The boy climbed the crest of the iron-hard ridge and looked back towards the town.
He stood there looking for a long time at the distant lights, and he whistled, shrill in the early evening, and his God came to him.
“I see they’ve thrown you out,” his God said.
“Yes,” said the boy bitterly, “they have. And where were You?”
“I?” God thought for a while. “I must have been sleeping,” He said at last. “Sorry about that. In any case, it wouldn’t have made any difference.”
“It wouldn’t?” The boy was astonished. “Why not?”
“I couldn’t have done anything to help you.”
“But, look here – You’re my God. You’re supposed to look out for me.”
“How d’you expect Me to look out for you against all the other Gods looking out for their people? How many people were in the mob that threw you out?”
“A thousand or more,” said the boy reluctantly.
“There you are then,” said God, sounding smug and defensive at the same time. “How do you expect Me to do anything against a thousand other Gods?”
“But they’re all part of Yourself, aren’t they?”
“Just a second.” God darted off, investigated a dead sparrow, and came back scribbling in a Golden Book. He put the Book away and said kindly, “Look, boy, I’ve warned you enough times about stealing, haven’t I? How long did you expect to be able to get away with it?”
“But You haven’t exactly made it possible for me to earn a living, have You? It’s either beg or steal, that’s all I can do. And because I’m young, nobody will give me alms.”
“We all must work according to our skills,” said God sententiously.
“Ah. And who gave me those skills? You, isn’t it?”
God looked uncomfortable. “In any case, the other thousand parts of Me had right on their side. Even if you’d had right on your side, how am I supposed to go against a thousand other parts of Myself? You just think of it.”
“But,” the boy spluttered, “look here. I wasn’t even guilty of the theft for which I was thrown out! I promise You, I was just walking along the street, and some fat woman had her chain snatched, and everyone started running, and then they caught me and beat me. And then they threw me out.” The boy paused, and added gloomily, “they didn’t find the chain either.”
“Naturally not, since you didn’t steal it.” God scratched the base of his tail with a hooked claw. “Anyway, it’s done, and you’re out here. No point crying over spilt milk, that’s what I always say. What do you want Me to do now?”
“What do I want You to do? Get me back into the city, of course. That’s the only place I know.”
“And then you’ll steal and they’ll throw you out again.” God hooked a large moth out of the air and began to eat it meditatively, sitting on His hind legs. “And we’ll be back here, inside of a week.”
“No, You also have to give me some skills to earn a living some other way.” The boy grabbed God’s floppy ear and began to twist. God winced and dropped what was left of the moth.
“You’re hurting Me!”
“Good.” The boy twisted some more. “I’ll keep hurting till You give me what I want.”
“Look,” God begged. “It doesn’t work that way. I can’t teach you new skills overnight.”
“Why not? You can do anything, can’t You?”
“Ouch! If I could teach Myself new skills, do you think I’d be sitting here getting my ear half torn off? Let go! OK, you win. Just let go!”
“Just as long as You remember,” said the boy, releasing God, “that You’re my God and You can’t get away from me, so if I’m not satisfied I’ll tear off Your ear next time.”
“All right, all right.” God rubbed His ear tenderly. “I can’t teach you new skills, but I’ll do My best to make you a better thief. Will that do?”
“If that’s all You can do.” The boy regarded God with disfavour. “You aren’t much of a God, are You?”
“You should speak to Me with respect,” said God. “I think I made you.”
“Respect doesn’t just come, it has to be earned,” the boy said. “You’ve done precious little to earn mine.”
“I will, I will. Just get back to the town and see.”
“How do I get back to the town? They threw me out.”
“Tomorrow is the Festival of St Coelho. Anyone with the Saint’s first name – your name is Paulo, isn’t it? – anyway, as I was saying, anyone with the Saint’s first name is eligible to crave pardon. Go to the Elders and do it, and I shall intercede with Myself to ensure you’re pardoned.”
“All right,” said the boy, sitting down and facing the lights of the city. “I’ll do that. Thanks.” God sat down beside him. For a while neither spoke.
“Isn’t it a lousy job, being a personal God?”
“Look at it this way. Would you want to be a personal God, or to be someone who’s represented on earth by priests and popes and pastors and mullahs who drag one’s name through the mud? If I had to endure a day of that any longer, I’d have turned atheist Myself.”
“And what does it feel like to have your ear twisted to make You grant a favour?”
“Not great,” God confessed. “Almost enough to make Me turn agnostic, it was.”
“Well,” said the boy, “it felt just fine to me.”
Copyright B Purkayastha 2008