Read Part 1 here.
The MCO is one heck of tense.
Due to the deadly Covid-19 virus, the government had implemented a Movement Control Order. During this time, everybody is required to stay home, other than for emergency reasons or food supplies. Only essential businesses are allowed to operate.
The police and military set up roadblocks and patrolled everywhere to enforce the lockdown. Stray asses were hauled home or arrested.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Who am I kidding, it was the worst of worst of times.
I was on a grocery run at Village Grocer in Citta Mall when the weirdest thing happened.
Just as I’m paying for my groceries, my phone began to ping. It was a WhatsApp message.
“Come to MBO Cinema Hall 3 now.” The sender is UNKNOWN.
I decided this is some sick joke. Some bored, isolated bugger’s idea of fun.
I hand the cashier my credit card and she does the usual swiping and beeping. My pocket vibrates again.
“Come to MBO Cinema Hall 3 NOW!”
Clearly, somebody wants me alone to murder me. Or cough Coronavirus on me. Or give me a million Ringgit. Whichever, this could be how I die.
“Come to MBO Cinema Hall 3 NOW NOW NOW!” UNKNOWN reiterates.
I put the phone back into my pocket. I take my credit card back and offer the cashier a smile. I make sure to smile with my eyes, because the stupid face mask is covering my mouth.
“NOW NOW NOW!!!” Pings my phone again.
“Who dis?” I reply.
“Come! And I will show you immeasurably more than you can ever hope for or imagine!” Huh?
I’m a sucker for a good mystery. Or a sucker for death. Or maybe I’m just stupid. Either way, my curiosity piqued.
Grocery bags in hand, I made my way up to the top floor where the cinema is. The escalator is out of service so I had to take the stairs, which is a lot of work- just in case anyone is keeping score.
The cinema is completely void of life. Since staring at a screen in a room full of people for 2 non-stop hours is considered inessential, the cinema is closed until the end of the MCO.
I tiptoe into the dim foyer of the empty cinema. Limited sunlight streamed through the glass windows, minimally lighting my surroundings. But the silence is crippling.
Crack, a sound jolted me into attention. Probably rats in the vents, I reason.
This place is starting to creep me out. Eerie.
CRACK! A fat rat. Time for a diet, buddy...
SUDDENLY, I SEE A WOMAN BY MY SIDE. She has long black hair, her skin is porcelain white. Where eyes should be are two hollow sockets streaming bright red blood. A flowing white gown is draped over her bony figure. In her arms is a headless baby.
I jumped out of my skin.
Instinctively, I raise my right fist and land a knuckle sandwich.
I’m about to release a banshee scream when the ghost woman falls backwards. She hits the floor with a light thump.
Oh. It’s a life size cutout- promo material for some upcoming horror film. I reach out to touch her. Cupboard.
I shudder, relieved and terrified at the same time.
Still shaking, I make it to Hall 3. I creep into the darkness of the theatre. My heart is thumping hard in my chest.
I think, this is the start of every murder thriller ever.
“BBBOOOOO!!!!” shouted a loud voice.
“Ahhhhh!!!” I screamed.
“Who’s there??” I asked after a deep breath, straightening my posture. I squinted into the darkness, desperate to identify the threat.
Suddenly, laughter rang through the cineplex.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…. came the uncontrollable laughter.
A light came on. That’s when I see him. Sitting near the corner of Row D. A man, dressed in a dark grey t-shirt and light blue jeans. His beard look freshly trim- A++ for personal grooming. A disposable face mask hung around his neck.
“Oh my father… that was hilarious!!! You should see your face! Did you pee yourself?” He’s slapping his thighs and stomping his feet.
I did indeed pee my pants, but I wasn’t about to admit it.
No, I’m not swearing. I’m saying the man sitting there, mocking the fear of God in me, is Jesus. My Jesus. The Jesus that left me stranded in the middle of Sungai Kayu Ara.
I don’t know whether to hug him or whack him on the arm.
Hug, then whack, I decided. So I tried; his eyes widened and hands shot up, palms facing me. “Wooo.. woo.. watch it, girl. Social distancing larhh! One meter at all times.”
