Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Man of Red Clay: A Novel of Adam" by Jonathan Hooper, Chapter 13

Chapter Thirteen

My kin was divided. By this time, I had numerous sons and daughters, amongst whom I had allotted my lands, and who showed obedience to my laws. But Cain remained alien to us, heeding none but his own will, keeping himself apart from the bonds of family. That spring, at the time when offerings were made to Yahweh, rumours reached us that Cain's farm had suffered murrain of oxen and sheep; it left him with nothing to use as a sacrifice, and few animals to see him through the year. Though it pained me that he should labour alone, I did not act at once, for my own labours demanded too much of my time; in truth, I counted that his grain harvest would sustain him. Then, when the winter brought word that the last of his cattle had died, I decided to intervene. I sent Abel to the plains where Cain lived with a gift of sheep and oxen so that Cain might be spared the hunger I myself had suffered.

Before Abel set off, I preached to him about brotherhood, knowing that the division of my kind did not please God; "Go to your brother," I instructed him, "and tell him that his family will not see him cut off, and that if he wishes, he can return to eat at our hearth. Tell him not to reproach God, nor to turn against Him because he suffers. It is our lot to hunger, as it is to reap. But I will provide for him."

Never having shown resentment towards his older brother in the first place, Abel promised to relate the message, goading the sheep and cattle up into the hills, and from there towards the desert. Many days went by without a sign of his return. In the days of his absence, I held out hope that Cain had received him in his hut, and that together, they had sacrificed a calf in honour of their reconciliation. But my fears grew as one day followed another, empty of the promise of Abel's return. I myself travelled to Cain's lands when the first snows blanketed the hills, in order to learn what had become of Abel; and as each step brought me nearer to Cain's hut, my heart became as a stone, though I did not know what burden had been placed upon it.

Before I found the hut, I saw herds of sheep and cattle, left alone to wander for grazing. Then, when the hut rose up forlornly on the plain, I began calling the name of my first son. He met me, not with a greeting or an embrace, but with a confession; his face was dark and his eyes stared as if through a thick cloud. He sat down under the doorway of the hut.

"His neglect drove me to this," Cain said with great weariness, so softly that I had to stoop low to hear him. "My cattle and sheep died, so I offered Him grain from my store. But still, the harvest failed."

"Abel brought you fresh animals. That is the reason I sent him to you." Then, understanding that he meant Yahweh, I cautioned him gently: "You shouldn't be wroth with God. Now you can see that He provides for you still, through your brother. Where is Abel?"

"He brought his beasts onto the plain. He was proud in his bearing, as if he knew that disease had finished my own. That is how it seemed to me - that he wanted to make me feel jealous by putting them out to pasture in my lands. He was always favoured, from the beginning. And now, again, Yahweh had favoured him by sparing his herds. I was sure he knew that mine had all died."

"He did know, Cain. That is why I sent him, as I told you. I did not want you to go hungry, and he was happy to bring the animals to you. Where is he?"

Cain stared across at the field where he planted his crops, the ground turned hard by winter. His face was not stern, as it usually was, but pale, exhausted.

"I did not ask to be your firstborn. It was you who taught me that I could not live without blemish, that I was tainted by the sin for which you were being punished. I did not want to serve a God I had never seen, nor suffer for a sin I did not commit, guilty not of transgression, but guilty nonetheless, simply because I was your kin. You taught me to fear that which I had not learned to love, to consider myself tainted from my youth, though, at the same time, to strive for righteousness. I watched my brother grow from a babe, always first in your attentions, stronger than I through some happy blessing of birth, more eager to help you in your labours. Abel was content in the fields, but I was not, though now I have no other choice. Still, I conceded to make a sacrifice to Yahweh when these lands became mine, by your decree."

"Cain, I was always patient with you," I said, amazed by this confession, not understanding the root of his feelings, which seemed to me quite unjust, "but you set yourself apart. Eve always thought it was best to let you go your own way. I have never asked you to feel responsible for my fall. This idea is your own. I only thought it best that you knew why you had inherited this place, and these bounties so hard won. Have you said these things to Abel? He does not think himself favoured, and does not hold himself above you."

"Then why were his beasts spared? Why wasn't there a blight on his harvest? He was always blessed, father, from the beginning."

"Call him. He will tell you himself."

I cannot forget what Cain said next, though the words, at first, did not take hold. Then, later, their sentence rent me, and they became like talons tearing through my chest and shredding my heart.

