Extracts from the novel Gud (‘God’, Schildts, 2006)
Side by side, wolves and antelopes graze on the juicy grass.
A deer playfully chases a lion through the bushes.
‘Can you do this?’
Adam crosses his arms in front of his chest and folds his hands back to front so that the right hand is on the left and the left hand is on the right. With his hands folded he twists them downwards and holds them out. Now they point to Eve, still folded, and still with the right hand on the left.
Eve tries. She succeeds, and laughs with delight.
A gentle breeze is blowing from the east, just strongly enough for the couple not to be troubled by the heat, but not so they would feel the need for clothes to keep them warm.
The trees and the bushes around them are weighed down with stoneless fruits and nuts with shells that are easy to open. Stingless bees buzz soporifically around gorgeous flowers.
‘But can you do this?’
Eve puts her right arm over her head and stretches her hand down so that her fingers touch her left ear.
‘Of course I can. I can even do it with both hands at once.’
Adam shuts his eyes and concentrates. He puts his arms over his hand and touches his left ear with the fingers of his right hand, and his right ear with those of his left hand. The muscles on his powerful arms grow taut. Small tufts of hair are visible in his armpits.
A healthy young man, so young that he is almost a boy.
‘You cheated! You’re supposed to put your arm on your head, but you put it behind your neck.’
But Adam has lost interest in the game. The couple wade on through the grass, hand in hand. No ticks cling to their legs. They don’t tread on any burdock. Their vacant, happy gazes view the park around them, but find nothing special to comment on.
‘How long can you hold your breath, Eve?’
‘This long.’ Eve fills her lungs to bursting point and screws up her eyes. But a large yellow butterfly catches Adam’s interest.
Eva lets the air out in one breath. ‘Oh, how big it is!’
‘And so yellow!’
‘What did you call it?’
Adam hesitates. He has just given names to several thousand newly created species.
‘I think I called it “big yellow butterfly”, or something like that.’
Above a bush a triangle is visible. God is standing there behind the bush, peering at them with a dark look on his face. He is exactly like Adam, whom he has created in his likeness. They are each other’s mirror image, twins, except that a triangle always floats above God’s head. Moreover, Adam’s gaze is good-natured but without expression, while God’s is powerful and resolute and, right now, irritated. Adam’s body was a success, even if the sight of his innocently borne lack of circumcision taunts God like a thorn in the tender sole of a foot. But his indolent soul leaves much to be desired. It is truly no image of its creator’s.
The couple stop beside the babbling brook of Pishon. Adam throws himself lazily down on the grassy verge. A decorative cheetah comes bounding up. Adam scratches it absent-mindedly behind its ear.
Eve goes down to Pishon’s grass-covered bank and kneels down with her legs apart to drink from her cupped hands. Adam has a unique glimpse of folds of skin that are seldom outlined so clearly as now. Yet no glimmer of interest awakens in his eyes. No sense either of revulsion or desire traverses his body. To his vexation, God sees that Adam is merely picking his teeth with a blade of grass, his mind elsewhere.
Eve has drunk her fill. She lies down beside Adam. They don’t say anything. No ants clamber over them, and especially not the small red kind that bites.
A dove leaves her nest in order to look for something to eat. A female goshawk sits on the dove’s eggs to keep them warm while she is gone.
The lion lets itself be caught and lies down on its back, laughing. With exaggerated motions of horror it pretends to give a start when the deer playfully butts it in the side with small, ineffective nudges.
Adam yawns. He catches sight of an interesting fruit hanging from the sagging branch of a bush just out of his reach. He can’t be bothered to stand up, but turns over on his side and slides towards it with arm outstretched. A soft cylinder rolls over Eve’s face. She is seized by neither revulsion nor desire but gives a little yawn, wholly uninterested.
God is furious.
In contrast to the almost empty earth, at the world’s beginning the sky was full of seething life. The heavenly hosts swarmed in the crystal-clear firmament like starlings before the autumn migration, but instead of small, chattering birds the angels were radiant white figures with good singing voices. In their ineffable millions they filled the heavens from horizon to horizon. They praised God incessantly. Rapturous cries were heard everywhere. A constant murmur of ‘holy, holy’ filled the heavenly spaces like the rumble of breakers on a seashore.