He gestured for me to take a seat.
I did, placing my grocery bag between us. He snatched a packet of potato chips from my bag.
“Hey!!” I exclaimed. “Mine!!”
“Let’s barter,” my Jesus replied. I notice an ice chest sitting on the floor next to his feet. He draws from the box a cold bottle of Erdinger beer. My favourite. Also freaking expensive. A luxury I cannot afford with a potential recession on the horizon.
“Deal?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. “Or do you prefer warm water?” he asked with a chuckle.
I settle into a seat and take a long, thirsty swig.
“Long time no see,” I say without looking at him. I stare at the empty space where a screen usually is.
“Sorry about that time in the river,” my Jesus says.
“Water under the bridge,” I grin at my pun. “I’ve moved on,” I say. And I mean it. In all seriousness, I’ve learned that when it comes to Jesus and God, you cannot grip too hard. Hold on too tightly and all you get is broken fingers, or worse still, a broken heart.
“So what you been up to?” he asked.
I face him, then gesture at the empty cineplex. “Stuck at home. Covid-19 kinda in full swing here. People getting sick. People dying. Economy crashing. It’s sorta a thing now.”
“Ya, that. It sucks.” my Jesus said.
“Anything you can do to help? A lot of people are praying for God to blow this whole Covid-19 shit over.” I asked. Hoping. Really hoping.
Jesus opened his mouth to answer, but I interrupted.
“Before you answer that, are you even God? You kinda left that part hanging the last time. Let’s hash that out now.” I point my beer bottle at him.
Jesus removed his mask and placed it on the seat next to him. “Maybe yes, maybe no. Does it matter though? If it’s so important the world know I’m God, don’t you think it’ll be a little more obvious. There won’t be ambiguity. There won’t BE a debate, because it’ll be so obvious. Perhaps, there are things more important than belief in me as God. Could it be that my divinity is not important at all?“
Jesus crunch loudly on my potato chips, getting crumbs in his beard.
His mouth full, Jesus continued “so tell your friends that bigotry towards people who don’t believe I’m God is not okay. Everybody access the spiritual in their own personal way. Some through me. Some through prophets of other religions. To say that people who don’t believe in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour will go to hell, that’s bigotry. Because you don’t know that. Nobody knows that.”
My nose is itchy. I raise a finger to scratch…
“Don’t touch your face!” Jesus is alarmed.
So I flare my nostrils and purse lips instead.
“So say you’re not God,” I probe. “Still, you clearly have a direct line to God. He called you His beloved son or something.”
Jesus: So, who do you say I am?
CP: You are the messiah. But not the only way to heaven sort. I think that you provide a mystical connection to God, to healing and wholeness within the confines of nature, as well as an awareness and experience of not only the Sacred, but the Oneness and Unity of all life. That you are one of many ways to experience God.
Jesus held his bottle up and I clink mine against his. “Cheers.”
CP: Speaking of God and healing…
Jesus: Sigh. The virus?
CP: Uhuh. How? Can ask God to eradicate? So many people are suffering. Throw us a lifeline la.
Jesus sat up straight.
Jesus: Let’s break this down a little. Why do you think it’s in God’s interest to act benevolently?
I feel very put on the spot here. I swirl my beer slowly, a bad habit that has caused quite a bit of undesirable spillage.
CP: Er, because God is love?
Jesus: And how do you know that? Is that belief reflected in the world around you?
Jesus kept his sight on me as he took a big gulp from his bottle.
CP: Actually, no. There is so much suffering. Too much suffering in this world. I don’t think a benevolent God would allow that to happen.
CP: BUT… but… it’s because this is a fallen world. Because of sin, that’s why there is suffering. God did not cause the suffering, it’s simply consequence of our sin.
Jesus looked entertained by this.
Jesus: You sound like the victim of an abusive marriage.
CP: God does offer goodness.
Jesus: To everybody?
CP: Hmm… sometimes, it does feel like God is playing favourites. He heal some, but not everybody. He feed some, but not all.
Jesus: Depressing thought, huh?
CP: Or maybe, he wants to help, but can’t?
Jesus: Because of free will?
