paul solomon

Posted on May 7, 2013

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Paul Solomon was a fascinating character. He was a New Age mystic type – with plenty to say about Atlantis and the Second Coming – but he was also a humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize nominee who died from injuries he received while trying to rescue a child from slavery in Thailand. Something more than your average kook, then.

He also had an awesome beard like a classic sci-fi writer.

This story continues my fixation on messiah figures. In this case, I was looking more at the practical challenges a potential saviour would face in the 21st Century. Rather than a story about a well-known religious organisation assassinating female messiahs, that is.

Saviour

From inside, life can feel like a circle. Each day you wake up, go to work, have lunch, more work, home and sleep. Repeat. The weekends come with the regularity of hours, ringing out and quickly fading away to nothing. Circles within circles, going round and around again, events recurring until that one big stop.

It’s the ending that gives it away. The days don’t move in circles. Life is a spiral. Sometimes a very tight spiral, twisting so closely back on itself that you can’t tell that the path has altered. But it’s always moving towards something, whether up or down. It has direction, momentum. That is something to take comfort in. Or perhaps it is cause to be afraid.

These were the thoughts that occupied John Davidson as he stared into his tuna sandwich. It was a thought that gave him hope, but he wasn’t sure that he was entirely convinced by it. His days seemed drawn into the tightest of twists, so that any alterations were, as the drift of continents, eternally imperceptible.

John decided to eat his sandwich, rather than just looking at it. Lunch was almost over. In short order he was finished and walking back to the office.

A tramp sitting on a park bench looked up as he passed. He held out a hand.

“Spare some change?”

John was hardly wealthy, but he did not hesitate in reaching into his pocket and dropping a handful of change into the man’s open palm without stopping to check how much it was. His friends always mocked him for it, but John could not bring himself to pass a person in need. If crack or drink was what they needed, let that be what they spent it on. It was the same reason that he volunteered at the shelter. He hated to see people suffering.

“Thank you, John,” said the homeless man as he hurried on by.

It wasn’t until he was halfway up the stairs of his building that he thought to wonder how the man had known his name.

John worked in a call centre for a large telecommunications company. It wasn’t his dream job. He wanted to help people, but had never quite got his head around how to do that. Work for a charity? That didn’t seem quite right. And he could only volunteer so much if he wanted to make his rent.

He tried to help the people who phoned in, but it was hard. He sometimes suspected that most people only called so they could shout at someone. This depressed John, who felt that the world would be a much better place if people did not engage in this kind of behaviour. But he always smiled and did his best, because what was the alternative?

The day dragged, which was not unusual. In the occasional, brief lulls he would try to sense those changes he promised himself, to compare today with the last and the one before that. He strained with his mind’s eye, but it felt like an impossible task.

The phone rang again. It was easy to forget that the shrieks in the earpiece were anything more than ghosts haunting the line.

“A problem with your bill, madam? Let me just get that up on the screen and we’ll see what we can do. Thank you for your patience.”

The weekend came and went, and although it was busy, if anyone had asked John what he had been up to on Monday, he would have struggled to answer; luckily, no one did

The homeless man was in the park again, closer to John’s usual seat this time. He reminded himself not to think of him as ‘the tramp’. It was an unkind word, sticky with supposition.

After he had eaten, he deliberately passed by the homeless man, who looked up without surprise at finding John stood before him.

“I don’t have any change today,” he told the man. “I brought a packed lunch; trying to save money. But I have a satsuma.”

“That’s ok, John. I don’t expect material riches from you.”

“I’m sorry, but how is it that you know my name?”

“It’s obvious.”

“I’m not sure it is.”

“My name is Paul. Now we’re even.” He stuck out a hand; it looked a bit grimy, but John thought it would be rude to refuse the gesture. He shook it. Paul’s hand was pleasantly warm and calloused, his grip firm.

John looked more closely at the man. Contrary to what one might tend to expect, Paul was a healthy looking fellow, unkempt, but more browned by his outdoor lifestyle than caked in dirt. He was well built with no sign of emaciation; with his white hair and beard he could have been anywhere from 50 to a well-preserved 70. Give him a bath, a haircut and some tweed and he would have looked right at home sat behind the desk in the office of a university don.

“It’s nice to meet you, Paul,” he said, giving up on getting a straight answer. The man had probably overheard his name mention when leaving the office. It is easy to ignore members of society’s underclasses when you are otherwise occupied. “Do you have a place to stay?” he said, thinking that fall would soon be setting in. Realising that this could conceivably be taken the wrong way, he hurriedly added: “I know a few good shelters nearby. Nice people who would give you food and a place to sleep.”

He was so surprised by the laugh he received that he was sure he came close to falling over. Paul’s laughter was loud and hearty. “The world is my shelter. I chose it for my home almost two decades ago, and need no other.”

John smiled nervously, making a show of checking his watch. “Well, I really ought to get back to work, Paul. You take care of yourself.”