"I killed Abel. It was too much to see him with his healthy sheep and oxen. I struck him down in wrath, with a heavy rock, until there was no life left in his body. I was afraid that God would punish me at once, but He did not."

I stared at him in disbelief. "What madness has come over you, Cain? You say these things to shock me, to taunt me into going away. Where is Abel?"

"Look - his body lies out in the field. I am not worthy to bury him."

My wrath was tempered by a feeling of sickness, or perhaps I would have struck him down. But I seized him and demanded that he tell me what had brought him to this murderous act. "God," he answered, without a trace of defiance in his voice. "It was He who marked me. Because He blessed Abel, and put a sickness of melancholy in my heart."

"It is not the will of God that you strike down your brother!" I cried. "Lucifer has poisoned your mind. Come with me out to the wilderness, and we will beseech God together."

"I am lost to God. Beseech Him alone. He has already learnt what I did: later, when I was out in the field, I heard a voice, asking me: 'Where is Abel? Where is your brother?' I thought it was you, until I saw that the land and the horizon were empty. Then the voice, came again, saying: 'Henceforth you will be marked, and all of Adam's kin will shun you. Your punishment will be exile.'"

I did not know how to act because of my grief. Desperate, I looked for Abel; I found his body in a field, amongst the dry grass, his high, lovely forehead stained with blood. He was my son and yet also not my son; reduced to flesh, but his face still the face I loved. Never before had I faced death; nothing about the natural deaths of lambs on the farm had brought me to an understanding of this mystery. The divine breath, the spirit that had made him a man, had gone out of my son. I wept silently, alone, tears of grief coming for the first time.

Scorning Cain, I carried my second son back to his home, the valley. It was a terrible time: his sisters, seeing his lifeless body, wailed and tore out their hair on the banks of the Jordan; hands were raised to heaven and supplications lost amidst the groan of many voices. The noise of their weeping was like the deep, ancient roar of the river itself; all the daughters of Eve mourned as if they had been his mother. It is as if all women have inside them the same pain, the pain of a mother who has lost a son. And so often did they ask me the reason of his death that I thought to remove myself from them; they clung to me and wailed, as if I could give them back the life of their brother.

This was the first death. If it was a consequence of our Fall, it was the most grievous of all. Eve was the first to weep after me; when she saw the life gone from her son, she began to moan bitterly, kneeling beside him. On that day, we learned to bury our dead and to sing dirges for them; I thought to mark the body with stones so that the mourners would find the place of his burial. And in the days afterwards, they kept close to his graveside, and lit fires by the Jordan; they also learned to sing a new melancholy song. In all this time, we did not see a sign of Cain, and the time came for me to seek him myself.

"What shall I do with him?" I asked Eve before leaving.

"He is my son,” she answered, “but I do not know how I can receive him as such from now on. I don't know what should be done with him. You are his father. The laws are set by you, so you decide."

I did not know how to act. It pained me to pass judgement on my son. I thought about our transgression in the Garden, and the exile we suffered as a consequence, and it occurred to me that God too had forborne to separate us from His presence; nonetheless, His will was just. At the same time, I remembered what Cain had said about God's judgement on him.

"I will send him into exile," I told her. "I can think of no stricter fate. I cannot serve death as a punishment, because he is still my son. He will move to the east, far away from here, henceforth to be shunned by all who live here as my kin. I will give him one of my daughters, so that his kin will be his own, his kingdom his own kingdom, his laws his own laws. He will eat the bitter bread of the desert, and thirst for water in dry places. As God willed, so I deliver my own will. Let the desert be his home."

We drove him out then. Resigned to his fate, he took his sister into the desert, ignoring the girl's weeping - she wanted to remain with us. Though we exchanged few words before he left, I did say this:

"You are marked now as an exile. Your children too will be marked. It is punishment for your act, which you did freely and in the sight of God."

His reply revealed how much his heart had hardened since his confession; in his voice there was defiance, and dreadful wilfulness.

"If I am cursed, and my children also bear the curse, we will still suffer for one another despite the mark that He has put upon us. How much further will we be from God than your kind? The wilderness will be our common habitation, and the dust our general resting place. You think me exiled? What is one place of exile next to the exile of all our days and years, separated from God? This sentence you have passed is already my birthright; though forced upon me, it has made my condition no worse."

These were his words as they set off into the wilderness, driving their cattle before them. I watched them head for where the sun rises, silently saying goodbye to my first son, his loss as bitter as the loss of my second

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