A couple of things happen to me today. I board a train with no other passengers, and I meet Jesus.
I was “writing,” which is to say, I was binging on Netflix and craving coffee. I have my own coffee maker, but if I brewed coffee, that would leave me with time to actually write, so I put on my coat and walk to the bodega.
“Ah, Mr. Writer. You trying to work on big novel?” Mr. Bodega says.
I don’t really think his name is Mr. Bodega, but my name is not really Mr. Writer, so it’s okay. Mr. Bodega knows when I am writing because I get coffee when I write, which is to say I come in three times a day to talk about writing and anything else that will keep me from my computer.
“Did you know Jesus moved in down the block?” he says.
“Do you mean Hey Zeus,” I try to be politically correct and pronounce the name in Spanish.
“No, Jesus,” Mr. Bodega says. “He says his name is Jesus.”
“Okay, but he’s not the Jesus.”
“He says he is,” Mr. Bodega counters.
I put my dollar on the counter and say, “A lot of people claim to be a lot of things.”
I claim to be a writer though I am really a guy who gets coffee, pees a lot, and surfs the Internet. You claim to be running a bodega, but only four people ever come in your store.
“You gotta go see him,” he says.
“I’m sure he’s busy arranging furniture, picking drapes, saving mankind,” I say. “A whole bunch of people have already gone to see him. They say he’s real.” I can try to finish three pages or go see Jesus. Both twist my tummy. I take my coffee and am prepared to walk back home, when there he is—Jesus.
I can’t explain how I know it’s him but I do. He has sandy brown locks and his skin—let’s just say India Arie would dedicate many songs to him. He is wearing a hemp white shirt, khakis and sandals.
Makes sense. There are twelve guys all moving cumbersome pieces of wooden furniture up the front steps of a brownstone, while Jesus directs them.
I look at the address. 666. I guess Jesus has a sense of humor.
“Hey bruh,” he calls out to me. “Can you give me a hand with this table?” I obey. I grab the end of a mahogany table. It is heavy, and sweat pools fast around the waistband of my jogging pants. Jesus doesn’t seem to have a problem. Three flights later, we are in his apartment.
When we set the table down, Jesus pushes his locks out of his face and nods, and his twelve friends move to the exit.
“Thank you,” he says, and turns to me. “I’ve been moving furniture all week.”
“They’re beautiful pieces,” I say, and they are. If the devil is in the detail then salvation is in the care. No piece looks like it hasn’t been shaped, sanded, and varnished to perfection.
“Thanks,” he says, heading to the kitchen. “I’m a carpenter.”
“Of course you are,” I say under my breath.
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m here.”
“Do any of us?” he asks before heading to a cabinet. “Do you want something to drink? I have red wine.” There is no occasion that cannot be made better with wine, including meeting the light of the world.
“So rumor has it that you’re Jesus.”
“Rumor always seems to follow me. Who do you think I am?” he says.
“Right now, a guy with a lot of cool furniture.”
He passes me a glass of wine. “I’ll take that.”
“So where did you move from?”
“I was living in Bushwick for a long while before it got all pretentious. New York has changed so much. I’m used to the grittier areas of town, not these white washed Disneyesque condos. I hate gentrification. It’s like they ship off all the poor people.”
“So how long have you been back here…” I have to finish the sentence but it’s hard. “… on earth.”
“A while man, a while,” he says, sipping his wine. His legs are crossed at the knee as he reclines on the sectional that matches the color of his hair. “But I’m sure you have better questions than that.”
“I do,” I say. “I do.”
“Wow, you look serious,” Jesus says. “If you’re going to start asking all kinds of deep questions we’re gonna need real drinks. Let’s go out.”
“You tell me,” Jesus smiles.
I smile back. If he is the real Jesus I know just the place to bring the forgiveness out of him.
“I know a spot downtown,” I say.
Jesus claps his hands. He spreads them far apart like he’s surrendering.
“Lead the way.”
Forty-five minutes later we are walking through Times Square station to catch the 1 train connection from our A train. So far we’ve both been pretty quiet. I want to ask questions, but they won’t leave my mouth. Jesus spends his time looking at everyone on the train platform. Most don’t seem to know who he is, but a little black girl in African clothing comes up to him. Her parents are standing in the middle of the car singing a melody of gospel songs. The mom uses her hips and a tambourine to provide the rhythm section while the dad plays an acoustic guitar. Most people ignore the family except Jesus. He seems mesmerized. Which is to say, he weeps.
When we reach 34th street, the girl makes the rounds past the seats, with a knitted hat held out in front of her. She stops in front of Jesus, and sees him crying. She puts the hat on his lap and leans over him to wipe his tears. Jesus smiles then and whispers something in the girl’s ear, which makes her smile back. He looks at me, and I don’t know what to do. So I pull a ten-dollar bill out of my pocket and put it in the hat, and the girl goes back to her family and we get off at 14th street.
