The lion and the man

(A legend)

Yes, I am sinful. What’s my sin? Oh, my blood runs cold in my veins, when I try to remember.  Since the world had been created it had never seen such a disgraceful impudence – I had shaved my head to differ from other people. Even the inquisitors who had arrived from Toledo did not presume to judge me and passed me, the unfortunate (miserable), over to a Florentine executioner called Alighieri. That merciless monster knew his job pretty well. He took me right to the ninth circle that he had created and invented such a horrible punishment for me, the miserable and paltry, that I envied Sisyphus and the danaites.

The Florentine placed a thirty three foot (step) long wall of iron bars in the middle of a boundless desert, and made a small door in the middle of the wall. On one side of that transparent wall he placed me, and on the other side a hungry lion was set free. Then my executioner disappeared, leaving me to the whim of the lion and the iron bars. And an infernal game started among me, the Lion and the iron balusters…

Hunger made the Lion fierce and furious. And the more wild and daring the Lion grew the poorer and sicker I was. He smelled the blood the hasn’t yet dried on my snow-white skin, and ran to round the wall and tear me to pieces. Oh, if I were indeed devoid of human values, which I hated so much and which I wanted to shake off by shaving my head, I would have immediately accepted the inevitable, would have estranged myself from the sinful aspiration for living and struggling, and would have mollified (extenuated) the Lion’s hunger with my love (oh, how glad would the crazy annalist of Sisyphus had been). But alas, my executioner was artful, perfectly calculating everything in series to a nicety. My craven human instincts worked with all their strength – I found the only possible way momentarily. Since it was impossible to escape I opened the latticed door and passed to the other side. The Lion hesitated for an instance, not knowing what happened, and then, with his huge claws dig the sand soaked with my smell. Then he brought his mouth, vomiting saliva and vapor, near the bars and growled with wounded rage. I shut me ears not to become deaf. The next moment the Lion took a run to round the wall again. A moment later, when he reached the edge of the bars, I walked through the door once again and rendered (?) on the opposite site.

This game lasted for hours and days, weeks and months… My head had again covered with hair and I lamentably though at that moment, that I became more human than I used to be, wasn’t I now led by the two most disgusting human instincts – fear (pain) of death and hirsute skin? On the other hand, it was the death that could save me from that endless mental and physical persecution…I was not able to move away from the bars (in that case the Lion would have eaten me up), thus I remained pinned to the bars, which were at the same time my prison and my reprieve in that boundless desert…

* * *

One day the Lion ran away so far that I lost his sight. At first I was glad, thinking that got free from my prison, but immediately after that surmised with unspeakable regret that I could not leave the bars – I could have met the Lion in the desert. Being so far from the bars, nothing could save any more… And while I was wandering (feeling my way) among contradictory ideas, the Lion returned slowly to the bars – with eyes filled with sadness and weariness more than before…

* * *

It was then, that I repeated my awful sin and tore up my hair directly with my hands. My human instincts grew dumb, alarm and insomnia, that had been torturing me for all those months, abandoned me.  I bent and looked into the yellow tired eyes of the Lion, that was lying at the other side of the bars. And I saw a turbulent sea in his eyes. We were looking into each others eyes for a whole week, the sea calmed and an all-consuming peace seized him. Then in his eyes I found mine and saw that fear had disappeared from there. I sprawled on the warm sand and fell deeply asleep, not bothering that the Lion could round the bars and tore my still snow-white body into pieces. And I saw a peacock in my dream, that was all covered with eyes. Those eyes were looking at me and suffusing with tears…

When I woke up, the Lion was lying in the same position. We looked into each others eyes again. For a whole month we were examining each others eyes. Besides the sea we saw signs and faces and peacocks and thousands of suns and we saw iron barred cages… A moth later the Lion turned off his glance, so that I wouldn’t see anything else, but a big drop ran from his eyes and split on the hot sand.