An exaltation produced by the sight of God’s new creation raised the singing of the heavenly hosts to new heights. For them the human couple, two insignificant creatures, were the seeds of a future, one of God’s plans of which they knew no more than that it must be glorious and holy. A note of expectancy, of anxiety, perhaps, tinged the normal expression of praise.
God strode grimly towards his throne-tent. Ecstatic followers jumped and bowed and scraped around him. With shrill howls, they struck the palms of their hands against their mouths. They beat drums and shook rattles. They blew piercingly on shawms and trumpets. Round and round they whirled, until they fainted from giddiness.
Angels parted out of God’s way like rye curtseying before a gust of wind on a field. They threw themselves to the ground before him in order to avoid his all too holy gaze. One little angel was unable to restrain her curiosity, and peeked furtively up at God’s face to see what it looked like. But God’s splendour was too much for her: a little ‘pop’ was heard, and the little angel was no more.
A monster with three pairs of wings stood guarding the tent. It was a giant cherub in a leather hauberk which would have been reminiscent of a butcher’s apron, had it not been dotted with large bronze rivets. The cherub had a cruel, pockmarked face and an aquiline nose. Shielding his eyes with one pair of wings, he bowed and pulled the canvas aside with one hand. With the other he lowered his large, ornate bronze sword whose sharp point gleamed ready to emit a flash of lightning.
Inside, in the dim light of the tent, three young men of the same age as God and of his likeness Adam – almost boys, therefore – were waiting. They were the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the only angels who had the privilege of looking upon God’s countenance and strength without being destroyed by doing so. They threw themselves down on all fours and lowered their heads to the ground. A clear thud was heard as Michael’s forehead struck the carpet that covered the floor of hard-packed earth.
God noted Michael’s zeal with satisfaction, but saw that it was not shared by all those present. Raphael had not lowered his head to touch the floor, but had kept it a few inches above, thinking it wouldn’t be noticed. He had begun to take his position for granted. Greeting – a mere formality.
God placed his foot on the back of Raphael’s neck, pressing his head down against the floor. For a moment, God rested all his weight on his foot.
Then he went to his throne and sat down.
The archangels got up from the floor and grouped themselves humbly around him, their gazes lowered. A mirror imprint of the carpet’s pattern was visible on Raphael’s forehead.
‘The humans are lazy. They don’t do anything. They have no…’ – God blushed slightly – ‘…desire.’
The archangels were silent. Crushed, overwhelmed.
‘It’s crowded up here. Hordes upon hordes. Down there – nothing. How are my power and glory supposed to be seen in an empty garden?’
‘But it will fill up in time, won’t it?’ Gabriel asked, carefully. ‘All creatures couple. Adam and Eve, too.’
The silence in the tent was embarrassing. The songs of praise could be heard distinctly through the canvas. Filled with foreboding, the archangels wondered what was expected of them.
‘The animals couple when their bodies tell them to,’ said Raphael, after a while. ‘As soon as it’s the right time of year, they do it. They can’t help it.’
‘Yes. it’s like scratching themselves when they itch,’ said Michael, obligingly. ‘Or urinating, if you’ll pardon the expression. They obey their bodies.’
‘Indeed. But the body ought to obey the soul.’
‘Lord, your wisdom passes all understanding!’ exclaimed Raphael, who could still feel the scraping of the carpet on his forehead. ‘If they had the intelligence to be ashamed they would do it more often. Things that are forbidden are much more tempting than things that are allowed.’
‘How do you know that?’ God asked suspiciously.
‘I’ve heard it said,’ Raphael replied quickly. ‘I personally don’t know anything about it.’
‘I mean, if they acquire intelligence they’ll be like us.’
‘Lord, in your wisdom you will be able to prevent it.’
‘In your omniscience,’ Gabriel corrected.
‘In your power,’ said Michael.
‘And glory!’ Raphael and Gabriel shouted together.