“Where have you been?” I finally ask him.
“What do you mean?”
I reframe the question. “I mean in your dad’s book, where were you from ages 13 to 33?”
“I was young,” Jesus says. “What were you doing, between 13 and 33?” I rebuke the tragic memories of my young life.
“Salvation is here!” a man next to a stairwell yells. He is surrounded by placards with various Bible scriptures. “Repent or go to hell.”
Jesus doesn’t seem moved by the man’s screams, which surprises me. I expect him to give the man a high five, or at least pray with him.
“Better get right young man,” the man scolds Jesus. “The end of the world is near.”
“So why are you down here yelling at people?” Jesus says, and I stop.
“Excuse me?” the man moves closer to Jesus. He repositions the book in his hand, and the Bible begins to look more like a blunt object than The Word. I wonder if this is what they mean when they say spiritual warfare.
“Why are you not doing God’s work?” Jesus seems agitated. It’s a stark contrast from the guy drinking red wine and joking an hour ago.
“I am doing God’s work!” the man’s voice is amplified in the hollow chamber of the subway station. It sounds like he is everywhere at once.
“Making people feel bad is not God’s way.”
“Salvation is not easy, young man.” The man’s face looks like a blushing tomato.
“Actually, it is easy.” Jesus pulls back and walks off, like he is catching himself from turning into a biblical Hulk. He looks at me and says, “Let’s go.”
The man is standing, stunned, without words to fight back. We are a few paces down the station when he yells out. “You’re going to hell!”
Jesus turns around, and begins to walk back. I put my hand on his chest to stop him.
“Been there, done that buddy,” he screams. Am I actually stopping Jesus from getting into a fight? I push him a little in the direction I know we need to go, and he looks at me. It’s as if he comes back to me then, his rage distilling in the air.
“Sorry,” he says and puts his hands on my shoulder. “I have a bit of a temper.”
It’s hotter than usual in New York, and when we step out into the street the heat attacks us like a monster. I haven’t told Jesus where we are going, but he walks ahead of me like he knows our destination. The club I have in mind is in the middle of the street, but there is already a line spilling out from the door to the flower shop at the corner. Jesus finds a place in the back and leans against the wall, pushing his hair off the nape of his neck.
I am disappointed. I’d expected him to Bogart the front door and walk right inside, but instead we are standing in line like commoners. I mean, what is the point of being in line with Jesus if he can’t get you into a club?
Several guys stare at Jesus as we inch to the door.
“Do I know you?” one guy says as he leans a muscular arm over Jesus’ shoulder.
“Do you?” Jesus replies.
“I know what it sounds like,” the man continues. “But you… look like someone.”
“I hope I look like everyone,” Jesus smiles, and I can’t tell if the man is intrigued or annoyed by the response. But his attention is diverted by a pack of guys walking around the corner to smoke a blunt.
“You wanna come?” the guy says to both of us. Jesus looks to me as if my words will determine his actions.
“We’re cool,” I say, and the man shrugs and walks away.
When we get to the door, the security guard asks for ID and I present my license. Jesus says he doesn’t have any, “but I am over 21, trust me.”
The guard surveys his face and then a look of pure fright covers his face.
“Why are you here?” he whispers. I don’t know which here he is referring to: the club, which is a gay club, the Village, New York City, the U.S., the world, the universe—but he is clearly upset.
“I am here because I am supposed to be here,” Jesus says and pats the man’s shoulders. The guard moves back, and gets on his knees. He is ugly-crying and grabbing Jesus’ feet. People are pooling around us. Another guard runs up.
“Derek, what are you doing?”
The trance on the man is broken for a moment and he raises his head. “Do you know who this is?” He points to Jesus.
“He’s a customer,” the guy says. “And you are holding up him and the other hundred customers waiting to get in.”
“No—” Derek’s voice is like an accordion, with an array of sounds that feel like they don’t belong. “He’s—”
“They don’t care, Derek.” Jesus gets down to eye level with the man and lifts him to his feet. “But I am glad you do.”
Jesus takes a minute to brush the grit off the man’s pants, and gives him a hug. The interest in the spectacle dissipates and soon the bass pumping out the loft like windows is more important than anything outside. We get back in line and leave Derek.
“Does that happen a lot?” I ask.
“Not as often as you’d think,” Jesus says, and for the first time he looks sad. He pulls a twenty out of his pocket and pays for us both and we go inside.
Three rounds of vodka are downed before I get the courage again to move beyond small talk. “So you don’t mind being here?”
