The Rules of Leviticus.
We had an extended breakfast. His eyes crinkled with laughter watching me make a pig of myself and eating for two. My eyes jerked open, when Etian moved his legs. I’d been sitting on the side of his bed talking and forgotten what I’d been saying and fallen asleep.
They might not have been Strathclyde’s finest, but the two constables were in the heavy-weight category in term of size and breadth. They held rain-darkened caps in their large hands like school boys knocking off early.
‘We heard there’d been a disturbance.’ The raven-haired officer spoke with an unfamiliar twang. He glanced in my direction and angled his head to look at Etian lying in bed for signs of disturbance. ‘A possible breach of the peace.’
Although we both stared back at them, I was the only suspect sitting up.
His blond-haired colleague spoke with the same dialect. He moseyed into the room like a Highland cow and looked over my shoulder at the patient in the bed, and his face broke into a broad grin.
‘That’s Creeping Jesus,’ he told his colleague. ‘We didn’t ken what happened to him.’
My face showed the confusion I felt. ‘You know him?’
‘Aye, course we know him.’ The dark-haired officer put his cap down beside the water jug. ‘Everybody knows him as the sheep kens the wolf, as the lamb kens the crow.’
The blond officer slapped my shoulder in a consolatory manner, but perhaps with a firmer hand that he knew. ‘Don’t worry about him, he gets a tad overly philosophical after a long night.’
‘I do not,’ the black-haired officer replied.
‘You do. You know that’s what you do Callum MacDonald, but just won’t admit it.’ He shook his head and turned his attention to the patient in the bed.
‘How are you?’ his tone went up and down as if he’d stood on tiptoes and was addressing a child from a tall ladder.
‘I’m fine.’ Etian’s thin face creased with a smile, and his dark eyes sparkled with amusement. ‘How are you and Fraser?’
I wondered how much of the exchanges between guards and policemen over the years he’d understood. I didn’t know he’d grown into the language.
‘Och, you know us, the lowest of the low, we’re just plum duff.’
Callum cut in over his colleague, ‘But the girls are missing you.’
‘The girls?’ I hadn’t imagined Etian with a family.
He must have heard the shock in my voice and put me right. ‘I mean women of certain…that work around Blythswood Square for a living.’ A pale pink to a darker red blush spreading from his cheeks to forehead and neck.
‘Prostitutes,’ Fraser spoke bluntly, in an attempt to put his colleague out of his misery.
Callum blurted out, ‘Not all of them.’
The dark-haired policeman shook his head and rolled his eyes, but said no more.
I scratched at the back of my neck. ‘What exactly is their relationship with Etian?’
Fraser asked, ‘Who’s Etian?’
‘Etian’s the patient, the guy you called Creeping Jesus’. I looked over to see what he was making of it all, but he just smiled back at me.
‘Didn’t know that,’ said Callum.
‘Well, the girl’s relationships are complicated,’ said Fraser. ‘Because they don’t talk to policemen, generally. And wouldn’t tell us much, specifically.’
‘He’d performed some kind of miracle with one of the girls,’ said Callum.
‘What kind of miracle?’
‘They wouldn’t tell us.’
I glanced at Etian and asked him in our old tongue, ‘What kind of miracle did you perform on one of the young ladies?’
‘I listened to her story,’ Etian sat up a little straighter. ‘Really listened.
The two cops observed us with bemusement as we talked in a Ruritanian dialect.
‘But you can’t speak the language that well.’
‘That doesn’t matter.’ He tapped his chest, which brought about a bout of coughing. ‘The listening is done with the heart and soul. You know that, you too have learned to listen, although sometimes you forget, because of your tendency to talk too much’
I choked on what I was going to say. ‘So what was their miracle?’
‘No miracle,’ said Etian. His thumb and forefinger came together to show how slight the miracle was. ‘She might have just been a bit dead.’
‘Dead?’ Etian, my friend, you know. You are either dead or you are not. We are not like the Goy that believe the dead come back to life and go traipsing about the place, sight-seeing, before resting again in eternal slumber in an upmarket address called heaven—and calling on all their followers to exterminate us, or risk eternal damnation.’
