“So this is the man Paul”, I whisper quietly to myself. But as quiet as I think I am, my whisper still does not escape my eldest brother’s ears.
“Yes, indeed it is” he replies heartily then reaches out a hand and drags me by the back of my neck to his front.
I do not like the treatment but I have to say I am grateful to be in front of the crowd and not have to stand on tiptoe craning my neck to see.
The man, Paul is nothing like I imagined. He is not a giant, neither is he royalty; he is just a man. Then he opens his mouth and starts speaking and a glimmer of understanding sparks in my mind.
His speech is cultured, refined; he is obviously an educated man. But that is not what holds me captive. There is such power in him as he speaks. The kind of authority that even I, who grew up in a house of power, among leaders, have never seen before now.
He is speaking of that man, Jesus that was crucified. The man some call a prophet, some a liar, some a madman. The man that this Paul and so many others claim is the son of God. How can any man be the son of God, I wonder. The day I had asked Father that, he had reached out his arm and drawn me close to him before ruffling my head.
“No man can be the son of God, my boy. We are only his servants. The greatest man was just a lowly friend to him and that was our father, Abraham”
I had wanted to ask him why that man Jesus then claimed to be the son of God and how come this man, once known as Saul, who was once a devout Jew could believe in him so much that he turned his back on all his wealth and repute and even changed his name to Paul. But remembering the rage Father always fell into whenever Saul-Paul’s name was mentioned I had kept quiet.
Father’s temper is a fearsome thing which was why I wasn’t so eager to come here when my brothers suggested it, but at least, I console myself, I can hide behind their much burlier bodies when Father inevitably finds out and we inevitably bear the force of his ire.
My inner musings are suddenly interrupted by an inhuman growl and I jerk back to the present.
Across from us, on the other side, eight men are struggling to hold down a man. But despite the chains tied round the man, they are not having an easy time of it. More men join them and finally they succeed in dragging the man out front and now I can see him clearly. It is Demenia, the mad man. Everyone in Ephesus knows him. He lost his senses many years back and became so wild and violent that he had to be chained up in the caves outside the city and even then men were posted day and night to guard him. Once, he broke away from the chains and ripped the arm off one of the guards before the others could get to him.
Why would anyone bring Demenia to the city?! And in the midst of such crowd. Already, the crowds are moving back and my brothers and I are no exception.
Paul, who had stopped speaking when the commotion started, steps up to Demenia and immediately the madman lets out a howl. The howl is so ferocious, I take a hasty step backward and bump into my third brother who also steps back.
“Silence”, Paul orders. And the howl is cup off abruptly mid-sound.
Paul bends down and places a hand on his head, even as Demenia tries to squirm away.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to get out of him now. Young man, you are free”
There is the sound of rushing wind, powerful like the sound of a storm at sea. Then silence! I am staring in shock at a sight I am still trying to absorb.
Demenia is sitting crouched on the floor just like a minute earlier, but it is a different Demenia. The hard lines on his face are smoothed out and he is looking up at Paul gratefully with tears running down his eyes. Paul reaches out a hand and pulls him to his feet. Someone hands him a cloak and he gently wraps it round Demenia. The silence is so total, you can hear a pin drop.
Then a woman breaks out of the crowd, it is Demenia’s old mother. She is shouting and laughing and crying as she throws her arms round Demenia. He hugs her right back, crying also.
The sight breaks the silence and as one, the crowd surge round the two of them, I quickly duck out of the way before I get trampled on. Squeezing through the press of bodies, I am just in time to see Paul walking quietly away.
I cannot believe I heard that right!
For the past three days, my brothers have talked about nothing else but Demenia and Paul. Not that I blame them, if they gave me speaking space, I know I would also talk of nothing else. But they don’t so I just keep quiet and listen to them go on and on and on and keep my thoughts to myself.
But this – this madness my sixth brother just suggested – was too much to keep quiet about.
He turns fiercely on me and repeats my question back to me. Not the shocked “WHAT!!!” I shouted, but his own very antagonistic “WHAT?!”
I refuse to back down, “We cannot do that!”
He looks ready to bash my face in so I take a cautious step backwards. But before he can do anything, my fourth brother speaks up.
“Why cannot we do it? Our Father is a chief priest, by birthright, chosen by Jehovah. We are the lineage of priests, we carry the bloodline. So why cannot we?”
“But have you ever seen any priest do what Paul did?” I blurt out.
“How difficult can it be? We simply say the same thing he said, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to get out of him now. Young man, you are free’, plus as our brother has said, we are the bloodline of priests, so I’m sure it will be even easier for us” this from my fifth brother.