“Why would I mind?” Jesus tilts his head back and lets the last of the alcohol slide down his throat.
“You know, that’s really annoying.”
“Answering a question with a question.”
Jesus looks at me, his eyes the color of mockingbird wings, and laughs.
“You keep asking stupid questions, I will give you stupid responses.”
It is at this moment that I think Jesus is a douche. Or maybe I am just as frustrated with him as his followers were back then. Either way I want to go home. The song changes, and Jesus jumps from his bar stool.
“That’s my song,” he says. He grabs my hand, and pulls me into the herd of bodies gyrating under hot strobe lights. I cannot explain in words the feeling of watching Jesus sing the lyrics to Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” any more than I can describe Jesus doing The Dougie (which he does) six inches away from me.
I am starting to think it is all a dream, an image I’ve created to distract myself once again from the screen on my computer. Then I see him. The devil himself, which is to say my ex-boyfriend, standing a few feet behind Jesus. He stares at me. He’s with his new boyfriend, the one he chose over me, prioritized over me, loved more than me, and I’m here with my pop-locking saviour. It is too late to ignore them, but I pretend anyway. I walk to the bar, giving my back to the dance floor.
“Hey,” Trevor says to me. He is so close to me now, the conversation could be considered foreplay. He still wears the hat I bought I him to keep his head warm. I wish he would catch tuberculosis.
“Hey,” I say back. I refuse to remember the boyfriend’s name. I look at him. We exchange the smile of two people who love the same person. I search the club with my eyes, looking for Jesus. He’s still there, doing the running man with a drag queen. Trevor, the boyfriend, and I exchange uncomfortable hugs.
“How are you?” Trevor says, his concern more hurtful than his rejection.
“Cool.” As a writer, I curse myself for not coming up with a more clever response.
“You look good,” Trevor says, and we both catch the boyfriend’s eye. Where is the rapture when you need it? I shift from wanting Trevor to die, to hoping the boyfriend will spontaneously combust, to hoping I—carrying my family’s tradition of heart disease—will fall to the ground right there. I pray that they will leave, but they remain, like gargoyles, through three very long Rihanna remixes, and somehow I can’t move.
I look over and see Jesus coming towards me. He sidesteps some groupies and walks right up to me, extends a hand.
“You ready?” he says, separating me from my ex.
I nod. He pulls me out of my purgatory. I look back and see Trevor staring, mouth open, hurt in the face. It’s not a zombie virus, but it’ll do for now.
When we step outside, a breeze waits for us.
“Man,” Jesus says, “it was hot as hell in there.”
“You would know,” I say and walk off. Jesus follows me.
“Why?” I scream.
“Why does it hurt so much?” I say, and before I know it I can’t see through the tears streaming down my face.
“It?” Jesus is wiping the tears away.
“Love,” I say. “Why does it have to hurt? I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t write. I just hurt.”
“Do you really want to play this game with me?” Jesus laughs. “I was killed by the very people I loved. My father sat and watched. I screamed out to him and he basically said man up. I go through all that, I still come back, and you people would rather watch Kim Kardashian on the E! Channel than listen to anything I have to say. Murderers, liars, thieves. The most immorally bankrupt people cheat, rape, and murder in my name. People would rather believe they have a chance to win the Lotto than admit my existence, and yet I still love them. So why does love hurt? Because it just fucking does!”
I start laughing. Did Jesus just curse me out? Jesus laughs too, and we are bowled over cracking up.
“Then why go through it?” I finally say.
“Because that is what we are here to do,” Jesus says. “That’s it man.”
“And you still love us,” I ask.
“You still love him?”
“You can’t turn it off, and why would you. In the end it’s all we have.”
“I have so many questions.”
“And I gave you the answers to the test.” Jesus and I are at the corner again, and he lifts his hand up. “I am wiped. You want to share a cab?”
“Naw, I think the train ride will do me good.”
Jesus pulls me close as a cab pulls over. The driver looks at us and skids away.
“Wow. Even Jesus can’t get a car.”
“It’s the end of the world,” he smiles and heads out into the street again, arm outstretched. “Take care, buddy. Come by and see me anytime.”
The walk to the train is quiet. At the station, a man is huddled up against a wall. Tattered blankets cover his swollen legs.
“You got any change?” he says.
I reach into my pocket and pull out a dollar. He takes the dollar, looks to the ceiling, then looks back at me. “One minute.” He leans over into a heap of trash and pulls out a ballpoint pen and a folded sheet of paper.
“Thank you,” I say. I take the instruments in my hand and make my way down to the train. I catch the 1 just as the double doors close. The car is empty. It’s cool, quiet, and I begin to write.
A couple of things happen to me today. I board a train with no other passengers, and I meet Jesus.