Once every week, I yumcha with Jesus. Usually, we just lepak at a mamak and talk about whatever shit happened to plague my life then. Mostly, I talk and Jesus listens. Very often, I talk and he only listens, which is freaking annoying. “Don’t you have anything to say, Jesus?” I sometimes spit. To this, he just cocks his head, raises an eyebrow and strokes his beard.
Weird that he kept his beard, considering that he traded those flowy robes for some current-millennia t-shirt and shorts.
As per tradition, we discuss the insanity that is life between mouth full of cheese naan.
Today, I’m talking about the TV drama Jane the Virgin. “Michael is the man for Jane wei, not Raphael! I stand by my convictions.” I bang the table lightly and extend my pointer finger towards Jesus. “I will never forgive the writers for pairing her with Raphael. I do not consent to this assault on my romantic sensibilities!” My voice carries through the mamak and a few kepochis shoot me annoyed glances.
On autopilot, I reach for the last piece of tandoori chicken.
“Hey, that’s mine!” Jesus raised a nail-pierced hand to shield “his” chicken.
I make a face at him.
Absentmindedly, I take a gulp of hot teh tarik. The steaming brew burned my throat. My face squirm with discomfort. “Jesus!” I cursed.
“Oops sorry, took your name in vain.”
Jesus shoots me a disapproving look.
“Anywayyyy…” I continue with a dramatic pause, “FML!” I bang the table again, harder this time.
Jesus puts his hands on his lap and straighten his back. We both know the drill. We are about to transition from me whining about my life to me bitching about the injustice in the world.
“Yesterday, I saw a picture of a malnourished infant boy in Yemen. He’s so skinny his ribs protrude out like guitar strings. There’s a tube going into his nose. His face is so gaunt it’s so heartbreaking. His mum is starving. He is starving. His whole country is war-torn and starving. Really, what do you have to say for yourself, Jesus? Why do you let them suffer like that?”
“Free will, babe. I can interfere, but that will mean stealing free will from you and the rest of mankind. Do you want to be robbed of free will?”
“That doesn’t make sense. Think I lulu wan ar? You, as the son of God and master of the universe cannot save a starving baby because then the rest of us won’t be able to choose between roti bawang and roti telur?”
A sad look colours Jesus’ face and he shrugs.
“Hey, Chow Ping!” comes a sing song voice behind me. I turn around to see W, christian-extraordinaire and my childhood friend, dressed in a simple blouse with dark blue jeans, a cross pendant around her neck.
I stand up to give her a hug. “Day off?” She asks.
I nod. Jesus clears his throat and I remember my manners.
“You know Jesus,” I say simply, gesturing in his direction. “Wanna join us?”
W fix her attention on Jesus. Her face blanks for a moment. And then she remarks, “that’s not Jesus.”
“Sure he is,” I retort, “why wouldn’t he be? Jesus, show her your hands.”
W is adamant. She sticks her chin out and exerts, “I know Jesus. That’s not Jesus.” Cocky confidence radiate off her voice.
“Of course that’s Jesus. Duh, I’ve known him my entire life.” Abuden. Frustration well up inside of me.
I tilt my head to face Jesus. “Jesus?”
Jesus stares at me with wide eyes, a busted look on his face. He purse his lips and shake slightly, looking a lot like a deer in headlights.
Suddenly, he leaps from his seat! Flinging our last piece of tandoori chicken in the air, he sprints out of the mamak, sandals pounding the tiled floor.
“Jesus!” I shout after him. “JESUS!”
W just wrinkles her snooty nose and says, “I’m telling you, that’s not Jesus. I know Jesus and that’s not Jesus.”
I need to get a closer look at my Jesus. I’ve been hanging out with this man I call Jesus since I was a toddler, and now you’re telling me he’s NOT Jesus?!
“JESUS!!!” I shout again after my Jesus. He’s quickly disappearing from sight, weaving between parked cars as he raced towards the next block of suburban shop lots.
I throw a RM50 note at the shocked uncle behind the counter and yell over my shoulder “simpan change boss! Saya nak tangkap Jesus!”
Without a second to lose, I run out of the mamak, my Converse squeaking. Thank God for clever foresight with footwear.
Jesus may’ve had a head start, but I know this neighbourhood like the back of my hands- then again he’s supposed to be omniscient, so I’ll call our odds even. I pumped my arms as I dashed in the direction where Jesus was last sighted. Maybe I should’ve ran along the sidewalk, but there was a crowd, so I liked my chances with the cars. This proved to be a bad idea.
Running into traffic is always a bad idea, I learned this when I nearly collided with a white Proton Saga. The driver honked angrily. I slammed his bonnet, threw my arms in the air, and mouthed “rilek la”. Ugh, no chill.
That’s when I spotted Jesus.
And he spotted me. All that honking gave my position away. Jesus heard the commotion, and had turned his head in curiosity.
Our eyes meet across a stream of cars.
His middle eastern features crease with worry.
“JEESSSUUUSS!!!! WAIT FOR ME!!!!!” I screamed.
I set off again… and stepped right into a giant puddle. That’s the problem with Ara Damansara. Every time it rains- as it did last night- the entire area becomes Atlantis. The drainage system could use some work, really, take note MP-whom-I-voted-for-but-won’t-name.
