View From The South
‘And when God dies, what heaven does He go to? Does He go to a special heaven higher up?’
‘We were made by God.’
‘And God what?’
‘Who made Him?’
‘Nobody made God. God made himself.’
‘But what about his back? How did God manage to make his back?’
When artists bestow immortality on what they create, even if it be only an earthly and mortal immortality, they challenge divine law. God suspects, and He’s absolutely right, that these people are trying to compete, and He doesn’t like that one bit.
Tola Invernizzi, who is in the trade, knows he probably won’t make it to paradise. But he hasn’t given up hope. He heard from a good source that heaven’s immigration laws changed recently. No more will Saint Peter raise his hand saying: ‘You have not been as good as you say.’ Instead, God’s gatekeeper will welcome any newcomer with a pat on the back: ‘You haven’t been as bad as you think.’
Tola says the new celestial policy came about because paradise is practically empty. A few souls, the most holy, could no longer in good conscience enjoy air conditioning knowing that others were roasting on the fire, and out of a sense of solidarity they renounced the kingdom of salvation and threw themselves into the abyss. Eternal boredom drove other not-so-holy souls to flee. They were sick of spending all eternity on the same cloud listening to the same cherub playing the same tune for solo harp. Still other souls succumbed to false advertising from hell which promised free drinks, free love and other perditions.
The business just didn’t pan out. After laboriously working their way from one abyss to the next until they reached the bottom of the deepest pit in the universe, tourists came back to the world exhausted, stinking of sulphur, and convinced the trip wasn’t worth the money or the effort.
They expected bats the size of airplanes, rivers on the boil, seven-headed dragons spewing flames of eternal fire, serpents hawking roasted apples, and sinners chained to red-hot grills. But there was nothing of the sort. The show was just one long queue.
The line-up contained people of all ages and historical periods, from cavemen to astronauts, and it snaked off into the distance and was lost from view amid the smoking precipices.
The tourists wondered out loud: ‘But what about hell? Where’s hell?’
And the attendants, decked out in red polyester, pointed to the line-up of souls condemned to wait forever.
Before saying mass he heard confession. In the Tojolobal language the Indians told their sins. Carlos Lenkersdorf translated as best he could, one confession after another, but he soon realized that no-one could decode such mysteries.
‘He says he abandoned his corn,’ Carlos translated. ‘He says the cornfield is very sad. Many days have passed since he last went.’
‘He says he mistreated the fire. He cursed the flames because they didn’t glow brightly.’
‘He says he profaned the path, that he cut it back when there was no need.’
‘He says he chopped down a tree and he didn’t tell it why.’
‘He says he hurt the ox.’
The priest didn’t know what to do with these sins that were not on Moses’s list.
Eduardo Galeano is one of Latin America’s foremost writers.
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