Monday, November 28, 2011

The Ambassador's Gift

The world can be sad, lonely and cruel. Was that the lesson that Avi Greenberg tried to teach us when he took his life on Saturday morning, Thanksgiving Weekend? Avi was a troubled soul. He was kind, honest and intelligent, but so very sad. You could see it in his eyes. Maybe it had something to do with his childhood: the foster family, the estrangement from the Orthodox Jewish community in which he was raised. He never told me, and now we'll never know. Beyond the sense of pain and loss I feel, I am also left wondering why. Why would a person who was so clearly loved by so many people do such a horrible, hopeless act? Maybe, in that last, desperate moment, he was so fixated on his own sorrow that he could not sense the love of his friends. I don't know. I don't have any answers. All I have is memories, a few photographs, and the story I am about to share with you tonight.

Avi sent me this story, entitled the Ambassador's Gift, last September. I was surprised that he came to me. He sent me the file, a story he had been working on, in an email with this message: "tell me what you think and if theres anything i should change or elaberate on. this is the first draft so i know about all the grammatical errors" I was busy with my third year of law school, so I saved the file to my desktop, and proceeded to ignore it. When I finally opened it up, I only gave it a cursory glance. After finishing the first page, reading with my critical editor's eye, all I could see were the imperfections: passive constructions, misspellings, simplistic characters. I dismissed it as the work of an amateur. I never emailed Avi back to tell him what I thought. But I was so selfish. I didn't even give it a chance. I didn't even finish this three page story.

 Over the past few days, as I reflected back on our relationship, I kept coming back to this story -- the fact that it was unfinished, both the story itself, and my reading of it. Tonight I finally opened it up, and realized what a clever little parable it is. It is not the most original piece of writing, but it has heart. It earnestly attempts to convey truth and meaning through irony. In some way, it feels like some sort of metaphor for Avi's life: imperfect, far too short, too-often neglected, but full of wisdom and promise. Though Avi is gone, his story lives on. I hope you will enjoy it.

