A Song At Midnight – Paul and Silas in prison

I am in confinement. The cell is solid concrete, bricks piled atop bricks to make a square room with no windows. Steel rods form the door, and they stand like robotic sentinels keeping a watch over me, like I could muster an escape with the chains bounding my hands and ankles.
I lift my head and, pushing my back against the wall, slowly rise. Pain cuts into my movement from various joints. My eyes settle on the bruise in my left foot – a fresh redness, like lips smeared with blood-red paint. Turning, a camera in the north quadrant blinks, producing a maroon light. It has captured my image – a strange my brown skin, firm jaws, muscled limbs, eyes steady in their sockets – and that of my cellmate.
Silas rises and walks to me. “Brother, you should rest.”
I speak without turning. “Our Lord had no place to lay his head.”
Silas exhales. The air is warm, like water exposed to sunrays. The sun has left us, a steep darkness filling the horizon. I see all these through a window that does not exist.
Silas’s palms fall on my shoulders, lightly, and he dips his head, as if he’s somehow responsible for our predicament. A curved scar runs from his left ear, over his nose, and cuts into his other cheek. More horrific cuts festoon his back, products of lashings at noon.
Heavy boots slap the concrete. A soldier reaches the cell and salutes us with a snort, his nostrils flaring like a pig’s. He did that earlier, just before we were publicly flogged while our accusers watched on.
“It must be midnight,” I say and Silas nods. The air grows thin as the soldier retreats. No one speaks for a while, and then, rapid yells.
A door bangs shut, providing the exact catalyst the block needs. In a minute, whistles and off-beat songs drown out the silence. Brogue’s, “Shut if fellas, shut down or I shut you” reaches me.
“Now, that’s work to do,” I say and again, Silas agrees. His skin leaves mine and he makes a half-circle, facing the cell’s west. I hear his lips quiver.
Someone else is at the door. Clay, the jailer. His blue uniform his starched against a flat chest. He grips the bars with fragile hands. “Mr. Paul.”
I lift a finger then nod at the camera.
He shrugs. “You did nothing wrong.” His voice is hazy. “You did nothing wrong. You didn’t –”
“Who can prevent the Lord’s will?”
“Of course,” he says. His lips purse, as if considering more words. “There’s no food for you as from morning.”
I don’t answer.
His eyes shift to two bowls stacked towards the left of the room. “You didn’t eat dinner?”
I do not consider food a necessity. Besides, Silas said the bread felt like moist hardwood in his mouth. He’d run his lips over the slice’s edges, as if it contained poison, then dropped it.
Clay shakes his head and returns, his eyes glinting with powerless compassion. Oh, if salvation was a matter of god deeds. If only, people like Clay would receive a grand entry. And I, the former persecutor of the believers? Hopeless.
A crack rings into the block – Brogue’s fists smashing into someone’s cheekbones. I wish I could dash out and hand him a good beating, making use of the skills I mastered during childhood. A disturbing feeling settles over me. The things I would not, yet still do.
The lights flicker twice, then go off. Twenty minutes past midnight. The block gets slammed with darkness and shouts. Then, the mutterings from Silas’s lips.
I should pray, I know, but I am locked in an unusual position. My lips feels like wet blocks.
Sing, the voice whispers. Relief cascades down my torso.
“The light shines, it shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot hold it in.”
The words fade into silence. My tongue feels like gum. Silas’s lips have stopped moving.
“The light shines,” I sing, ignoring the thoughts that I’m going loony, that I am seeking for help where there’s no one. “It shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot hold it in.”
“It shines, it shines,” Silas joins, “it shines, in darkness. The light shines, it shines, in darkness, and the darkness cannot hold it in.”
Our voices make a delicious duet. The block begins to listen. My tongue finds a familiar tune.
“Rock of ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee.”
“Let thy water and thy blood,” Silas picks. My heart trembles. Light crawls into the room, slow and steady. The fluorescents remain off.
The block is still quiet.
Silas moves unto another song. “Our God, He lives forever. He reigns with power and love.”
A cackle fills my ear. The air grows cold, tingling the hairs on my arms. He is present. He is here. My heart burst with gratitude, with joy, like a dam overflowing its bank. My feet find a rhythmic tap, keeping pace with the beat of Silas’s song. The silence in the block has an adoring fear to it.
Do they feel it too? Do they see Him?
I do. Thousands of thousands of stars dazzling around His crown. His eyes, deep in their holdings, are of no color, familiar yet strange, calm and burning, satisfied and longing, beautiful and bruised. Oh, kaboosh. Taku bara baka yela siazi ba.
My lips part. “We look to Yahweh, Yahweh. Forever, Yahweh, Yahweh, eh…”
As Silas falls into the chorus, my feet take off. I think I’m dancing, but it takes a moment before I note that my feet, though clasped in iron holds, aren’t chained. The chain is loose.
The realization hits me numb just in time for the quake to begin. The walls do not cave in, but the floor jumps, unable to hold the sudden rumbling. Silas skips up and down, singing, his face buried between his hands, his voice sprinkled with laughter. The vibrations continue, like a train smashing its way through a bridge. The floor shakes like trees in a forest when an elephant stomps about.
Too many things happen simultaneously, like spontaneous reactions delayed till the last instant. The doors fling open as if sent sprawling by a bouncer. Chains clatter against concrete, freeing prisoners.
There’s quiet in the block.
The light flashes on. Muffled shouts ring into the scene. I see him then, a pistol to his neck, his soft eyes wide as if about to leap out. He’s staring at the cells, at the wide doors, and his expression betrays him. He thinks I’m gone, we’re all escaped, like birds from the trap of the fowler.
“Clay,” Silas calls, “we are all here. We are here.”
His fingers tremble as if stifling a seizure. The gun clatters and his jaw drops wide. He walks toward us, his pace even, as if controlled by a remote. Spittle marks a trail before him, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
And then, he falls at our knees, his tongue twisted, and says, “Lead me to Jesus.”

13 thoughts on “A Song At Midnight – Paul and Silas in prison

Leave a comment