Gospel without Apostle by Nevit Ergin

I woke up to the sound of a vacuum cleaner. It was five in the morning. I dashed out of my room,  it was the Colonel vacuuming the living room.

“What’s going on,” I asked. He noticed my annoyance.

“The Commander is coming at 4 this afternoon. I’m getting ready for his inspection.” His voice was very serious.

I couldn’t help but to ask, “Why now?”

“Sonny, he is very meticulous.”

He liked to call me Sonny, every though my name wasn’t Sonny.  I used to call him Colonel, but his name was Sanford. He was my grandfather, and we lived together. All I knew about him was that he was a retired colonel, a veteran of all kinds of wars. Later he got a dog, named him Sanford, and he became “Colonel” to everyone.

“Can I go back to sleep,” I pleaded.

“Sure Sonny. Please get up at eight, we have a whole day ahead of us. I am enlisting you to help me prepare for the inspection.” He looked at my face and added, “Besides gaining the honor, you’ll be well compensated.”

When I got up at nine, the Colonel wasn’t in the house. I found him in the backyard watering the plants. This was an every-morning ritual, he stopped at every tree and plant looking at them, touching them and talking to them before watering. A neighborhood black cat and Sanford followed him faithfully during this inspection. While filling the bird feeder with sunflower seeds, a few hungry squirrels and birds circled around.

He addressed them seriously, “You guys pretend to do what comes natural to you, but no killing here. Do you hear me?” When I asked him once what would come natural to them, he replied, “I feed them Sonny, there’s no reason for them to eat each other.” He added, Man is the one who kills for other reasons.”

“Colonel, who is coming,” I asked.

“I don’t know his name, but he’s the top of the top. The head guy,” he replied

“How do you know he’s coming?”

“I saw him in my dream last night. He had so many stars, I couldn’t even count them. Someone yelled, “Attention,” so I stood at attention. ‘Colonel,’ he said, ‘Be ready tomorrow for inspection.’” His voice was trembling, I knew just remembering the dream made him excited.

But I couldn’t help asking, “Why you?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I was told he was looking for someone to help him.” The Colonel wanted to be sure everything was in perfect shape. He washed Blondie, his fifteen year old maroon Corolla. She was shining under the sun by the time he finished.

“Sonny,” he said, “Before the Commander comes, we have a few chores to do. Blondie’s oil needs to be changed, I need to get a haircut, and then our shirts need to be picked up from the drycleaners.”

I do the driving, he sat next to me. The barber, service station and drycleaners were all in the same shopping center. The owners of these places were all familiar to him. We left the car at the service station and walked to the barbershop. It was a little room around the back with a little barber sign next to the door. The barber, an old fragile man, greeted the Colonel. There was a customer on the chair, many pictures of old airplanes were on the wall. The Colonel told me he used to be in the Air Force.

After the customer left, the Colonel sat on the chair. He started the conversation, “First thing, how is your son?”

“He’s still in jail,” the barber replied. I later learned his young son, who has mental problems, assaulted his neighbors. They locked him up and he’s awaiting trial.

He explained, “I’m telling the public defender, this guy is sick, he needs his medication, his doctor. But no one will listen. They say it will take time to see a doctor. I wish I could have a good attorney for him, he doesn’t have money. Neither do I.”

Then the Colonel asked exactly what I was afraid he would, “How much?” The barber stopped cutting his hair, “Come on now Colonel, you can’t do that, I can’t ask from you. Besides, you don’t have the money.” I was going to tell him he was right, but the Colonel was insisting. The barber told him he didn’t know how much it would cost for an attorney for a case like that. He said he’d find out.

After the haircut, just before we left, the Colonel gave the barber one hundred dollars. Later I said , “That was a very expensive haircut.” He didn’t reply.

We then went to the drycleaners. A Chinese woman gave my shirts, but she couldn’t find the Colonel’s. That moving rail turned and turned, stopping time by time. They searched all over, but the Colonel’s shirts were nowhere to be found. The Chinese lady was getting frustrated, and after ten minutes she gave up.

“Sir,” she said hopelessly, “I can’t find it.” The Colonel was watching all of this, feeling very sorry for her. “Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. What’s our bill?”

“I’ll charge you for his shirts and buy you two new shirts,” she said apologetically.

“No, no,” the Colonel insisted, “you don’t buy me anything. I’ll pay for the laundry of my shirts.” Despite the woman’s resistance, he paid for evertything.

The car was ready at the service station. With the oil change and new filters, the bill came to around forty dollars.  The owner and the Colonel exchanged a few jokes, and we started on our way home. After a few miles, I heard some noises coming from the engine. I mentioned it to the Colonel, but he just said, “It’s the new oil.” The noises got louder and the smell of burnt oil filled the car. I turned back and we barely made it to the service station. We found out that after emptying out the dirty oil, the mechanic forgot to put in the new oil. He said it was a serious problem now and we’d need to leave the car.

