Two men sat atop a hill gazing at the city. They saw the red rooftops, the small dark neighborhoods, the weary workers caught in the heavy traffic and the black factory smoke ascending to the clouds.
They were both drinking beer.
One of them, a rather short fellow with a small mustache grown just over his upper lip, turned and told the other: ‘Strange how much this world has evolved. How fast it has moved. It now resembles a jungle more than a civilized habitat for human beings to grow and develop. Our progenitors would have looked at us and sighed, appalled by the disasters that plague this mad asylum we call our planet.’
The second man, considerably taller than his friend, made no implication he was paying attention to his friend’s words. Instead he kept staring at the city view in front of him. Finally, he took a hit of beer and asked: ‘What’s a disaster to you?’
His friend looked at him curiously, like someone who had been caught off guard or did not understand what was asked of him.
‘Well,’ he started, half-stopping to drink from his bottle, ‘a disaster to me is something truly horrible. It is when a volcano erupts and burns everything in sight to cinders. It is when a great tidal wave rises and drowns the entire coast. It is when thunderstorms shoot out angry bolts from the sky and punish the land people and whoever dares not take cover or cower in their sight.’
Then he drank another gulp of beer. His much taller friend was still observing the horizon.
‘Let me ask you now,’ the shorter friend continued, ‘what do you consider a disaster?’
The taller friend seemed immersed in his thoughts. He grabbed his beer and placed it between his two legs and started circling the top of the bottle with his index finger, like a madman plotting a dirty deed or a witch cooking up an evil potion in her cauldron.
Then finally, he turned his gaze to his friend and revealed a kind but fierce face. It was an aching face, a scarred face, an ugly face, a triumphant face.
‘What’s a disaster to me?’ he ruminated. ‘A disaster to me is a writer who can’t fill a blank page.
A disaster to me is suddenly losing your father in the middle of a cold January night to a heart attack.
A disaster to me is losing your best friend because you were stupid enough to fall in love with her.’
He stopped to drink and glance at the quiet city in the far horizon. Then he added, ‘Those are the disasters for me. The talented artist who spends his life creating in a basement, only to die and bury his work with him, the gifted musician who is never given a chance because he stutters in his speech – those are the sickening cries of help our world is constantly forced to listen to but chooses to overlook.’
‘But what about natural disasters?’
‘Natural disasters are a cakewalk compared to human disasters. Our biggest problem is that we fear nature too much – and we don’t fear each other enough. There are sins in this world that can go far beyond a simple burn or a broken body part. There are severe and lasting wounds that can only be inflicted to the mind and the heart.’
His friend looked at him with a combination of shock and amazement, like someone who was desperately trying to understand and translate words spoken in a foreign language. He finished his beer and threw the empty bottle in the wild grass and asked his friend, ‘So now what?’
‘Now,’ the other man said, ‘we wait.’
And they both did.
They waited for the sun to drop, for the rooftops to turn redder, for the traffic jam to break, for the factories to seal their doors and for the black smoke to dissipate.
Then, the taller man – who had also finished his beer but kept the bottle firmly locked between his legs – took out a small notebook and opened the first page.
It was a blank page – he couldn’t quite remember how long it had remained blank – and started carefully etching a word on it. It was the first word of the first page of a blank notebook.
Some sins were, after all, meant to be forgiven – just as some wounds were, after all, meant to heal.