Monday Rewrite: The Artist

I interviewed him lying on his side. Literally. He refused to go to a bar or a coffee shop. Either I lie down in the dirt next to him, or I didn’t meet him at all. So, with the dust blowing in my hair and eyes, and more than the odd stare from passing individuals and families, I humbled myself. There was a carefully crafted model of a city in front of him. He was clearly an artist. And not just a model builder. He said he had plans to cook, act, shave his head. Anything he said to make folks sit up and take notice. He’d not long finished a strange kind of retreat. Sitting alone in his house for months, reading the sacred scrolls and absorbing the meaning, grafting it into the fibres of his being. And now, now he was just about ready to explode. The ideas frothing up in him like lemonade in a well-shaken bottle. Only this was no quick fizz, this had substance.

‘I’m not scared anymore, at least not at the moment,’ his said, his dark eyes wide with his passion. ‘There’s too much to say, too much to do. And I know the people won’t listen.’
‘Then why bother?’ I asked.
He grimaced. ‘Because truth is truth. Reality is reality. I’m not after more Likes on Facebook. You sew seeds and let them do their work. Maybe in a thousand years someone will stumble over what I’m doing today and it’ll change them forever. Falsehood won’t last. Truth is a tree that’ll withstand any axe. That’s the perspective you get when you take a good long while to digest the words of God.’
‘And what are you doing here today?’
I cast another eye over the detailed structure he’d made. A beautifully detailed image sketched on a smooth stone, bordered by intricate models of ladders and battering rams and tiny carved soldiers. This had taken time.
‘I mean, why not set this up in an exhibition somewhere?’
‘Because this is my exhibition. The street. Where the people are. I want them to trip over it, to trip over me. To ask questions the way you are. To wonder what could possibly make an idiot like me do this. I want them to be disturbed by it, to be shaken up.’

I noticed he had his hands tied together.
‘It’s a grim picture you paint,’ I said, ‘no jokes?’
‘Not today. Maybe on another day. Humour is powerful. But so is pathos and tragedy. This city will be under siege for a while and there will be casualties and loss. Not much laughter in that.’
‘What’s next for you?’
‘Cooking. I’ll be making bread.’
‘That’s more hopeful.’
‘Not when you cook it on crap,’ he snapped. ‘I had quite a debate with God about that. He wanted me to cook over human dung. To set fire to my own faeces. Fortunately I managed to haggle and beat him down to cow poo. So I’ll be making bread and making a bit of a stink with that. Then I’ll be shaving my head and throwing my hair about. Fun days.’
I left him staring hard at his own creation, as if he was willing the tiny wooden soldiers to take a breath and start running about. I thought on him too later that day, as I sat in warmth sipping a cold beer and chewing on hot food. I could still smell his sweat and see those ropes on his wrists. His eyes bulging with a sacred kind of stupor. His piece of living art was not easy to dismiss.

Ezekiel chapters 3 & 4

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