Benjamin walked toward the podium to the applause of the crowd, one hand raised out of appreciation.
He paused for a moment, lifting the microphone to meet his stature, and calmly looked out until we quieted.
I was a boy then and recall my eagerness and anticipation for his words still today.
He began, “The Island of Fate was for a long time hidden from us. As you all now know, this is no longer the case. I was fortunate enough to partake in the expedition that led to its discovery and, subsequently, was the one to discover the body of the vulture and the scroll.”
Clearing his throat, he gave some details that bored me as a child. Details regarding the integrity of the paper, estimates of its age and antiquity, a hypothesis about the plants used as ink, and finally he began to talk about how he came to discover the enormous bird that they had found and of the scroll itself.
“With my pistol drawn I entered into a narrow passageway carved into the rock. I only discovered it because I went to tie my shoe and saw it behind the vines.”
He chuckled and continued, “At the end of the passage there was a circular room with seven stars engraved in the stone. There, in the center, was the corpse of the vulture lurched over and decayed on the floor. I almost shot it honestly. At a glance, the bird’s corpse looked like it was some sort of living horror, especially in the torchlight. As you surely know from the pictures, it is an oddly shaped specimen, massive, and cloaked in black feathers. Clutched in its talons was the scroll.”
We applauded then.
Graciously he raised his hand, “It is an absolute honor to read to you, today, the translation of the scroll.”
I recall the look in my mother’s eyes as she watched Benjamin, my father, deliver the speech. They were filled with the kind of light that only a love of immeasurable depth can begin to reflect. All of the years of him away had amounted to this moment.
We stopped applauding and he began to read,
“On this island of warring nations life and death battle one another. Every year each nation offers a warrior to the clearing. It is there that they fight.
One year, an elk was chased into the clearing by wolves at the time of war. There, it was slaughtered in front of the eyes of the two warriors.
Wolves are sacred to the tribe of death and elk are sacred to the tribe of life.
The warrior of death shouted, “Don’t you see, our god is stronger than your god! Death always wins. Give up your foolish ways and embrace us once and for all.”
The warrior of life shouted back, “Don’t you see – our god has given your god life in the sacrifice of itself. Lay down your weapons and honor us in gratitude”.
We are the judges of their contradiction.”
When he finished reading the translation, the hall was silent. I looked at my mother and recall the look of confusion on her face.
I too was confused and recall thinking, ‘All of those years away for that?’