As he walked away, he heard the strange man call to him. “You are a good man, John Peniel. Never forget that.”

John Davidson wondered where the man had picked up that peculiar surname.

The pair fell into a routine that, on days when he was not feeling so strange about the situation, John would have described as a friendship. Certainly he felt more at ease with the charismatic eccentric than with the majority of his colleagues, who all seemed to be caught in the same life trap as himself, and whose company tended to only remind him of the parts of his existence that particularly troubled him. Paul had none of that sense of slow decay about him; indeed, from what he said about himself he had chosen his own way of life freely. His words were frequently bizarre, but they always carried with them an irresistible ring of truth.

“They all think me dead,” he said one afternoon. “It’s for the best. I went on the run from the Bavarians after I foiled them at Alexandria. For a while I walked the drowned boulevards of Atlantis, but had to return to continue my preparations.” John started writing down the things he remembered, spending his evenings sat at home with the TV off, reading over them as if they were not the ravings of a homeless madman but riddles waiting to be solved.

Sometimes Paul would wait for him after work and escort him to the train station like an attentive lover. His conversation flowed freely between the everyday to the esoteric, the conversation moving so smoothly from the weather to the ‘God Consciousness’ and the ‘Vibration of the Master’ that any inattention on the John’s part could result in a minute or two passing without him realising that the talk had taken a step into the beyond.

John wondered what it was that drew Paul to him. He considered that the man might be in love with him in some peculiar way (“There is no law in God’s book anywhere that suggests that you can’t love any other person living in the world”), but if so it was not a physical love; he evinced no desire to reach out, to touch and be touched (“Love is not that expressed through the physical body, and does not require expressions”). That did not seem quite right, anyway. It was closer to a sense of being admired, as if it was John’s own words that were strange and profound; a thing that Paul treasured.

You are a good man, John Peniel.

And it wasn’t even as if John said very much. John was not one given to prying, or wordiness in general. Still, after a long week at work, he found himself asking the question that had puzzled him for a month.

“Why do you follow me about, Paul? Not that I mind, of course.”

The man’s eyes crinkled in amusement.

“Isn’t it obvious? In Atlantis they harnessed the power of the living mind, but in you there is something even greater.”

“What’s in me? What do you think makes me different from anyone else?”

“They call me Solomon. Search for my name. Don’t believe the lies, but reach beyond them for the truth.”

He shuffled away into the encroaching dusk; John watched him leave, feet unable to follow, tongue unable to speak its questions. He felt very ordinary and very powerless.

“You’re crazy. Get the hell away from me.”

He had done as Paul had suggests. The face staring back through the internet had been very familiar. A self-proclaimed prophet, a mystic with some very strange, new age beliefs. The man was insane if even a fraction of the things he was said to believe in were true. Especially that one thing.

“You are afraid. There is no madness here. Only hard truths.”

“I’m not your Jesus, you lunatic. I’m just a guy. I’m just struggling through this world the same as everyone else.”

“You are not Jesus. I am not William Dove. We are both more than we were.”

“Stay away from me. I can’t help you. I can’t even help myself.”

Paul was still there every day. He didn’t speak to John, didn’t approach him, but he was in the background of his daily life like a figure hidden in a painting. John thought about calling the police, but what would he say? What would they do? He knew from experience that the cops had no real interest in the homeless – even though he had ceased to really think of Paul as such. And deep down, there was a part of him that was comforted by the man, as if he were proof that there was at least the idea of another way, a world without human cruelty and angry callers.

John was alone more than ever. He had thought he might slide back into his old routine – had even tried to make himself do it, as if he could force a natural regression – but he did not. He had a lot of time to think now – in between his evening shifts at the shelter.

He didn’t start to believe what Paul had implied; he was a Davidson, not a Peniel. But, in the quiet hours when the sun had sunk below the rooftops of the city, he did allow himself to wonder what it would be like. What it would mean, if it were true. Which of course it was not.

John was an agnostic who on bad days worried that his uncertain belief in a higher power was merely born out of a sense of loneliness, a need to feel that there was some explanation for the way things were and a hope that they might not always be so. Either way, he could see that being a messiah in the modern world would be a hard thing. People had been far more superstitious in the days of Christ, far more willing to accept the strange and inexplicable. Nowadays, even the most religious seemed to accept only what was convenient for them. People took comfort from the status quo, and would not welcome a saviour who was there to change things. And saving this world would require some drastic changes, that was obvious.

Prejudice, greed, a money-based economy – how many would be willing to let these things go? They had not done so for Jesus, and two thousand years had entrenched these anti-values deeper. A messiah would be strung up in an instant, or more likely ignored and forgotten. John pictured a nondescript man in a nondescript suit in an alleyway, replacing a gun in his pocket as he stepped over the corpse of God.

A real life messiah, who really had mankind’s interests at heart, would be a fine thing. But he couldn’t see it happening, couldn’t see the rules of the game changing so drastically as to leave room for a saviour.

