Love Letters to Earth

by Henry Quicke







The Town Fool


The Bhanari people believe that God lives among them in human form.  Unfortunately for God, they don’t have much respect for Him.

God is kicked, beaten, spanked, punched, spit on, laughed at, and wrestled to the ground, much like an annoying younger brother.  There are perks to being God, too: You are served the best food, You sleep in the best hut with whomever You choose, and You have elaborate ceremonies performed in Your honor.

The Bhanari believe their god was once a great god among gods.  Then something happened.  Either He let the praise of the other gods go to His head and got sloppy, or He went crazy, just as people sometimes do, and no longer could keep the earth in proper operating order.

Most Bhanari believe the latter theory.  “Just look around you,” they say.  “One day the world is calm and bright and the next a terrible storm comes up and threatens to blow us into the sky.  One year there is plenty of water for our crops, and the next there is no water at all and many of our people are forced to eat bugs or starve.  One day the world seems like a beautiful place, full of joy and song, and the next it seems like a revolting error that we’re even here.  Only a crazy god could manage such a world.”

The Bhanari think that their god, because of His insanity, was banished from the realm of the gods and forced to live within His own creation.  But if the gods thought of this as a remedy, it didn’t work. While the other gods are off keeping other worlds running smoothly, and also creating new ones, almost any of which would be a more hospitable place to live in than this one, the Bhanari god is as crazy as ever.

They try to keep their God in a sane mood, which is why they feed Him and bathe Him and do everything in their power to satisfy Him.  Nothing works for long.

“Can you imagine creating a place where people get sick and die?” one of God’s bathers asked me.  “It’s as if He is a disturbed child who destroys His toys when He’s done playing with them.”

They know it’s a bad idea in principle to slap God when He misbehaves--that sometimes makes matters worse--but how can they help themselves when He screws things up so badly?

“Last year,” one man told me, “my wife had her first child, but it died three days later.  Can you imagine a god who would create a new life and then kill it off in three days?”

“What did you do?” I asked him.

“I marched into God’s hut and I beat Him until my fists bled.  His cooks had to pull me away.  I believe it did some good.  Last month, my wife had a baby girl and both are happy and healthy.”

How do the Bhanari know who is God among them?  He is always the craziest, the one who does the most foolish things and gets into the most trouble.  The Bhanari god is just as likely to take a male as a female form, but no matter which gender, the Bhanari god is known to drink too much, to play tricks on people, to behave erratically and indecently in public, and, in general, to disregard all standards of civility and common sense.  He’s the town fool.

When God dies, it is because He is so foolish that He can’t take care of His own body.  Of course, with a god, that doesn’t matter; He simply possesses another body.  Often, He will try to hide in the least suspicious body, knowing that when He is discovered He will be whipped for the confusion He created by His death.  In God’s previous incarnation, She was a very fat woman Who liked to eat lemur tails and Whose breath was like an evil wind.  When that body died three years ago, God successfully hid in the body of a small, thin, and seemingly modest man for two months before He was discovered.  He was walking through the village one day, on His way to trade for some fruit to relieve His constipation, when a woman heard Him belch.  No one had ever heard this small, modest man belch before, and the woman was startled, until she realized that the man’s body had been possessed by God.

“It’s Him!” she shouted, and she followed after Him, yelling and pointing Him out, so that very soon the entire village knew His true identity.  He denied it, of course, but He always does.  After a sound thrashing, He was restored to His luxury hut and given all the cathartic fruit He wanted.

It’s not often one has the opportunity to talk face to face with God, and I couldn’t pass it up.  I asked God’s seamstress if I could have a talk with Him, and found access to Him surprisingly easy.

“Try not to upset Him,” she said.  “But don’t let Him misbehave, either.”

I was led into the biggest hut in the village.  There were two large rooms, one a break room for His attendants and the other for God Himself.  I approached Him with slow steps.  He was indeed a small man, dwarfed by the huge, throne-like wooden chair He sat in.  He had small, mousy eyes and straight dark hair.  Two female attendants were rubbing oils onto His pale, bony chest.  A third stood at the ready with a drink in one hand.  One of His bathers was in the somewhat complicated process of bathing each toe on His left foot.  I introduced myself.

“Please pull up a mat,” He said.  I did so, and sat at God’s feet, next to His foot-bather.

“You’re a foreigner,” He said.  “Does this seem like nonsense to you?”

“I’m not here to judge,” I said.  “I’m an observer.”

“It seems like nonsense to me,” He said.  “I was completely ignored by everyone else in the village, even My wife, and then some stupid woman claimed she heard Me belch.  Now look at Me.  I’m a simple man, and I don’t like this kind of attention.  I don’t like the beating I take, either.  I’ve got bruises all over my back from some woman who came in yesterday, claiming I made her husband cheat on her.”

“You don’t believe you’re God?” I asked.

“I don’t believe in God,” He said.

One of His attendants stopped applying oil and pointed a finger in His face.  “Don’t say foolish things,” she said.  “You know where that will get You.”

He ignored her.  “I’m not even a Bhanari.  I came here from the city looking to get away from the congestion.  Now I can’t leave.  They’re right that the world is a crazy place,” He said.  “But it’s not My fault.  I just live here.”

“He may even believe that,” the foot-bather said, turning to me.  “He’s that crazy.  But that’s no excuse.  He’s the cause of the world’s problems, so He has to be taught a lesson when He screws things up.”

“There’s beauty in the world, too,” I said, “so shouldn’t He get some credit for that?”

“What do you call bathing His feet?”

“I sleep with Him,” said one of the women oiling Him.  “And He’s not even a good lover.  That’s my sacrifice to the world.”

“There are perks,” said God.  “But given the choice, I’d much prefer a quiet life.  I’d even go back to the city if they’d let Me.”

Just then a man burst into the hut.  His eyes were wide with fury, and he stomped up to God.

“You idiot!” he shouted.  “I asked You to keep the pests away from my garden and look what You’ve done.”  He held up half a yam with insects crawling all over it.  Then he began to beat God with it, shouting, “Stupid, stupid imbecile!  Can’t You do one thing right?!  Idiot!” and so on.

I slipped out, leaving God’s attendants to keep the angry man from injuring God too badly.

The foot-bather came up behind me.

“Of course we know that the world is a beautiful place,” he said.  “Every day I walk through the woods and smell the trees and flowers, and I look up at the sky and marvel at the warmth of the sun and the endless varieties of clouds.  I pick up a clump of dirt and marvel at the variety of little creatures there.  And then I go home to my wife and children and I kiss each one of them, quietly giving thanks for the warmth and good feeling that exists in the world.  But, you see, I can’t say these things to God.  He might get the wrong idea.  He might think that we approve of everything He does, and in our experience, God only responds to negative reinforcement, and to that just barely.”

I then walked with the man through the village and the surrounding woods, marveling at all the things he mentioned, basking in the warmth of a perfect day, one that only a god could have created, until my new friend stubbed his toe on a tree root.

“I’ll kill that idiot,” he said.