CP: Free will- apologist like William Lane Craig make this big argument that it’s not outside the realm of possibilities for a loving God to let his children suffer. But the truth is that’s just not likely. It’s not impossible for a mother to kill her own child either, but it’s simply not likely.
Jesus: I see your point girl, how much can God interfere? And when should he interfere? Should he save every Covid-19 patient? Or only those in critical care?
CP: He shouldn’t let the innocent suffer.
Jesus: But who’s innocent?
CP: I don’t know. I’m saying “I don’t know a lot” hahaha. But just because I don’t know who he should and should not save, doesn’t mean I’m okay with this. I’m not okay with hundreds of thousands of people suffering.
I feel my frown returning.
Jesus: Maybe God has a reason.
Jesus’ eyes twinkled like he just thought of a funny joke.
Jesus: Maybe God is pulling a Thanos.
CP: At least all Thanos did was snap his fingers and people disappeared. No suffering. Like, you’re the chosen one, buh-bye. With this virus, people suffer for days. Maybe even months, we don’t know yet. God forbid it’s years. Chained to a ventilator, separated from their loved ones. Not to mention the healthcare personnels working their asses off, separated from their loved ones.
Jesus: When you put it that way, Thanos was more merciful.
CP: I’m glad you brought up free will, but I was really thinking of God’s omnipotence.
Jesus: Ya, why do people assume that God is omnipotent?
CP: Is he?
Jesus: What do you think?
CP: Beats me. You tell me.
Jesus: Nope, you don’t get easy answers. Don’t you think he wants you to use your God-given intellect to discern? It always puzzled me when people suggest you shut off your intellect and “just have faith that it’s true”.
CP: You did say we have to be like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus: I did say that. And have you met a child? They ask aaallllooootttt of questions. You can’t tell them to “just believe”. They want to know why.
I think of the kids I used to teach in children’s church. I think of myself as a kid. Heck, I did ask questions. I’ll dump a whole barrage on my parents. Poor them.
CP: Also, is God really a “he”?
Jesus laughed out loud. His vocals boomed through the entire cineplex.
Jesus: Exactly. The Bible talks about God with these female imagery- giving birth and feeding with breasts, and yet we still assign God the male pronoun.
CP: No shit.
Jesus: I see a lot of thoughts swimming in your head. So what are you gonna do? How do you translate all that mental jumble into action?
CP: I have no freaking clue. To recap, You might be God, might not be God- don’t think it really matters. We don’t know if it’s in God’s interest to act benevolently. Is his apparent lack of benevolence due to lack of free will? Is it due to lack of omnipotence? We don’t know.
Jesus: Since you don’t know, what can you do?
CP: Love my neighbour.
Jesus beamed. And licked the remnant of seasoning inside the now empty potato chips bag.
Jesus: Ta-ta girl. You don’t know how God’s going to behave. And maybe it’s none of your business either. What is your business, is to love your neighbour as yourself.
CP: To emulate you. Well, you are still my one connection to spirituality, so I’m not ready to let go of you yet. You didn’t care what people believed, you cared what people did. It is about doing good, not about believing the right thing.
Jesus reached for a second bag of potato chips.
“No!!” I snatched the packet away at lightning speed. An audible crunch sounded… my precious chips breaking into a thousand pieces.
“Ouch…” I lament.
Jesus stretched out two nail pierced hands towards me. “Hug?” he said.
“Social distancing laa,” I reply.
“Ahh… I’ll put in a word with God, don’t worry. I’m sure She’ll grant me this one favour,” Jesus says.
He wrapped his arms around me and I settle into his embrace. All the tension from Covid-19 dissolved in an instant. I can smell my potato chips on his breath, but that’s okay. This is what I need. I need my Jesus.
A tear escaped the corner of my eye. I sniffed. Within seconds, I’m bawling.
“It’s okay, my child. It’s okay.” Jesus pats me gently.
I cry on his shoulder for a long time. And then I curl up into a ball and cry some more, as he continued to rub my back.
My sobs gradually spaced out. I wiped my tears with my face mask . Then I realised, all around me is empty space. No more Jesus. He had vanished, along with his ice box.
Along with my second packet of potato chips.