The water slowed me down, but I am not stopped. I take another step, and another, and another…
… and slip. My feet completely slides off the ground, and I spend half a second mid-air with my arms flailing. My knees hit the road first, then my palms. The contact send a fountain of water into the air.
It takes a moment to stand up, straighten my tank top, and curse the day I was born. By then, Jesus has disappeared. I do a visual sweep of the area around me to no avail.
Where is Jesus?
Just then, I hear a piercing scream. A pitchy voice shouts, “ade orang nak lompat!”
I turn my attention towards the direction of the voice.
That’s when I see it: Jesus. Standing on the bridge over Sungai Kayu Ara.
More accurately, he’s standing on the railing with his knees slightly bent as if he’s about to jump into the river below.
The water level of Sungai Kayu Ara rises pretty high each time it rains, as it did last night. This is evident by tons of rubbish littered all over the river bank, souvenir from the water currents.
“JJJEESSSUSSS!!!!” I shout for the millionth time as I ran towards him. “Wait for me! Don’t jump!!”
Jesus hears my voice and peeps over his shoulders. His eyes widen at my approaching figure. My presence clicked something in him.
He jumps. Into the raging waters below.
“JJJJEEESSSSUUUUUSSS!!!!!” I sprint with all my might towards the railing and peer at the waters underneath.
There, about 20 feet below, Jesus stands on the surface of the water.
With a last glance in my direction, he walks away from me on the water.
“Show off,” I mutter under my breath.
I clamber onto the railing myself. The polluted waters below look scary and uninviting, but I need to get to Jesus. I need to know that he’s real. I need to know that my Jesus is real.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Slowly, I step off the railing.
My feet meets empty air. Soon, I’m falling. Falling through nothingness.
Good news is I’ve watched enough psicobloc climbs on YouTube to know to keep my arms firmly tucked by my side. This is optimum to break surface tension.
Bad news is the freezing cold waters that swallow me, wasting no time in sipping through my graphic-tee and demin shorts, violating my scaly skin.
The cold waters cause me momentary shock but I quickly recovered. I’m a woman on a mission. I have a Jesus to catch.
My arms displace water as my legs paddle. I ease myself into a front crawl as I swim after Jesus.
“JJJJEEESSSUSSSS!!!” I screamed through each stroke, rewarding myself with a mouthful of water for my efforts.
An old tyre float by me, followed by a used condom. An awful stench assaults my nose.
God damn it, Jesus. Stop walking!
As if he heard my thoughts, Jesus stops. He spins on a heel and peer at me. I’m drenched from head to toe. I think I lost a Converse.
“Come,” he says, walking towards me with an outstretched arm.
He wants to me walk with him on the water! He wants me to be like Peter the apostle!
Gingerly, I straighten into an upright position. Treading water, I grab his nail-pierced hand. He tugs on my arm and I feel my body rise above the water.
My right feet homes for a foothold… and hits solid ground! My left feet too!
I’m standing on water!
Excited, I look down… oh. I’m standing on a stone. There’s a stone in the middle of the river.
Jesus chuckles. “Yes, Chow Ping?”
“You were running. Why were you running? W is bonkers, right? Of course you’re the real Jesus.”
“What do you think?” the man I’ve believed to be Jesus asked.
“Of course you are real. You’ve been here my entire life. You are God. You’ve helped me through exams, breakups, flying school, when mama was diagnosed with cancer…”
“So I’m just a coping mechanism that helped you through exams, breakups, flying school, and your mother’s critical illness?”
“No. I mean, sure… faith in you is like an intangible promise of better things to come.”
“Is there empirical evidence for this belief?”
“Um, not really… hmm.. maybe you ARE a coping mechanism.” I admit reluctantly. I’ve known this for awhile, but it takes courage to verbalise it out loud. And I know that coping mechanism does not mean real.
“Maybe the person that you guys made me out to be is not the real me. Girl, you know the facts. You know the context of the stories. Perhaps, what you read in your bibles are simply tales written as a result of a political persuasion. Added and exaggerated over time, inspired by local folklores. The man I am based on is long dead, crucified on a cross in 30AD.”
“So like what? You are simply a construct of our collective minds? Appealing to our subconscious need for validation and security?”
“Meh…” Jesus replies.
“You are the son of God,” I emphasise, pointing right at him.
“An apoclyptic prophet.”
“Born of a virgin.” I punctuate.
“Er…” Jesus makes a face, like a teacher whose student claimed a dog ate his homework. “Alma.”
“Parthenos!” I shout.
I take a step forward in frustration, and end up losing my footing.
My arms flailed for the second time that day, and I splashed face first into the water.
I choke on the murky brown liquid and reach into my mouth to extract a stray leave. It takes a while to comb out my eyelashes and remove snoot from my nose.
When I look up, Jesus is gone.
“Jesus?” I whisper.
Bugger bailed on me again.
“Jesus??” I call, louder this time.
“JEESSUUUSS????”” And louder.
“JJJJEEEEEESSSSUUUUUSSSSSS???????” I call loudly enough for the entire Ara Damansara to hear.
Suss…susss…sssuuss… rang the echo of my desperate voice.
But there was no answer.
P.S.: This story was Inspired by Matt Mikalatos’ “Imaginary Jesus”. With a very different type of ending, of course.