Ambika Thompson Fiction Literature

Are You Jesus?

Ambika Thompson

 

I was making an egg salad sandwich when Charlie called over. I told him, before he could get a word in edgewise, that I had lost a tooth in an egg salad sandwich when I was six and I never found it, and my parents didn’t give me any money under my pillow because I had nothing to exchange, and if I could find a baby tooth now I might be able to get some cash.

I was really broke and for some reason when I was a kid my parents gave me $1,000 per tooth, which seems absurd, but they were immigrants and just really trying to fit in, and I might have lied and told them that that was what other parents did.

Charlie told me that he had a better idea.

Charlie liked to ruin things. I told him once that I was going to spend a Sunday being invisible and snooping through all my mates’ flats: watching them have sex, floss their teeth, call their folks, sort their socks, write in their diaries, intrusive things like that. He went and ruined it by telling me that being invisible was impossible, so I told him that being his friend was impossible.

We’d met at Missing Pancakes a few years ago. I was a cook there, and he was serving tables. He was a terrible waiter. He was terrible at a lot of things, but he could turn water into wine, and I really like to get drunk. That’s how we became friends.

“I’ve just been to the doctors, and you won’t believe it,” he said as I took a bite of my first triangle of egg salad sandwich.

“No, I believe that you’ve just been to the doctors.”

He shrugged me off.

“I gave blood and it turns out that I have the blood of Christ.”

“I guess that explains why you can turn water into wine,” I said, not really surprised. All sorts of things happen in the world. Sundays turn to Mondays. Caterpillars turn into butterflies. Rain turns into acid. The seas turn into garbage dumps.

“I suppose you think you’re Jesus, then?”

He nodded and I took another bite of my egg salad triangle, noticing that I really should have added some more mayonnaise, and perhaps some cayenne. It was a bit bland and dry. Dry. This reminded me that I needed to hang the washing before it started to smell.

“We’ve got to go,” he said.

I started thinking again about the tooth I lost when I was six and wondered, if I found it now, how much money my parents would give for it. Would inflation play a role? Maybe I could steal a tooth from a little kid.

“Where to?”

“Israel.”

“Do kids put their teeth under their pillows when they lose them, or do they just throw them away?”

“I don’t know. Keep ’em, I guess?”

“Perfect.”

◊ ◊ ◊

When we were working at the Missing Pancakes I was infatuated with the hostess Daisy. She was petite and curvy and had an accent that didn’t make any sense. It was like she put every accent from everywhere in the world where English is spoken into a hat and every time she’d say something she’d shake the hat and pick an accent out to use for that particular occasion. I tested it out once. Every time she came into the kitchen I’d ask her to say “brilliant.” She never said it the same way twice. It also worked every time she’d tell me that she was busy after work, and no, she couldn’t come for a drink.

Charlie, for all his faults, was observant of my rejection, and hence let me in on his little secret in order to cheer me up. The secret where he turns water into wine, because regular rejection, as far as he was concerned, required regular intoxication. When Daisy found out about the water-to-wine business she started not being busy after work anymore and stayed with us in the alley behind Missing Pancakes when we finished our shifts. Eventually she let me kiss her, and then keep kissing her, and then put my hand up her top, then down her pants, and then move in with her.

I felt like I owed Charlie something, like at least accompanying him to Israel so he could die.

I left Daisy a note telling her that Charlie found out he’s Jesus and needed to go to Israel and I’d gone along for moral support.

◊ ◊ ◊

We got to Tel-Netanyahu-Aviv later that afternoon and had a picnic of egg salad sandwiches in front of the airport, then went to Jerusalem to head over to Golgotha.

I’d never been to Israel, but I realized that it’s so small that my Grandfather Jean could probably spit across it. He’s the champion spitter for his county and has four trophies to prove it.

Both Charlie and I had watched Are You Jesus? before. That’s that show where the contestants get crucified and left to die then put into a cave, and if they go and get themselves all resurrected then they’re Jesus. No one to date has won it.

We thought it was wildly hilarious. Most of the show is about preparing to be crucified. They let you have the last supper with your twelve closest mates and then your worst enemy who you don’t know is your worst enemy until they rat you out with some big-ass secret of yours. That’s when the Romans come for you. They’re in full old-school Roman gear, except that their skirts barely cover their asses, and that now they’re all incredibly hot women. Then they make wannabe Jesus walk through Jerusalem carrying his cross. They give the wannabe Jesuses morphine so they don’t freak out, or so I’ve heard, because none of them really scream when they’re stapled to the cross and they end up all looking pretty happy hanging there. But this is when you know that none of them are Jesus, because the real Jesus wouldn’t take a painkiller, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Charlie said he’s gonna take it, though, and that if Jesus had known then how much it was going to bloody hurt being nailed to a cross he would have bloody taken it as well.

It would be boring to watch dudes hang on crosses to die, and it takes much longer in real life than it does in the bible, so the show is filled with a lot of interviews with family members and friends who talk about why they think so-and-so is Jesus. It seems like it’s pretty easy to get on the show. You just show up there and look Jesusy. Charlie is seven feet tall and of African American descent, so he might have a hard time getting picked since most people who watch the show are white and seem to have convinced themselves repeatedly for hundreds of years that so is Jesus. It’s some sort of backwards, cereal-box-prize logic they’re using, I guess. But Charlie can turn water into wine, and as far as I know none of the other contestants have ever been able to do that.