The serpent and God were there when Eve ate of the forbidden fruit.
The world held its breath.
The east wind died away. The lion, the wolves and the goshawk raised their heads and heeded a soundless blast of trumpets.
God quickly left the spot, the serpent following him like a dog.
Then the wind changed. A chilly breeze began to blow from the west.
The lion suddenly struck at the deer with its paw. Flying through the air in an arc, the deer landed with a thud, its back broken.
The wolves spat out their grass, organised themselves in hunting formation, selected the weakest antelope and separated it from the others, which fled in confusion from this threat which they had never experienced before.
The goshawk attacked the returning dove, seized it in its talons, and flew up with it into a treetop. Blood and feathers began to trickle down. A raccoon dog scampered up the tree to the nest, and stole the eggs.
Blushing and avoiding each other’s gaze, Adam and Eve picked fig leaves and clumsily began to tack them together into aprons.
God came along. A short interrogation, a suitable punishment – the matter was quickly cleared up as the couple stood in shame, trying not to eye each other’s almost naked bodies. With satisfaction God saw that Adam’s fig leaf, to the latter’s annoyance, had begun to rise.
‘Now then, here are some things for you,’ God said in a gentler tone, sat down and began to sew them proper clothes made of leather.
When the garments were ready Adam and Eve put them on, their souls feeling lighter, but their bodies unused to the novelty. God gave them a helping hand. He supported Adam, who with his trousers half on was trying to balance on one leg, which one particularly fiery small red ant was biting. Once Adam had tightened his belt and brushed the ant away, however, he felt calm and secure, freed from his nakedness.
Their new clothes chafing slightly, the couple left the garden, walked past the cherubs with their flashing swords and into a new, dry and hot world.
Not only the clothes chafed their bodies. Something was irritating their souls, too. A new and disturbing sensation. As soon as they were out of sight of the cherubs, Adam tried to put his hand inside Eve’s leather jacket.
‘No! Behave yourself! Not here.’
Adam tried a second time. Eve pushed his hand away. But not the third time.
I am who I am.
This is the same as I am who ‘who I am’ am, which is the same as I am who “who ‘who I am’ am” am, and so on.
I am who I am is a prison.
The stars were a backdrop for God’s inner drama. Billions upon billions of stars. Billions of years old.
His own creation. But they had absolutely nothing to say to him. Mute, meaningless. What was more, he had nothing to ask them. They were an unplanned result of the primordial ejaculation, his creative spasm.
God blushed. ‘How childish I was.’
The distance from the beginning of puberty to its end is very long. When one is at the end and looks back to the beginning one thinks one is seeing a stranger.
God felt like a god who was quite different from the one who created the world.
The stars are immobile, as if hewn from granite. Nothing can dislodge them. Millennium after millennium they sit there immutably, with no other task than to constitute the bars of a cosmic cage in which the earth is kept in place, peering out with its inquisitive eyes and sniffing with its sensitive muzzle.
Without a universe, no earth. Universe, you have done your bit, you may go.
But the universe keeps hanging on, like the last guest when the hosts want to go to bed.
Once, time had burst from the primordial seed and spread itself over everything like a sticky membrane. Now it does nothing of much interest any more, merely arranges events in continuous chains, with unsurpassed tedium. Effect is always preceded by cause. It is never the case that an arrow flies backwards from the target and settles on the archer’s bowstring.
Far away among the stars, in certain isolated places so distant that they cannot matter to any healthy thinker, time may, it is true, decelerate and even reduce its speed to almost nothing. Condensations of space occur, heavy lumps in its tissue, like stones or balls of seaweed in the fisherman’s net. There things happen slowly, as if they were wading in thick tar. Right in the middle of these lumps all movement ceases. The ultimate boredom.
It is typical that nowhere in the universe are there any regions so thinned out that in them time is able to go dashing off with a stimulating enthusiasm. While time is certainly good at dragging its feet, to ask it to run faster is to ask too much.
And then space. It expands like rising dough. But the dough is almost ready. The raisins can scarcely manage to move about any more. How different it was during those optimistic moments after the primordial ejaculation!