‘That’s true,’ he replied. ‘But you yourself stepped out from a cartload of bodies, and there were many, many more like us. Even in the gas chambers, under all those piles of bodies, one or two, the very few, would still have a feeble pulse— extinguished by a shot to the back of the head from a guard—true. It’s just a matter of numbers. When very large numbers come together, very large things happen. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.’
‘But I was alive when I stepped out of the cart. You know that.’
‘Technically, you were not.’
‘That is also true,’ I conceded the point. ‘What will I say to your two friends here?’
Etian spoke to them in English. ‘My friend here was wondering what I should tell you? He thinks you are going to arrest him?’
‘Arrest him?’ Fraser sounded baffled and he shrugged.
‘What’s he done? Callum’s large shoulders heaved as he sniggered.
I tried to regain some composure by addressing them directly. ‘Perhaps I could have a word with you outside?’
This seemed to amuse them too, but they turned and I followed them outside the dying room. In the far away beds a consultant and a gaggle of junior doctors in white coats were winding their way through the room. We talked in a huddle at the door. ‘It’s like this I’ve known the man you call Creeping Jesus a very long time. He saved my life many times.’
They both nodded together as if they’d expected nothing less.
‘But now for the first time I find I can help him. You see he has a very simple belief, he will not eat unless he can share what he’s eaten.’
‘No harm in that,’ said the blond cop.
‘Is that a religious thing?’ Callum asked. ‘Because we meet all types.’ And the way he glowed showed that he wasn’t impressed by those types he had met.
‘It is and it isn’t. We’re Jewish. His grandfather was a Rabbi. So he grew up believing there were certain foods he could and could not eat, and dishes that should not be mixed.’
‘Sure, we ken that,’ said Callum. ‘Like not eating meat and instead eating fish on a Friday.’
I latched onto that explanation. ‘Easy is one thing. Good is another. Where we came from, for example, to fill their quota many villages took many Jewish boys and conscripted them to their army. To test their loyalty they fed them only pork, which was cheap and easily available meat. But to Jewish boys like his father was this was non-kosher.’
Callum chewed on this bottom lip. ‘That wouldn’t be good.’ He held his hand up in greeting to the consultant as he came within a few beds.
‘You’ve probably guessed the rest. They’d tie up Jewish boys like Etian’s father and force their mouth open and feed them rancid pork. They’d beat them until they ate it. And if they spewed up they’d make them eat that too. It worked for many, but not all.’
Fraser squinted and looked into the past as if collecting evidence. ‘What happened to them?’
‘Etain’s father died toothless and broken, but he died in sanctity. For others a good Jew was a dead Jew. The Nazis were not the first to treat this as a public virtue.’ The consultant and his group of students were coming closer. ‘What I’m trying to say is Etian is like his father, but what for him is kosher is not in what is eaten, but in the sharing. You’d need to break his teeth too and force food down his throat, unless, you too are willing to share what he eats.’
‘What do you mean?’ Callum asked. ‘If I have two rolls in sausage, he’ll only eat if I give him one?’
I held my hand up. ‘Yes, exactly, but if you have no rolls in sausage he’ll share his with you. And if neither of you have any rolls in sausage, he’ll starve rather than not share. And that’s what’s happened here, with hospital food. They’ve let a mass of food, but nobody will take time to share it with him…’
‘So he starved?’ muttered Fraser. ‘In the land of plenty?’
‘Exactly,’ I said.
‘Donald MacDonald,’ Fraser leaned over and spoke loudly to the nearby consultant as his group passed. ‘I’d like a little word with you, if you please.’
The consultant had a quiff of brown wavy hair. I could see the way he held himself he was a strong little man, used to leading. But there was an amused glint in his eyes. ‘Fraser McCulloch I’d be more than delighted to speak to you, if you could just give me a wee minute to finish the hospital rounds in my hospital, in my ward—would that be acceptable?’
‘How is your good mother keeping, anyway?’
‘Och, she’s fine. She’ll probably outlive us all.’