– Lion, – whispered I, – go back to your seas. Leave this damned bars, Lion…

The Lion didn’t reply at first. He kept silence for a few months and then said:

– If I leave, I will stop being a lion. It’s not only the desert and the seas that I live at, it is also in you and in the memories of the Florentine executor, where I exist. If I leave, I will die somewhere: in you or in some other place. Though neither I nor the seas that are waiting for me seek for my death… Once I have already tried to differ from other lions, and what did I gain? Only these bars and your melancholic neighboring. Oh, no, Man, it is enough, enough…

  • But I do not want you to suffer, Lion… I love you…
  • You love me?… Then kill me, Man…

I rose from my place to round the wall, but en unexpected thing happened – the Lion quickly opened the door and passed to the other side of the bars. I ran towards him, but he hid again. This foolish game lasted for hours and days, weeks and months… We got tired and sprawled on the boiling sand. I was lying on my back, looking on the little-clouded sky and there also I saw lions and bars. Then the cloudy lions and bars jumped and disappeared. I turned to the Lion. He put his heavy head on his paws and closed his eyes. A few minutes later he groaned heavily and the air flow from his nostrils scattered the yellow grains of the sand.

* * *

  • But why did you come back, Lion?

–    If I go away and leave you and the bars, both of you will lose the meaning of your existence. You will lose your freedom, because while I am a real lion now, you know exactly the embodiment of your fear. And if I leave, I will become your everlasting nightmare. You will not actually see me, but you will find lions everywhere, thus these bars and I are not only your prison and warder, but also your freedom… That was the reason I came back here… I did not miss you, I have killed that feeling long time ago tearing it to pieces with my claws and fangs. Don’t blame me, Man, but try to understand, that I cannot leave. I am a victim just as you are.

–    Then kill me, Lion, I beg you…

–    I can’t do that, Man, and you know that. While you are a man and I am a lion, this vile game, where both of us are winners as well as losers,  should go on. Neither you can leave or kill me. If it was such an easy thing to do, why would Sisyphus and his crazy annalist suffer? Can you see them rolling the stone up the height of Olympus? No matter how much you shave your head, you are not able to get rid of the hair, that is in your brain and sub consciousness… You’d better think of me, you and the bars as a whole, that can not be separated; while the seas are transient, they are the unreal voluptuousness of our imagination, a reverie and a vision… You’d better leave me, Man. You also have the seas you’ve been dreaming of, don’t you? I don’t want you to suffer.

–    I cannot do that, Lion. You know that. I tried to free myself (get rid of) from human instincts and because of that was sentenced to these torments. I shaved my head. But couldn’t estrange the human values. I am growing old already, and my hair is coming out, but in my sub consciousness and genes the hair and its roots are still alive. It is my shadow that is always going to follow me under the light of the stars. I have taken out my eye and cut off my arm, but I am unable to forget my hair… Forgive me, Lion, I am not able to help you. It would really be better to submit that me, you and the speechless bars are trinity, that does not exist in any other way, but in our union. Forgive me, Lion, forgive me…

The Lion looked into the distance and did not say anything for a few years. The suddenly asked me:

  • Do you remember what was your father feeding you when you were a child?
  • I do, with lions’ heart and liver to make me courageous and huge as a lion.

–    And my father used to bring for me men’s heart and liver to make me strong and brave as a man…

* * *

A few more years passed before the Lion asked me a question again:

–   Tell me, Man, confess to me, are you afraid of me?

–   Yes, I am. I am looking at your huge claws and fangs, and the cold sweat of horror covers me. In my ears there is the echo of your roaring and the rustling of your shaggy tongue upon my snow-white skin.

  • But isn’t all my fierceness outward? My claws and fangs are just the way (they look) their essence is, while who knows what intrigues are hidden under your outwardly harmless teeth and under the nails that had rendered delicate on the piano keys. And your tongue and lips…
  • My tongue and lips are destined (?) to love Onah.

–    And have you seen the dreams of the Lioness? She now misses the tender caress of my shaggy tongue and the loving playfulness of my claws and fangs. And she cannot kill her melancholy, because her love is stronger than a man, a lion, than the bars and the Florentine executioner. If we could also love that way, our seas would have been near us long ago…

* * *

Centuries later men and lions reading the memoirs of a Florentine executioner named Alighieri saw a desert in the ninth circle, in the middle of it they saw a thirty three step long wall of rusted bars, on the one side of the wall there was a lion’s skeleton, on the other side a skeleton of a man…

Their bones smelled of sea…

CHARACTERS:

  • Onah – this means SHE in Russian. The image of woman in general.
  • Alighieri – refers to Dante Alighieri, Italian writer, author of the DIVINE COMEDY.
  • Danaites – Mythical heroes of Greek Mythology. They were punished to fill a bottomless barrel with water in Hell (Hades).