He missed Paul’s conversation. It suddenly seemed a precious thing that someone out there believed that there was a better alternative and a hero who could give it to them. That John could be that person was crazy and frightening. But it was also flattering that Paul thought he saw it in him, even if he was hopelessly mistaken.

The heavy, wet sound of foot meeting flesh was unmistakable. John, walking home from a shift at the shelter, paused at the alley’s entrance, squinting into the darkness between the tenements. There were bodies scuffling there, no more than blurs in the dim light. He stepped into the shadows, the image that emerged almost identical to the one he had imagined.

There were three figures looming over a huddled fourth. The three were men that you would have walked past on the street without noticing. One launched a running kick at the bundle, which cringed hopelessly away. Another of those sounds that had no place in a civilised world. This isn’t that world, thought John as he stepped forward. This is a world where monsters hide behind the faces of men.

He had spent a lot of time thinking about saviours and better worlds. That step was his own minor movement towards that place.

“Hey,” he said loudly, before he could stop to really consider what he was doing. “What the hell is wrong with you? Stop that.”

Three heads snapped around in unison.

“The fuck?” said one of the two who had been watching the display. “Who’s this joker?”

They started to move towards him. Their forgotten prey began scrabbling into the deeper darkness.

Can’t run yet. John swallowed at the massive lump growing in his throat. He stepped backwards. Behind him, light and safety felt very far off, and his new friends very near. His eyes were filled with the fleeing figure. Too slow.

The first of the three reached him. He blocked the opening punch inexpertly, trying to swing around to keep all of his assailants in view. Something collided with the side of his head and he went down. He must have blacked out for a moment, because the next thing he knew he was lying on the floor and those awful noises where now coming from inside him, quivering up through his bones on waves of pain. Behind the tall shadows that ringed him, he saw a concerned face sinking into the night. A thin note of relief carried him off into a place where even the pain could not reach.

Broken images flickered in the darkness – faces and open skies – but his mind refused to make sense of their staccato beat. He floated in the lower depths of consciousness, where dreams do not live. Later he would only remember feeling lonely but safe. Time had no meaning there, but later he slipped into regular dreams where he crossed the world looking for the solution to a problem that demanded definite and decisive actions, but would slip through his fingers when he tried to think exactly what it was.

The dream drifted and fell apart in icy chunks, and he awoke to find himself in a bed. For a moment he was unsure of where he was. He moved to look about him and the pain that flared up and down his body offered an unpleasant clue as to what had happened. He let himself relax back into the pillows, an action which was just as agonising in reverse.

“You’re awake,” said a familiar voice. “I was a little bit worried, I confess.”

John turned carefully to see Paul sat in a chair by the window. It was dark outside.

“Surely not,” he said. Words came slowly to his dry lips. “The messiah can’t die in an alleyway brawl.”

Paul smiled, but said nothing.

“How did you get in here?”

“I walked.”

Even rolling his eyes hurt a little.

Paul helped him to swallow some water, after which John felt that he was taking the first step on the path to feeling fully human again. From here the road looked long.

“You’ve been asleep for three days. No permanent damage done, I don’t think. You were lucky.” He met John’s eye. “Relatively speaking.”

He seemed smaller somehow, as if the fires of revelation had gone out in him. For a second John thought he would give anything to hear his friend talk about the Source or the Hall of Records. Anything to put the light back in his eyes.

“You must be disappointed. A saviour who can’t stop three thugs isn’t very impressive. You’ll have to start looking for a new one.” He tried to smile, but it felt false and awkward on his face.

Paul looked up, but what he saw in his eyes was not defeat. “Did you think that saving the world would be easy? If it was, I would do it myself. But it takes the rarest person to carry the world on his shoulders.” He grinned. “And besides, you did stop them. The man they were attacking found a cop. They got to you before things got more serious.”

“The police finally do something right.”

“They’re people too, at the end of the day.”

John paused. “So you still think I’m your saviour?”

Paul took his hand. “More than ever, if that’s possible.” He paused. “Listen to me, John Peniel. Forget Atlantis and the antichrist and Inner Light Consciousness for a moment. You don’t need those things. You see, a messiah doesn’t have to be some sort of mystical hero from heaven. Just a person who will make a difference. I think you can make that difference. Do you think you’re up to it?”

John looked at Paul Solomon, but did not really see him. He saw the world laid out before him, covered with the darkness of evil and thoughtless cruelty. It wrapped the Earth in shadow that choked millions of lives. But also he saw goodness there, pinpoints of light than shone more brightly thanks to the dark. It seemed that he could feel their warmth on his face, like embers in a burnt out fire that might go out at any second. Maybe they don’t have to.

He met Paul’s eye. Seeing something in him, a grin of triumph woke slowly on his face. He saw something there that gave him hope. John drew in a long breath.

“I don’t know if I believe you,” he said. “But I think I’m willing to give it a go.”

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