Chapter Ten: Remorse
A fire truck and paramedics made it to the apartment complex about twenty minutes before the police did. The apartment manager, following the paramedics up the steps, pointed out the gun, stammering with fear and excitement.
Thug Boy had tried to drag himself out the door, leaving a trail of blood on the carpet before he fainted. Paramedics turned him over, cut away the pantsleg. One said, "Oh, that's never gonna work again."
The firemen left, the paramedics carried the thug down the stairs to start him on an IV, the police arrived and picked his pockets for information. Using exam gloves, an officer gingerly picked up the pistol, slid the safety on, and bagged it.
Laurella gave a statement, that the man had said he was going to rape her, but pulled his gun and shot himself in the knee instead. While the paramedics had worked on Thug Boy, she had quickly packed some clothing and diapers and told the police she would be staying with her brother-in-law's family in Tracy until they could get the apartment cleaned.
Roj stayed in the apartment long after the police had placed their tapes and seals on the place, listening to the tiny sounds of blood cells dying in the carpet threads. With no eyes, she could not weep. With no heart, she could not be heartsick.
There had been life, and she had injured it, purposefully. That she had done so for a ... greater good ... seemed like a feeble excuse after the fact. She was glad that Laurella and the kids were safe, but she was also in a spiritual agony that she had so grievously hurt another human being. The pain Thug Boy had felt had crackled from him like lightning bolts, his fear, seeing his mutilated leg, was like an ice storm. The maelstrom of his feelings was loud, so loud, that Roj wished she still had ears so that she could shut it out. But she could not, and she had been the cause of it all.
By nightfall, there were no more whimperings of dying life in the carpet; Roj left the place, and sailed up in the air over the city, looking for a place to rest. Matt was out there somewhere, but she could not bring herself to his side with the stain of blood on her spirit.
Never in her life had she willfully harmed another human being's body like this. Kicking the kid up the street in the shins when she was nine for calling her Raspberry Hair was not in the same category. This time she had known the consequences, known what the action would do to the person in front of her.
Desai had been disapproving of her theft of wallets and cell phones and computer information. Desai would certainly be scathingly critical of her viciousness and lack of restraint.
Human beings are hardwired to want approval. That is why people who are deliberately evil are so hard for the multitude to understand. Surely we all want to do what is best, and fill hungry bellies, warm cold bodies, speak kindly to lonely souls. We like to feel good with others who feel good. It is the instinct that built families, tribes, villages, cities, nations. A sense of "We" that is outside of the sense of self.
Roj had stepped outside of her understanding of the great "We" of humanity. She had acted in the only way she could see to protect Laurella and her children, and that had not been a way of connecting with the total "We." Thug Boy, for all his evil ways, was still a person, a person whose life Roj had no idea how it had been. Had he been acting on instinct, like lions in the arid plains who take their lionesses where they can find them, and kill all the cubs who are not of their engendering? Was she wrong in having stopped him?
She stopped flying above the city and lit on a tall roof, huddling in on herself in a shadow. She felt herself in disgrace, a failure and utterly unworthy. "Desai is never going to forgive me for this."
"There is no such thing as forgiveness," said someone close by. "Thinking that there is forgiveness is the way the mind of a child makes believe that what pain they have caused can be undone, but that is not the case."
Perhaps emboldened by her lack of response, the voice continued. "Look at the example of other animals. Not one of them pretends to believe in forgiveness, and so you will not find one who is unhappy. Seeking only satiation, they are content when they find it. The fox does not ask forgiveness of the pheasant he brings to his den to feed his mate and cubs -- nor do the other pheasants require any kind of penitence. They go their ways, to eat and sleep and wake to eat again."
Could that be true? Desai doesn't seem to worry about what is past -- he doesn't seem to worry at all. Have I been deluded all my life? Is there really no point about trying to decide what is 'right' or what is 'wrong?'
"Who are you?" Roj asked the voice. "Tell me who you are and how you know this."
"All who live in honest understanding of their nature know this. You have been tricked into believing that Man must measure every action he makes."
"Are you saying your name is 'All?'"
"I speak for all."