The Ambassador's Gift 
A short story by Avi Greenberg 

He awoke in a small, single room, straw-thatch roofed, shack on a small wooden cot. He slowly come to with his eyes scanning the unfamiliar room trying to look for clues as to where he was and how he had gotten there. His head felt inflated and he had pain in his ribs and right leg that was in a splint. Within a few minutes of waking a small and thin black haired man in his mid thirties entered the room, when the dark haired man noticed that the injured man was awake he yelled outside to the field that their patient was awake and to come quick. The small black haired man walked to the injured mans cot and introduced himself as Peter son of John and asked him if he had remembered what happened. The wakening man at that moment realized not only did he not know what had happened but that he didn’t remember anything about himself not even his name and with a scratchy dry voice replied to Peter “No. Do you?”
In the ensuing few days the mystery man had gained enough strength and health to be able to walk around with the aid of a crutch. The man was introduced to Peters family, his wife Mary, his two children, Tommy, aged 10 and Jessica, aged 7, and Peters mother Elizabeth, all of whom lived in this small straw roofed shack that stood on the edge of a modest sized farm. Peter explained to him that his son, Tommy, discovered him, in the woods while collecting firewood, unconscious and badly injured, about a month back and that’s when they took him in to nurse him back to health. Although the man was still healing from his injuries, his memory still offered no hints as to whom he was or where he was from. After much discussion they had all come to the conclusion that he must have been apart of a caravan attacked by bandits while traveling on a nearby road notorious for its dangers. They figured he must have been injured and wandered some distance before losing consciousness. He inquired about going to the other nearby towns to see if there was anybody who knew who he was or if they had heard of an attack on any travelers and knew anything about who those travelers where or if their where others still alive that he might have been with, but Peter explained to him that it would be very unwise to go around asking too many questions in these lands because, in this kingdom, the king and his government was an oppressive one and that anybody that seemed suspicious would quickly disappear.
It was the first time the man heard about the tyrannical regime that the kind and gentle people whom saved his life feared so much. He soon learned that the very farm they where living on, as well as all the surrounding farms, were owned by the king and that they where made to work on the farm and turn over just about all of their crop as taxes, leaving barely anything for them to live on. They also explained that the men were often drafted into the military to fight wars of conquest so the king could further his riches and power. Many of the men who left to fight never returned, as was the case with Peter’s father many years before. The king’s knights were thugs, known to go from town to town, raping the women and stealing cattle from its inhabitants. None of this sat well with the poor amnesiac who couldn’t understand how God would let such kind people be treated so horribly. As the months went by and the seasons changed, the man was beginning to lose any hope of regaining knowledge of whom he was and began to be consumed with the idea of liberating the people who saved his life. Although he was still breathing, he was overcome with the idea that, without memories, ones spirit was dead because one is nothing more than the sum total of their memories. The thoughts of a dim soul, juxtaposed with the want to better the lives of the angels who had opened their home to save a stranger, got him thinking that the only reason God saved him was so that he may bring to these people a much deserved reprise. He figured he was god’s instrument for setting things right and just. He realized that there could be only one thing to do; become an assassin.
Peter had tried to deter him from what he had described as a fools revenge and that although things where hard, grace would bring salvation not vengeance, but the John Doe was convinced and determined to bring peace to the righteous and bring down this evil empire. Eventually, Peter gave in and told him that he would introduce him to his cousin, who was involved in an underground rebellion.
Peter’s cousin, Samuel, was a traveling businessman from a few towns over. Samuel was a much taller man then Peter and, if you weren’t told they were cousins, you wouldn’t ever think they were related. They were polar opposites. Where Peter was small, soft spoken and gentle, Samuel was a large, commanding presence, loud and outspoken. Where Peter was careful to chose his words Samuel always spoke his mind and was forceful with his opinions. In spite of Samuel’s belligerent disposition, the stranger quickly took a liking to him, as did many others, mainly because Samuel had a certain wit about him. After many meetings, Samuel felt the amnesiac was ready to meet some of the others involved in the resistance. The man, along with Samuel, had devised a plan to bring down the king. Samuel explained that the king had an affinity for Egyptian art work and that ambassadors often brought him gifts in this form and that this would be the best way to be granted an audience with the king. Upon presenting the gift to the king, the would-be assassin would lunge forward with a dagger to pierce the king’s heart. It was understood that this would be a suicide mission for the kings guards would surely kill him, but this was the reason he was perfect for this mission, he knew that he could no longer be a burden to his adopted family and felt that his body was still alive in order to return balance to the land. Samuel and the others in the resistance had been able to acquire a sarcophagus, made with gold and studded with jewels. They had felt that it would be an irresistible gift to the king and all but guarantee an audience with him. They also got a horse-drawn carriage, along with fine clothing so that the unknown man may pose as an ambassador from a somewhat distant kingdom called Faraland.
The resistance had arranged, with help from sympathizers from within the king’s court, for a meeting to present the gift, giving them the opportunity to plant the dagger.
As the carriage pulled into the castle’s walls, the man with no memories pulled the large hood on his garment over his head. When the wheels finally rolled to a stop, the man stepped out and walked into the throne room, while three of the others from the resistance, posing as the ambassador’s subordinates, carried the sarcophagus behind him. The king was atop his throne with a smug, condescending look on his face, surrounded by guards, noblemen, advisors, peasants, and many others, in attendance, to appease the kings every wish and desire. All of the help that surrounded the king had a faint look of fear on their face, hoping not to so much as inadvertently annoy the king for fear of retribution, many have gone to the gallows for what would seem as a most minor of an infraction. “Ambassador from the kingdom Faraland” was announced and the man with no memories stepped forward the gift. Under the man’s sleeves he clutched the dagger and with the other hand pulled down his hood. The king looked up and a smile formed on his face making the man believe the king was pleased with the gift, but the truth of the matter was that the king was not smiling because of the gift but before the king could muster a word the man leaped forward piercing the dagger into the kings chest. The king’s smile quickly faded as the look of shock overtook him, and with his last breath the king cries “my son! Your alive..”

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