I had expected him to disappear.
Drop by drop, as they beat, gouged and humiliated the life out of him, he would seep slowly away, I thought. Seeping into the ground like the blood and bile that would pour out of him.
For, of course, we of the occupied territory-- we non-citizens--had seen it before: one of "our" element-- some filthy, vile criminal--would be torn open publicly to serve as a human civics lesson. The life would stream away in his cries, pour away in his tears, puddle at his feet like blood, crawl desperately out of the rent-apart places in his skin, looking for another shell to inhabit. As they scourged, spat, hammered away, the life would surge desperately forth, trying in vain to find a habitable oasis, some-- body.
This is what I had come to expect, the deadly long night before, hiding in alleys, straining to hear uncouth conversations. I would watch him disappear, and, in the end, thank our God that it was at last over. And he would be no more. And it would all be for naught. And the remnant would flee-- by the Temple, they had already fled, and I knew it. And what would be left would be nothing. This is what I had come to expect.
How surprising he was, even in death. How unforeseeable.
I followed. Not even at a distance any longer, for once his end was at hand, of course, so was mine. Though they'd never waste Roman soldiers' energy crucifying me. So I followed, and my old reputation was dragged forth again. "And there's his madwoman," some drunken reveller hollered from the crowd as we stumbled by. "There's his whore." But I recalled such filth only later.
For all I could see was that life, in him. The life-- whipped, dozens of times, and as the blood crusted around the wounds and mixed with his sweat, he seemed to be all the more-- alive. It was as if life was not draining from him, but rather distilling in him, becoming all the more potent. And then, most horrible, as the nails pierced his wrists, and those of my sex were moaning and fainting, his eyes burned with still more life. More fire, not less, smoked behind those black and blackened eyes. Sparks flew.
"He's alive!" I thought, ridiculously. "Still, he lives!"
And then, shattered, he did die. The eyes hooded and the embers died, and there was no breath at all in him.
It happened so fast. Most men take three days to die, and weeks more until the crows pick the bones clean and the dogs have finished up the bones. This man lived and lived three hours on the cross-- and his death sounded like a sudden anvil in my ears. He was, utterly, extinct.
Copyright, 1995 (yes, well before "The Passion of the Christ").