Jesus had been hanging around on the cross for three long days. Frankly, he was getting rather tired of it. His arms hurt from all that stretching, the strain was tearing them from their sockets, and he had bloody great holes in his hands. As for what all this exposure to the elements was doing to his once smooth, unblemished skin — well, he just wished that the guards would dab some moisturiser on him now and then. He might be redeeming the world from its sins, but that was no reason not to look his best.
The miscreants on the other crosses — who unlike him hadn’t claimed to be the Messiah, but were there for relatively minor offences such as molesting sheep, taking the Lord’s name in vain, stealing car stereos and impaling Roman soldiers on their own gleaming spears — had come and gone so many times that he had lost count of how many agonising deaths he’d already witnessed. The latest batch, however, were all merchant bankers, which pleased him no end. Yeah, he thought, I always said you guys would be first for crucifixion when the revolution came. He smiled when he thought of how his dad would soon be sending bolts of lightning to smite them. Pow, pow, pow. And sizzle. Fried financier, burnt to a crisp. Delicious. Any day now, any day now it would happen — a few thousand volts aimed at their hearts, with another rather gentler crack of the white heat of electricity to tear through his shackles and free him from this cruel and unusual torture.
“Did you say something?” Jesus asked one of the bankers sharply. They had been mumbling amongst themselves in their loud-mouthed, wide boy tones for hours, and it was beginning to drive him righteously nuts.
“No, no. You’re okay, pal. We were just chatting through stock options on tombs in Gethsemane,” said one, quick to try and reassure the maybe Messiah.
“No, we weren’t, Steve,” butted in an incongruous Londoner, who had moved out to Jerusalem to make his fortune selling tourist knick-knacks in the temples. “Why are you skirting round the facts? We’re all blokes here. He’s not some flippin’ pansy, is he? He can take it. Listen, J — is it okay if I call you J? I’m not really a believer, you see — listen, right? It’s just that you’re beginning to Jimmy Cliff a bit …”
“Whiff. Jimmy Cliff, whiff. Get it? Smell, me old mate. You’re beginning to smell. Do you have any roll-on deodorant? Even a moist scented towelette would help. When did you last take a shower?”
“Not recently. With the arrest, the show trial, and now three days up here with everyone shouting insults at me, cleanliness hasn’t been uppermost in my mind. I’m sure you know how it is. One of the guards has taken pity on me — he says I’ve got kind eyes and I apparently look like someone called Robert Powell — so he keeps coming up and thrusting that wet sponge into the open wound in my side, or using it to moisten my parched lips, but that hardly counts.”
“Wait, are you serious? Three days? You’ve been here for three fucking days? Jesus! Pardon my French. I mean, Christ almighty — ”
“Thank you. But there’s really no need. We are all equal here, under the Lord our God. My dad. The big G. Bless them, Father, for they know not whose body odour they criticise.”
“Right. So is there any chance of this doting daddy of yours sending, like, a torrential shower of holy water to clean you up a bit? I don’t want my last dying thought to be about the horrible stench that comes from your loincloth and assaults my senses when the breeze happens to blow in my direction.”
“I have greater concerns than the mere biological failings of one’s bowels when tortured and tormented by vicious acts of brutality,” replied Jesus, solemnly. He could feel his halo beginning to burn into his scalp, which was always a problem when he was feeling particularly saintly. “Our God — your God — is saving the world from the sordid depths of its unspeakable sin, decadence and abomination by sacrificing me on this cross. My time here is almost at an end, so why should I heed the trivial niceties of earthly ablutions? My soul shall be truly cleansed and made as new when I ascend to heaven to sit at the Lord’s right hand; when my father maketh mine enemies into a footstool.”
Jesus couldn’t help but pointedly direct that remark at his Cockney interrogator. He scowled, as much as his piercing blue eyes would allow him. You’ll get yours, he thought. You’ll bloody well get yours. I’ll make sure I don’t wash my feet for a week. Those unhygienic sandals gave me quite the worst fungal infection.
It was at times like this that Jesus wondered about his father’s suitability for the role of Chief Executive and supreme creator of Heaven and Earth. He had been running the show for such a long time that when the whole thing started going all Sodom and Gomorrah, it had plunged the old man into a deep, dark depression. He had even taken to drinking, and Jesus had spent more nights than he cared to think about listening to God bemoaning the state of the world whilst swigging neat gin: mother’s ruin, if only he’d had a mother. Apparently, according to the Lord, that apple business had upset the whole apple cart; free will had been his biggest mistake ever, and next time he’d be a heartless dictator and make the bastards worship him, no questions asked.
After seeking therapy following the unfortunate flood incident — one night, overtaken by a drunken rage, he had impulsively decided to get shot of the whole damn lot — God had slowly reconciled himself to his mistakes. His angelic psychotherapist had helped him come up with a ten-point plan for putting the world to rights, and putting his one and only son on a wooden cross to have insults thrown at him by non-believers was the penultimate step in this grand scheme. Yet Jesus was still unconvinced, just as he had been when his father first told him about the idea: go down to Earth, do a few miracles to create some publicity, sign up a few eager believers, start the process of getting people to mend their ways, absolve the sins of the feckless wastrels by dying for them, then finally get resurrected and ascend back to heaven a few days later once he’d had all the necessary travel jabs. God’s words echoed round his tormented mind: “Thirty-three years. Blink of an eye. You’ll barely notice it, son”.
To Jesus, however, it had been an age and a half. He had soon realised that these people didn’t want his help; they didn’t want to be saved, and had made that much abundantly clear. He was doing this death thing grudgingly, to say the least. When Satan had shown him what he could have if he came over to the dark side, he had secretly been sorely tempted. He had been even more tempted — and decidedly sore — by the lustful curves of Mary Magdalene, too. But crucifixion called, and Jesus was just too damned disciplined to say no.
It was time, high time, to get the hell — if his dad would pardon the phrase — out of this place. Time to see the storm clouds come rolling in and watch the skies go as black as night. Time for the Roman centurions to fall to their knees and recognise that, yes, he really was the son of God. Time to put on an apocalypse to end all apocalypses. Time for him to summon up the last reserves of his dwindling strength, take a gasp of stale air into his failing lungs, and shout out the agreed secret code phrase at the top of his weary, cracked voice.
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
There was no answer. Not a sound. Jesus scanned the heavens, desperately and fervently looking for a sign. Anything. Even the comedy celestial right hand would do: emerging from between the clouds to point at him like he was the lucky winner in some lottery advertising campaign, followed by his father’s booming voice intoning that this was his beloved son, with whom he was well pleased. Even that. Couldn’t he just have that? He wasn’t asking for much. Not really. Just some sort of acknowledgement that his miserable existence on Earth hadn’t been a complete waste of time.
But there was nothing. Nothing.
Jesus choked, straining for each individual breath. He was wracked and bleeding, giving up the ghost. This was it. This was the end. Thank you, world, I hope you’re grateful. Thank you very bloody much. It’s been a pleasure. A real stinking pleasure. Honestly, I don’t know why we bothered, dad. I really don’t. Let ‘em have it, let the bastards have it.
The son of God had only one final thought. One final thought to wrench from his broken body and his defeated spirit before death took him in its cold clutches. He looked downwards, fixing his eyes on the Roman soldier scrabbling in the dirt, wailing, begging and grovelling for forgiveness and mercy. This pitiful specimen would be the historic recipient of Jesus’ very last utterance on the situation.