Just like time, space is practically the same wherever one goes. Here and there it stretches, of course, that is something that must be accepted, bearing in mind the enormous volume it contains, though not enough to allow the production of anything interesting or instructive. At rare points, the ones where time loses its pull, the garbage of the heavens, together with failed stars, forms lumps resembling heavy, concentrated piles of refuse. There space bends groaning in upon itself. At these monolithic points where nothing happens, Behemoth sits with a frozen grin doing nothing for an eternal length of time. What a symbol of monotony!
In spite of these local variations, space is generally straightforward and unchanging. It spreads uniformly in all directions without cease.
It need not be so. One could imagine space being curved like a saddle or a sphere. In the latter case, if one were endowed with infinite vision, like God, one could look forward and see oneself from behind in the distance. But would that be more interesting? No, then one would complain about the introverted nature of space, and call for greater openness. The truth is that space can never get it right, nor does it try to.
The fact is that no matter how hard one tries to grasp the universe, that collection of unwarranted accumulations of time, space and matter, one will never manage to squeeze one drop of meaning from it. It is like a withered lemon. How different is the earth, where things constantly happen that may make one smile or weep. Things that have meaning.
The path to maturity lies in an acknowledgement of one’s own failures.
When God looked back at his life, he had to admit that there were defects in his handiwork.
Time after time he had been pleased with his work immediately after doing it. ‘It is good,’ he had said. But then it turned out to be not really good at all. In some cases it was so bad that he had to scrap it all and start over again, with a Flood, for example. In other cases he was able to improve it a little, but then one could see that it was not really new at all, but old, just hastily repaired, as in the choice of Abraham.
With the best of intentions he had disciplined his people to keep them in order and help them to follow his law. He had burned Israelites by the tens of thousands and sent the lot into exile in Egypt and Babylon, but were they grateful? No.
Normally, God would have lost his temper at the thought of their ingratitude, but now it was as if a great weariness had fallen on him. His boyish, restless energy was exhausted.
The only thing he had really enjoyed was sewing leather clothes for Adam and Eve. It was of course true that he himself had enticed them to eat of the forbidden fruit and so be ejected from paradise. And yet. That needle and thread session had been so pleasant. In small things there is love and satisfaction, but in the great ones, in the determining of the fate of nations, nothing but hardness and coldness.
God’s law contained many elements of solicitude, for example, in the stipulations that one should not harvest all the way to the edge of the field, so that widows and the poor should be able to pick ears of grain, or that consideration should be shown to immigrants. But these stipulations became drowned in the ocean of heartless commandments, prohibitions and fussy, meaningless statutes about randomly chosen aspects of holy ritual or everyday life.
The immigrants… Just as well for them that they had immigrated, for if they had stayed at home they would have been consigned to destruction, if God had needed their territories for his chosen people.
God had to admit the truth. He was not a particularly good god. But he wanted something better.
‘I won’t shout at them so much.’ he thought. ‘Perhaps it’s best not to talk to them at all. It just causes trouble.’
God stared straight up at the stars. A tear found its way from the corner of his eye, hesitated for a moment and then rolled quickly down into his ear.
‘Being a father seems to be satisfying and productive. It warms the heart to see a father’s concern for his children.’
God thought of the fathers he had had to do with, the scoundrel Jacob, Isaac, but above all Abraham.
Would Abraham really have sacrificed Isaac if Gabriel had not stopped him with his cry? Now God could not bring himself to brood over that question any more. The usual wave of suspicious indignation failed to well up inside him. On the contrary, it now seemed to him that the episode was a little embarrassing, like Job’s boils, and the roof that crashed in on Job’s children.
In fact, there was a small part of him, deep inside, which hoped that Abraham would not have sacrificed Isaac. A loving father does not do such things.
God brooded on the enigma of fatherly love.
He had matured, almost. The collecting mania of adolescence, its fearful fascination with all things sexual, its boorish way with women, its easily-wounded egocentricity, its violence and pranks, were behind him. He had grown up.
‘Should I beget a son?’
Translated by David McDuff
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