With a sinking feeling, I watch my eldest brother nod thoughtfully. With a surge, he rises to his feet, “Brothers, I think I have the perfect man in mind – Pyrrichus”. A great roar breaks out from my other brothers at his words and there follows a lot of back-slapping which almost sends me face down more than once.
I wish I can stay at home and not follow them on this insane mission, but from the hands dragging me out the door, I don’t really have a choice.
I follow reluctantly with a feeling of doom hanging over my head. Something tells me this is not going to end well.
Pyrrichus was a trader in our city till he lost his wife and his mind. Many say it was the loss of his wife that drove him mad. Maybe. What I do know for certain is that for the last seven years he has lived alone in the house he once lived with his wife. When she was alive, it was a beautiful home, but now it bore more than marks of neglect, it was now a crumbled down heap inhabitable only to a madman.
Pyrrichus wasn’t a violent madman like Demenia. He kept mostly to himself, mumbling and scratching at himself. His few bouts of insane violence was limited to chasing chickens through the city for perceived grievances. This ought to have put my mind at rest a bit, but standing in his ramshackle house, looking at him scratching and mumbling to himself, the feeling of foreboding instead magnified.
None of my brothers however seem to share my fears. They walk confidently up to him and my eldest brother even puts his hand on his head like Paul had done to Demenia.
As one they intone, “In the name of Jesus Christ, we command you to get out of him now. Young man, you are free”
Pyrrichus, who has never made eye contact from the time he lost his mind, straightens slowly and faces us, looking my eldest brother in the eye. He suddenly doesn’t look so harmless again. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so because my brothers too shuffle nervously. They look at each other, but no one wants to be the coward who first retreats, so they face Pyrrichus again and repeat, “In the name of Jesus Christ, we command you to get out of him now. Young man, you are free”
This time, there is a low warning rumble from Pyrrichus.
My brother who was the initiator of this stupid idea in the first place offers another stupid idea, “maybe we should say Paul”
My eldest brother who was in front immediately latches on to the idea, “In the name of Paul, we command you to get out of him now. Young man, you are free”
The rumbling only gets deeper and scarier. We are all getting more than a little scared now and my immediate brother pipes up again, “No, no, no. In the name of Paul . . . I mean in the name of Jesus Christ whom Paul preaches”
We all eagerly jump on to that suggestion, desperate for anything to calm down the threatening man in front of us.
“ In the name of Jesus Christ, whom Paul preaches, we command you to get out of him now. Young . . .”
A voice very unlike Pyrrichus’ low mumble rumbles out, a very very scary voice, “Paul, I know; Jesus, I know; who are you?”
Moving faster than I have ever seen any human being move, Pyrrichus charges us and the next thing I know, I am hitting the wall on the opposite side.
Pandemonium breaks out as we each scramble to get out of the house. We don’t quite make it to the door. It is as if a whole pack of wild dogs are after us. I cannot even be sure what is happening. But I can feel pain as I am beaten and battered on every side. And I can hear the thuds of bodies hitting the ground violently, shouts for help from my brothers and myself, sounds of tearing clothes and then blessedly, the sound of a door torn off its hinges.
I don’t wait to know what tore the door off its hinges, instead I make a desperate plunge for freedom and nearly collide with my eldest brother. Neither one of us stops though. We take off flying down the narrow road, the sound of pursuing steps spurring us on till we reach front of the temple gates. Then and only then, with crowd of people around do we feel safe enough to finally stop and draw breath.
Turning back, I see that the sound of what I though was pursuing steps was none other than my other brothers in dogged flight right behind us. But what is this?
Why are they NAKED?????
I see the same look of shock on their faces as they stare at me and in desperate horror I look down at myself.
Here we are, the seven of us, before the whole of Ephesus – TOTALLY NAKED!!!
I have feared Father all my life, but listening to him in the worst rage I have ever witnessed him in, I feel no fear. Nothing he can do to me now can be worse than what I lived through today.
In one afternoon, the story of Paul’s miraculous healing of Demenia has been forgotten. We, my brothers and I are now the new talk of the town. When I told myself that my brother’s idea of healing a madman like Paul did would not end well, I didn’t know the half of it. ‘end well’ was a gross understatement.
I think I can safely say we, nor the Sceva family will ever live down the ridicule of being beaten and stripped by a madman, and running to the front of the temple, there to be ogled by the whole city in all our nakedness. Already a psalm has been composed in our dishonor. It was whispered by the servants, just this eve, that it will be sung at this year’s festival of Diana.
Luckily, I will not be around to hear my shame become the city’s new folksong. I have decided to stowaway on the first ship that leaves Ephesus at dawn. My destination? Egypt, or somewhere else even farther.