely held belief!

I wish death on Emperor Nero and am willing to attest to such in a Roman court! Woo- yeah!

I regularly attend secret meetings and actively seek for the disestablishment of the Roman Empire to be replaced by a Christian Superstate la la ladidah!

 

One could tell, from afar, that this Christian was profoundly ill-fit for this universe. He was like a clumsy spiritual penguin trying to navigate our obstacle course for earthly cats.

He heard a sound like the clattering of lances and front rolled into an alley where two Barterers were bartering goods.

– I will give you goods for these goods, one Barterer said.

– Only if you give me goods will I give you these goods, the other replied.

– Yes, that is my thought exactly. I will give you my goods in exchange for these goods.

– Am I to understand that your offer, as it stands, is that you will give me goods in exchange for these goods?

– That, fellow citizen, is my offer, and furthermore, I believe ourselves to be in complete agreement about the beneficence of this offer, and cannot, for myself, wait to receive these goods.

– Nor I your goods.

– Oh how Ennobling is the world of business!

– Yes, how much Profit is to be got from it!

– Oh Vanity of the world! The Christian cried, rattling his shiny Christian emblems at the Barterers.

– Pardon? they said.

The Christian made a hasty movement to hide his emblems lest his Christianity be discovered, then screamed:

– I am a Christian man! It is foolish to barter in Earthly Goods when they are not worthy to be compared with the Goods of the Heavenly City on High!

– But bartering is so profitable, the Barterers said, showing them the piles of profit they had procured from the trade of goods.

– Nay! the Christian said, pointing at his Shiny Christian Emblems. Profit of earthly goods is false profit of the false prophet Commerce, the Christian staggered aback, marvelling at his own genius for wordplay.

Another Barterer arrived and, after bartering with glee, discoursed on the many joys of exchanging goods.

– Nay! Christian cried. It is in Christ alone, not in Nero, nor the Law, nor the exchange of goods, that true worth is found.

– If you be serious, the newly arrived Barterer said, I shall report you to an Urban Prefect!

The Christian slunk away, in a sideways crab-like shuffle, directly into an Urban Prefect.

– Why do you crawl the streets like a crab, snarled the Prefect, bumping the Christian on the head with his lance.

– I am normal sir.

– Why, then, do you not adopt the standard upstanding walk of a Roman Citizen?

– Has anyone ever told you you are a handsome Urban Prefect?

– No, the Urban Prefect said, bonking the man on the head.

– Forgive me.

– What are those emblems you are wearing?

– I am not wearing emblems, said the Christian, covering his obviously Christian Emblems.

– I can see you are wearing emblems. They are so shiny that they hurt my eyes.

– These emblems are merely the symbols of my tribal God. Unimportant tribe. Not a God you’d be interested in. Although he is the greatest of all Gods. Far, far better than Nero, I should emphasise. Hail Jesus Christ, king of kings!

– What?

– Nothing.

– What kind of regalia is it that are you wearing, the Urban prefect said, pointing at his Bright Very Christian Regalia.

– I am not wearing regalia.

– Why is it uniformly inscribed with the phrase ‘Crestus Rex’, and what are those obviously inflammatory texts brimming from that satchel?

– What satchel?

– You have a satchel full of…

– Please, the Christian fell to his knees, spare an honest Christian!

– You confess than you are a Christian man!?

– Forgive me, I coughed. I meant: Spare an honest Heathen.

– It is obvious that you are a Christian.

– I disagree. I think I have hidden it very well.

– Everything you have said, and everything you are wearing, and your entire demeanour convince me you are a Christian man.

– You fail to understand that I was coughing.

– You said Hail Jesus Christ loudly, right in front of me!

– This was my cough. What’s more I am very tired, and what with the world the way it is. What I meant to say was Bal. Hail Bal! I love Bal and… Whoah! What’s that!?

The Christian pointed at something behind the Urban Prefect. The Urban Prefect turned around and asked what was being indicated by the pointing. No matter how hard he looked at the indicated region, which happened to cut the Christian out of the Urban Prefect’s eye line, he could not identify any object of significance. The Urban Prefect turned back round to see the Christian standing still.

The latter realised that he had forgotten to run away.

– Would you mind turning around again, the Christian said.

– No. I am extremely certain that you are a Christian. I am going to bring you in and make you spit on an icon, which, if you fail to do, will result in your torture and death.

– May we do this later? I am running very late.

– Late for what?

– A secret meeting of Christians.

– What?

– Pardon. I am coughing.

– All meetings are forbidden under Roman Law.

– I meant to say secretly sitting alone.

– You are late for secretly sitting alone?

– Very late indeed.

– Why should your sitting alone be done secret, or on a time schedule?

The man feigned coughing.

– Are you going to a secret meeting of Christians?

– Yes.

– Take me there.

– Darn this continual coughing! I shall pray to Jesus, my only Lord, to cease my horrendous coughing.

– I have never met a man who was more obviously a Christian.

– Your sandals are unloosed, the Christian said.

The Urban Prefect bent down to inspect his sandals thoroughly, for several minutes.

– I can’t understand what you mean, he said, they appear to be very well loosed. He rose back up to see the Christian standing still.

– Perhaps take another look, the Christian suggested.

– Certainly, the Urban Prefect responded, bending over for another thorough inspection, thoroughly cutting off the Christian from his eye-line, before rising back up to see the Christian, standing motionless.

– Where exactly is this meeting of Christians? The Prefect said.

– Come with me, I will take you there.

– Thank you.

– For what?

– For taking me to this meeting of Christians.

– I am no one! *cough*

– I order you to take me there.

– I don’t know what interests an Urban Prefect in a boring meeting of Gauls.

– Gauls!? Gauls in the city of…

– Did I say Gauls? I meant Christians.

– Take me to this meeting of Christians. I command you in the name of the Emperor.

– Christians care not for the law of the Emperor.

The Urban Prefect made as if to buffet the Christian with his lance, then fell over, the Lord having afflicted him with a nervous breakdown to preserve His Chosen.

The Christian praised the name of the Christian God and his son Jesus Christ loudly through the streets, drawing a huge throng of Urban Prefects towards him, which the Lord was also forced to afflict with breakdowns. The Christian, discerning the ways in which his behaviour might be irritating the Lord, snuck promptly into a ramshackle Roman property where he delivered a secret knock (a single knock) incorrectly, and was permitted entrance into a crammed firelit room full of people fumbling beads and muttering. The whole room turned to him.

– What news bringest thou brother Tertius, they said?

– An Epistle from Paul, the Christian said, removing a scroll from his satchel, our brother in Christ, writing from Corinth to the churches in Rome.

The room stirred with devout attention.

– Waste no more time Tertius. Read.

– Certainly, said Tertius, looking down at the page with great thought.

Tertius could not read Greek, nor did he know that the squiggles before him were Greek, nor was he privy to any of the contents of this scroll. Rather than disappoint the spiritually rapt audience however, he improvised what he thought Paul might have said to the Romans at this time, which was promptly recorded by another scribe and has remained unchanged to this day.

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