A light breeze blew past, and Roj remembered the behavior of her family's Brittany spaniel on a certain occasion. Brandy had stolen a sandwich from her father's plate when he'd gone to answer the phone. Upon his return, the dog had hung her head, and when admonished, she had crept to her master's feet and cowered, offering herself for punishment. Angry, he'd sent her outside. A little later, after he'd made himself a new sandwich, the dog was allowed back in the house. Once more she dragged herself to his feet. He'd showed her the sandwich, loudly told her "NO." The dog lay down beside him while he ate, and when he was done and had put his dish back in the kitchen, she'd hopped to touch his hand with her nose, wiggling against him when he'd stooped to pet her. She never stole food from a plate again. Roj could see the dog clearly in her memory, the shame and the fear and the hope of ... yes, forgiveness, radiating from Brandy's white and chestnut body in waves. Or at least, hope for mercy.
"What about 'mercy?' Doesn't that go hand in hand with 'forgiveness?'"
"You are very wise. It does, indeed, and both are imaginary. The fish that the heron eats do not ask for mercy -- they try to flee to preserve their lives. Mercy is another lie, a word used to describe self-interest, both in those who beg for 'mercy' and those who bestow 'mercy,' and as before, the other animals show the truth as they do not deceive each other with words as Man does."
The words of the voice made Roj feel even lower than before, as though she was sinking into mud, or cement, or finding her feet encased in chains. Doubt about everything weighed her down.
"Wait. You said, 'other animals.' Are you saying Man is just an animal?"
"Of course, you poor creature. The cruelest of jokes is how Man to Man tells that he is different."
For a moment, Roj was nearly ready to believe it. After all, a dog had been able to see her, and so had children, who had not yet been indoctrinated into guilt and forgiveness and mercy and ... Brandy. Dad forgave her, and she knew when he did. She'd hopped right into his lap -- and licked his face and leapt down and back up and raced around the room like a crazed thing, an expression on her face of exceeding joy.
"So you speak for All, do you?" She rose from the shadow, stretching herself out to feel the spatters of rain that had begun to fall.
"I speak for All."
"Okay, how do you measure up against Tide, or Arm and Hammer, or even Febreze?"
"You know not whom you mock."
"That's right, I don't, because you don't want to tell me who or what you really are. And besides, you don't speak for me, or my father and mother, or Matt, or my Aunt Mary who had multiple sclerosis but still talked about the greatness of God's mercy -- so you don't speak for All. You're a liar.
"You're trying to take advantage of my sadness, make me feel like there's no point in hope or reparation or regret. If there were no such thing as hope, we'd all be paramecium or dead monkeys or mushrooms ... and people are not just animals, I don't believe that. So get lost. Leave me alone."
Roj launched herself from the rooftop to sail in the clouds, the raindrops piercing her like liquid diamonds, reflecting bits of light from the city, washing through her with purity as sharp as knives, cleansing her from the dirty despair that the so-called Speaker For All had begun to coat her with.
She still felt bad, but now a certain anger was added to it. Every time she had the least bit of doubt, anonymous voices spoke to her and told her to give up, give in, nobody cares, everybody is worthless. "Who are these things and why do they keep bugging me?" she screamed into the rain.
"What do you think they are?" asked Desai from her side.
"Where the h -- " she stopped, and began again. "Where have you been? I needed your guidance with that horrible scene with Thug Boy and Laurella, asked for you, and you were nowhere! I needed you!"
"You did not."
"Yes, I did! If you had told me what to do, I wouldn't have screwed up so badly!"
"What makes you think you ... screwed up?"
"Laurella was going to get killed, and her kids, too -- all I could think of to do was disable Thug Boy with his own gun in a way that would leave Laurella free of possible blame. But there had to have been another way to do it, without gunfire, without blood. What should I have done?"
"You could have made a meteorite fly through space and crash into the Earth right between Laurella and Bobby, frighten them both so that they fled in different directions, and then had emergency crews show up to keep him from hurting her."
"Come on, Desai, I feel so bad about hurting him." The rain felt so good, as though she were in a cooling, refreshing dishwasher.
"He was not hurt so badly that he would not recover. What pain he experiences could be a lesson for him," Desai said complacently.
"There was a thing trying to tell me that there was no forgiveness or mercy, no where, that it was all a sham."
"Do you believe it?"
"No, at least I don't want to believe it, because it seems so hopeless. Please don't tell me that I should believe it."
Desai said, "It is up to you to believe it, or not. That is called 'Faith."