The owner was blaming the mechanic, but the Colonel said, “He didn’t do it intentionally, we shouldn’t make him feel guilty.” The owner looked at my face, and I looked at him. The mechanic left. I asked how long it would take, the owner said he would call us. He offered to charge only for parts and not labor, and the Colonel agreed immediately.  The owner then took us home.

While resting in the backyard, I said, “What a day. Can we take Sanford for a walk on the beach?” Taking the dog for a walk on the beach was always the Colonel’s routine.  We were late; the early spring coolness was in the air. The Colonel sat in the same place after walking on the levy with Sanford, who was on a leash all the time. There was an ebb, the sea was at least a hundred yards out from the beach. Pockets of sea water had been left behind, with all kinds of moss, weeds and small creatures. There were birds of all shapes and sizes helping themselves.

The Colonel looked at the “Killing field,” as he called it. I didn’t see it that way, they were feasting. “There’s got to be a better way,” he said. He never believed the most Benevolent Almighty set the survival of species on a predator-prey relationship. He created microcosms of the Universe with his labor and sacrifices in his backyard. Feeding the birds, animals and watering the plants. He probably knew his Utopia was his selfish dream, he should have no right to extend this behavior to the real world.

He took the leash off the dog and let Sanford free. Without hesitation, the dog ran down the levy, directly toward the beach. The Colonel was surprised, and watched the dog rush toward the birds. A flock of small birds took off. Sanford did not stop, without changing direction he ran towards other birds. Now his body was half in the sea, and he was jumping up and down in order to run. The Colonel realized the danger of the unstable sand the dog was trying to run on.

“Sanford, come back home,” he yelled. But the god kept running until he became a small black dot on the sea and disappeared. His voice was weak and hoarse, then he stopped yelling. We became speechless, standing sad looking at the horizon. The sea was calm, and looked innocent and beautiful. It was only a short while ago when it opened is mouth and swallowed the dog.

When we came home, tired and frustrated, we found a big envelope at the door addressed to the Colonel. There was no stamp and no return address. When I picked it up, I thought it was an announcement or advertisement, so I put it on the table to throw away later.

It was three in the afternoon. “We have an hour before the Commander arrives,” the Colonel said. He wanted to take a shower to refresh himself, and I went to lay down for a short rest.

When we got together, it was close to four. He dressed up in his uniform, putting on all his medals. He looked relaxed and ready. I wondered about this so-called inspection, but I was also anxious to see the Commander.

Time passed and neither of us talked. We waited to hear footsteps, a doorbell. But nothing happened. At about five o’clock, I dared to ask, “Are you sure he told you he was coming?”

He calmly replied, “Yes Sonny, today at four P.M.”

“In your dream,” I asked again.

“Yes Sonny, in my dream.”

We stayed in silence for another hour. The room was getting darker. “Maybe he has another appointment,” I said.

With complete confidence he replied, “No Sonny. Where is that envelope we found at the door?” I had completely forgotten about it. I brought him the letter, adding, “It looks like junk mail.”

He carefully opened the envelope and put on his reading glasses. He read carefully by himself. I could see his face was tense at first, but later a faint smile came and he relaxed. He was shaking his head with wonder. After he finished reading, he pulled out several pictures and looked at them carefully. He smiled, then put everything back in the envelope and handed it to me.

I went to the table, turned the light on and started reading. It was addressed to the Colonel, written in legible handwriting by the “General”. He explained the reason he didn’t come for the inspection at four was because he has never left the Colonel for his life. How about the dream last night? He said, he just lied. The pictures in the envelope show him that he was with him, here and there. The inspection went along fine, he suggests the Colonel should leave the others this endlessly futile task of improving this earth (1). Because individual well being depends on the harmonious relationship between one’s own perception of the world and others.  If one sees the world as a small coin, or a ruined caravansaray  which is not even worth a small coin. This person would be the odd one in a majority (2). Instead of looking for Truth among the people, they should return to God (3). Look inside, find the Divine Mysteries beyond humanity.

The Colonel was decorated in medals of Absence, from winning the war of “Self”. But he was also reminded that if one tooth outgrows the rest of the teeth in the mouth, the body becomes toothless (4).

The Colonel passed away in his sleep that night, with or without the help of medication. That we don’t know doesn’t surprise me. He took that letter as an order. The letter has been a problem for me ever since it was delivered to our door. Who delivered it? Not the post office, not any private carrier. The envelope had no sign or stamp, it seemed hand written and hand delivered.  But who was it? Who is the General? Didn’t he have a messenger?

I took the letter and pictures all over, and the reactions differed. The majority, among them universities and professors, thought I made it up and simply ignored. Most religious people considered it as heresy. Only a very few accepted it as Gospel without an Apostle.

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