Leonid Andreyev

III

Nobody took care of Lazarus, he no longer had any relatives or friends, and the great desert, which embraced the holy city, approached the very threshold of his dwelling place. And she came into his house, and she sprawled across his bed, like a wife, and she extinguished the fires. Nobody took care of Lazarus. One by one his sisters left him—Mary and Martha—for a long time Martha did not want to leave him as she did not know who would feed him and care for him, and she wept and prayed. But one night, when the wind rushed over the desert and the whistling cypress trees leaned over the roof, she dressed quietly and left. It is likely that Lazarus heard the door bang, and how, not being securely closed, gusts of wind made it rattle against the doorframe—but he did not stand up, did not go out, did not take a look. And all night the cypresses whistled above his head, and the door tapped pitifully, letting the cold, greedily prowling desert into the dwelling. Everyone avoided him as if he was a leper, and, like a leper, wanted to hang a bell on his neck so that they could avoid him should their paths cross. But someone, growing pale, suggested that it would be very frightening if at night, under the windows, there would sound the jingling of Lazarus’ bell—and everyone, turning pale, agreed with him.

And since he did not take care of himself he may well have died of hunger if not for the neighbors, who, fearful of something, gave him food. The children brought it; they weren’t afraid of Lazarus, but neither did they laugh at him, as, with an innocent cruelty, they laugh at the unfortunate. They were indifferent to him, and Lazarus repaid them with that same indifference: he did not have any desire to caress a little black head and look into its little innocent, gleaming eyes. His house, surrendered to the dominion of time and sands, was being destroyed, and his hungry bleating goats had long ago fled to his neighbors. And his wedding garments had become shabby. He wore them without changing, just as he put them on on that happy day, when the musicians played, as if he did not see the difference between new and old, between ragged and strong. The bright colors burned out and faded; angry city dogs and sharp desert thorns turned the soft cloth into tatters.

During the day, when the merciless sun become the murderer of all living things, when even the scorpions pressed themselves under rocks, their bodies writhing from a mad desire to sting, he sat motionless under its rays, lifting up his blue face and his disheveled, wild beard.

Back then, when people still talked to him, he was asked one time:

“Poor Lazarus! Is it pleasant for you to sit and look at the sun?”

And he answered:

“Yes, it’s pleasant.”

It seems that the three day grave was so cold, its darkness so deep, that there was nothing on earth so hot, nor so bright, that could warm Lazarus and illuminate the gloom of his pupils—thus thought those who inquired, and departed with a sigh.

And when the crimson-red, flattened orb descended to earth, Lazarus went out into the desert and walked right towards the sun, as if he was trying to catch up with it. He always walked straight towards the sun, and those who tried to track his path and find out what he did in the desert during the black night have been left with an indelible imprint in their memory of a black silhouette of a tall, fat man in the foreground of an enormous, compressed red disc. The night drove them away with its horrors, and so they never found out what Lazarus did in the desert, but the black on red image was burned into their minds and never went away. Like a beast that, with its eyes clogged, violently rubs its face with its paws, so too they rubbed their eyes, but that which Lazarus gave them was indelible and, perhaps, could be forgotten only upon death.

But there were people that lived far away who have never seen Lazarus but only heard about him. With an impudent curiosity, which is stronger than fear and which feeds on fear, with a concealed frivolity in their soul, they came to the one sitting under the sun and engaged him in conversation. By this time Lazarus’ appearance had already changed for the better and was no longer frightening; and for the first minute they snapped their fingers and thought disapprovingly about the stupidity of the residents of the holy city. But, when the short conversation ended and they set off homeward, their appearance was such that the residents of the holy city could instantly identify them, and they said:

“Here goes another crazy person upon whom Lazarus laid his gaze,” and in pity they smacked their lips and raised their hands.

Thus came brave warriors in ratting armor who did not know fear; and merry youth with songs and laughter; and anxious merchants, money jingling, ran in for a minute; and haughty servants of the temple placed their staves before Lazarus’ doors—and no one returned the same. One and the same terrible shadow descended upon their souls, giving a new appearance to the old, familiar world.

This is how those who still had the desire to speak conveyed their feelings:

All things visible to the eye and tangible to the hand have become empty, light, and transparent—they have become like light shadows in the gloom of the night; for neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, could disperse that great darkness that envelops the universe, covering the earth in a black veil, embracing it, like a mother; she would permeate everything, iron and stone, and every particle, losing connection, would become lonely; and she would permeate the depths of the particles themselves, and the particles of particles would become lonely; for neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars can fill that great emptiness that embraces the universe, reigning boundlessly, permeating everything, disconnecting everything: body from body, particle from particle; trees spread their roots into emptiness and were themselves empty; in emptiness, foreshadowed by their spectral fall, towered temples, palaces and houses, and were themselves empty; and in emptiness man moved carelessly, and was himself empty and light, like a shadow; for time did not exist, and the beginning of everything has approached its end: a building was only just being built, and workers were striking their hammers, but already one could see its ruins, and emptiness in place of the ruins; a man was only just born, and already funeral candles were being lit above his head, and already they were extinguished, and already there was emptiness in place of the man and the funeral candles; and, embraced by emptiness and gloom, man trembled hopelessly before the dread of the infinite.

So they said, those who still had the desire to speak. But it is likely that a great deal more could be said by those who did not want to speak and perished in silence.

Chapter IV →
This button toggles paragraph anchors, displayed as a pilcrow “¶” at the beginning of every paragraph. Bookmark these links in your browser to keep your place within the text.