I asked him on the bus to Jerusalem if he was sure he wanted to do this, and he nodded, albeit with a bit of hesitation.

I left him to think on it and I went back to thinking about finding a tooth in Jerusalem. Then the thought occurred to me that my parents are so cheap about giving me money now that they might actually do a DNA test on it.

◊ ◊ ◊

Charlie made it through the screening, of course—with his trick, how could he not?—and was scheduled to start filming the next day. They wanted me to stick around and do interviews, but I’m not much for being on camera, and Daisy had sent me a text a little pissed off that I’d taken off to Israel without her, so I told Charlie I was gonna leave the next day.

We spent my last afternoon in Israel together hanging out at a playground waiting for a kid to lose a tooth. At some point Charlie got bored and wanted to go for hummus, so he pushed a swing really hard into a toddler’s face, knocking out a few teeth. The mother didn’t have time to notice how many were gone, so snagging one was no problem. Then we went straight to the post office and sent it off to my parents.

After working at Missing Pancakes for what seemed like forever, one day all the pancakes really went missing and they had to close down. I got a job at Ego Sandwich, but the pay wasn’t as good. I could barely make my rent. A tooth from the Holy Land could really be my saviour.

If Charlie turned out to be Jesus he’d be set for the rest of his life and promised to help me and Daisy out. I thought that was awful nice of him to say, but I didn’t really think that he was Jesus. I don’t really believe in this whole resurrection business, but then again I didn’t use to believe in this water-to-wine thingy either. Nonetheless, to be completely honest, I kind of felt like it would be the last time I’d see him.

◊ ◊ ◊

Daisy and I watched every episode of Are You Jesus? Usually watching reality television is akin to sticking pins in your eyes and repeatedly putting your hand on a hot burner, but Charlie was funny and came across as a lot nicer of a person than he actually was. Kinda saintly even. We laughed, we cried, we ordered that toaster that burns Jesus’s face on your bread after seeing it advertised on the show. I almost started to believe that Charlie maybe was Jesus. The montages were really, really good, but about halfway through the season Charlie showed up at our door one night.

“I didn’t want to be crucifucked to death,” he said.

He was wearing a T-shirt that said Atheist.

There was a moment before I went to Israel with him when I thought about pointing out to him that he was an atheist, but if he’d changed his beliefs I didn’t want to get all judgey-judgey, which I probably would have, or at least sounded like I was. He would have hated that.

As he came into our flat he handed me a letter from our mailbox. My parents had sent me the bill from the tooth’s DNA test and told me that if I could afford to go to Israel I could pay my own damn rent. I wondered how they knew I went to Israel and then I wondered whether they were spies and their whole lives were just a front. Then I felt betrayed and realized I should probably get a life.

Charlie seemed a bit shell-shocked, or just really quiet for himself, so he just kept brushing me off every time I asked him why he didn’t nick all the morphine from the show and smuggle it home in his ass.

Turned out that Charlie was a bit miffed at me for not discouraging him from going to Israel to die. Fair enough. I love Charlie even if I talk shit about him. I’m just kind of a jerk.

Daisy was looking at me all disappointed, and I couldn’t help thinking, yeah, there’s something totally wrong with me. If I had to pick a Jesus it would probably be her. Since we’ve been together I almost want to do unto others. Like almost. But I wouldn’t have let her go to Israel. I mean, everybody knows that no matter what Jesus wasn’t a woman.

I felt real bad about letting Charlie almost get killed, so I told him that they were looking for new staff at Ego Sandwich and I’d help him get hired. I’d gotten a job there because I thought they would have egg salad sandwiches on the menu. I was disappointed to discover that they don’t, that the name was just some dumb attempt at hipster humour. My boss had told me in all shades of earnestness, “It’s all about the self in the sandwich.” I almost got myself fired for telling him that that was the biggest pile of bullshit I’d ever heard, but he just thought I was doing a bit of the good ol’ hipster jeering, so he let it slide.

My boss would be happy to have Charlie there. Charlie was a celebrity now. He was the Jesus who got away. No one could ever be too sure whether he really truly was Jesus or not. This would probably make business boom. People would be coming in to buy a pastrami on rye with a free side of biblical healing, and I’d maybe even get a raise.

Charlie seemed to forgive me a little bit after I told him that, so he turned a bucket of dripping rainwater from our ceiling into a nice cabernet sauvignon and we cheered his return with full Garfield mugs of it. We also made a solemn promise to one another that we’d never let each other go on a reality television program again, no matter what, even if RuPaul was the host. Then I leaned over to Daisy and whispered into her ear that she was my personal Jesus.

She smiled sweetly at me and told me in a New Zealand sheep farmer’s accent that she really, really hated that song, especially the Johnny Cash version.

FIN

Ambika Thompson headshotAmbika Thompson is a parent, writer, and musician living in Berlin. She’s contributed short stories to NPR Berlin, The Missing Slate, Fanzine, and (forthcoming) Okey-Panky, Litro, and Riddle Fence. She’s the fiction editor of Leopardskin & Limes, and one half of the cello riot grrl duo Razor Cunts. And her favourite colour is rainbow.
http://ambikathompson.com

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