Murder in the Cathedral

Salome - Wikipedia
Salome bearing John the Baptist’s head on a plate

 A temple priest in Odisha recently beheaded his gardener in order to rid the world of the Covid19 virus. News Agencies.                           

I am involved in a losing battle every time I firmly resolve not to write about the Coronavirus ever again. I have taken this vow about four times already, but something or the other happens that compels me to return to the dreaded subject. Just when I thought I was running on empty vis-à-vis the Covid19 topic, along comes this village temple priest from the remote heartlands of Orissa, or should I say, Odisha. This temple priest, who shared digs with the temple gardener, apparently had a visitation during his beauty sleep from the presiding temple deity. The deity appeared before the priest in the dead of night and declaimed, in that rather pompous way deities have, that the pestilential Coronavirus can be single-handedly eliminated, and that the responsibility for achieving this monumental task lay in the priest’s hands – quite literally. ‘You are the Chosen One,’ proclaimed the Almighty. The temple God went on to elaborate. ‘All you have to do is behead the gardener who is sleeping soundly by your side in your humble temple abode, and next thing you know it will be “Goodbye, Coronavirus.”’ The priest stood rigid with an indescribable fear and excitement. A human sacrifice was called for and it fell to him to carry out this unpleasant but necessary task, in order to save the world. It was God’s will. If a passing thought ever occurred to the priest that this dastardly act might be considered contrary to the laws of the land and that he himself could be in line for the guillotine, he swiftly brushed it aside in the confident knowledge that God was on his side.

Thus instructed, the priest awoke to the grim reality to recognise his role as the Grim Reaper who must accomplish his task with missionary zeal. Clearly, he has been sent to this earth to finish off this Covid19 virus, and if that means one gardener has to die, so be it. After all thousands are dying every single day, of the virus. He consoled himself by reflecting that the gardener will surely go to heaven for his supreme, if unknowing, sacrifice. Whether or not a phalanx of vestal virgins will welcome him in heaven was a moot point.

So saying, the priest fished out one of the gardener’s machetes or whatever it is that gardeners employ to hack down trees and the like, and proceeded to decapitate the poor garden tender’s head from his parent body. It is of little consolation to the gardener that he felt nothing. Or so we hope. His dreaded deed done, apparently on the Divine One’s orders, the priest ruefully but proudly reflected on the fact that he has made a seminal contribution to Man’s fight against the killer flu. One thing is certain though. He ensured that the temple gardener will never be infected with Covid19 ever again, there being no living host cell in the headless body to take in a guest virus. It is as well to acknowledge at this juncture that this man of God, having accomplished his somewhat bizarre ecclesiastical duty, proceeded straight to the nearest police station, presumably with the gardener’s decapitated head held by the hair in one hand, and the bloody machete in the other. Shades of Salome of Biblical fame, bearing John the Baptist’s head on a plate. A nasty shock, the cops at the station received. Two of the gendarmes fainted on the spot and the station chief thought he was having a stroke.

Naturally the priest, who had come to confess his crime with all the incontrovertible evidence suitably provided (a decapitated head with unseeing eyes should be good enough evidence for most cops), was not expecting a cosy reception. Nevertheless, the police inspector sat the priest down, divested him of the murder weapon and the severed head, offered him a cup of tea and proceeded to question him. You need to treat your temple priest with care and courtesy, lest the awful wrath of God pays a visit to the police station. The priest’s pre-emptive confession could not be taken at face value. Some other bandit could have done the deed, drugged the priest and made him behave in this strange manner. Improbable, but not impossible.

‘Tell me, Your Holiness’ began the inspector somewhat hesitantly, ‘what’s with the head and the deadly instrument? Was this some sort of revenge killing involving your gardener and some of the local goons? Perhaps the gardener chopped down a few trees from the local Dada’s land and made off with the valuable timber and sundry cash crop? And you’ve paid us a visit to tell us that you found his body separated from his head in your quarters? All very unpleasant, but I am glad you did not shirk your duty. Drink up your tea.’

The priest’s chest was heaving and he was breathing heavily and stertorously, and after taking a sip of the local chai, he calmed down and proceeded to speak. ‘Inspector, I am trying to tell you that this deed was done by me. No goon or brigand involved. But you are not paying attention and gabbing on about local goondas and revenge killings. Perish the thought. It was I and I am prepared to sign a confession, with blood if required, and I have plenty of that right here with me.’ He then proceeded to emit a macabre giggle at his own sense of irony, which made the inspector’s blood run cold.

The inspector, having swallowed his own saliva several times, was having some difficulty processing this information. ‘Quite, quite Your Reverence, I get the picture. Let’s take it from the top, shall we? What prompted you to do this? If indeed, you did it.’

‘Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve been saying, Inspector?’ wailed the irascible priest. ‘Read my lips. It was two in the morning. I was fast asleep despite the gardener’s snoring which could have woken up the dead. Anyhow, it certainly appeared to wake up the local deity, who stood right in front of my astonished eyes. I stood up in a flash and prostrated before the Godly vision.’

‘Then what happened?’ asked the visibly agitated police inspector.

‘I told you what happened. Don’t you pay attention to anything I say? Listen, Covid19 had to be slayed, en masse. And God chose me as His earthly instrument to carry out this task. A human sacrifice had to be made. One small gardener for Man, one giant leap for Mankind, capiche?’ cried the priest becoming a bit Neil Armstrongish and Don Corleoneish at the same time. To cap it all, he added, ‘I told God, “give me the tools and I will finish the job.”’ The priest knew his Churchill as well. Widely read man.

The inspector had had enough of this. He handcuffed the priest and directed him to spend the night in his lockup.

‘Oh, there’s one other thing,’ said the inspector to the priest, ‘where’s the body? We went to the crime scene and found the body conspicuous by its absence. One number head, right here with me. Check. Headless body couldn’t have upped and made a run for it. So where is it, my dear man of God?’ If the inspector had been aware of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, he would have readily identified with his predicament.

The priest just looked balefully at the inspector and smiled a beatific smile and replied somewhat enigmatically, ‘That I cannot reveal, I fear. My lips are sealed. The gardener’s body is now one with the elements.’

‘Meaning what, exactly?’ wailed the inspector.

The priest gave a broad grin, rubbed his stomach with great satisfaction, as one who has just enjoyed a fine repast and let out a huge belch. And promptly went to sleep. The inspector had to be rushed to the nearest hospital emergency.

Published by sureshsubrahmanyan

A long time advertising professional, now retired, and taken up writing as a hobby. Deeply interested in music of various genres, notably Carnatic and 60's and 70's pop/rock. An avid tennis and cricket fan. Voracious reader of British humour and satire. P.G. Wodehouse a perennial favourite.

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  1. Quite a departure from your usual pieces,Suresh.
    More Edgar Allen Poe than P G Wodehouse.
    But then, variety is the spice of life as one wag had it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A brilliantly plotted story ….flowing out from a factual incident……& well paralled with a biblical episode……bringing out the moot issue plaguing the human species since pre-historic times….occult cannibalism……
    ……through sharply carved lines.

    Liked by 1 person

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