My tears boiled over as silence limped across the monstrous hall. The hangman had just asked if I objected to the verdict. The moment was finally here. Mistakes out-weighed my good intentions when it mattered most. There’s no fight left in this sorry being now; I deserve this.
“You have heard the charges. How plead ye?”, he asked for the third and final time. By then, the noose was firmly around my frail neck; there would be no going back. I had found a shade of peace in the mire. “No objections. Proceed”, I said as the hangman hit the soul-switch.
In one split-second my entire life flashed before me in reverse; every question, every doubt, every mistake-clad opportunity. Every detail, every missing piece – all in that second. But, that’s exactly how long it took for hangman to change his mind. The hearing would have to be re-convened. It was against tradition to execute a man in the rain – and the first few drops had just landed. What a time for the sky to shed her load!
I was soon back on my knees before the assembly – and, though a dislocated neck had been added to my list of woes, it all felt very different. I had been hoping for some sign; a ray of hope. Pseudo-death was hardly the version I had hoped for – but the chance to try again was worth every ounce of effort.
“You, sir, are condemned to be hung by the neck and drowned in the lake of depression until dead. Such are your sins: That you ignored all warning to avoid that game. That you raised the hopes of many – and dashed them when it mattered most. That you abandoned your duty-post to pursue other pleasures. That you embarrassed your self and team by being carried off the field. How plead ye?”
The hall erupted with shouts of “guilty”. They longed for a swift replay – but it was not to be. Maybe there was some purpose to this second chance afterall. “Innocent”, I yelled, as I rose gingerly to my feet. “Innocent, my lord”. The hall froze in shock. Whatever caused the sudden turnaround? Here was a tragedy of a man, begging for death only moments ago. What changed? “Innocent”, I yelled again, the sting of a thousand eyes now boring through my sweaty skin. With a moment of sanity, it may have occurred to me that I was rocking the boat – but there is absolutely nothing sane about fighting for life! I had been prepared to throw it all away on account of a few mistakes; not anymore!
“My lord, exalted council and distinguished hangman, I beg permission to plead my case”. “Proceed, mortal”, came the wrinkly response from the chancellor’s chamber. No one had ever heard his voice at such routine hearings – but this was no routine. Someone was pleading innocent for the very first time –and that caught his ear.
“My lord, the accusations I face are fact, not truth! You, sir, must know the difference”, I started. “I admit that the elements warned me before the game. The pain in my ankle persisted all week. I woke late and arrived last at the field. Even the shame from my previous performance warned me to stay off. But, my lord, a chariot is made for battle. The creak in its wheels only makes the sound of victory louder”. My once shaky voice was now striding and echoing around the hall. Confidence was going like an impatient foetus. “My lord, I admit that I almost quit when our attackers couldn’t score. They shared a weight of ten trucks among them. They couldn’t even run. I was weary but I didn’t quit. Even the sun blinks, my lord – yet it shines brighter after every passing cloud.”
“I have been charged with abandoning my duties for pleasures, my lord. What wrong is there if I take pleasure in serving my team? It has been said, my lord, that madness is using the old method and expecting a new result. The enemy pressed us greatly – and victory looked bleak. We had to try something different. And, if the end truly justifies the means, I stand absolved, my lord. Because, in going forward, I scored two great goals and my team secured the advantage”.
At this point, the chancellor beckoned hurriedly to the hangman. His face did not hide the workings of his grey mind; something didn’t add up. He was not excited that facts of the goals had been kept from him. Had my neck not been askew, i may have learnt some more. The noose, however, left a lasting mark. Maybe it was, in itself, a blessing. It had been hard to look anywhere but up since the second chance was handed me. For the first time, I could see the full beauty of the hall: its lovely mosaic, giant pillars and sculptured art. It’s really strange how I hadn’t noticed any of that before. We truly only see what we choose!
“Dog, do you also deny missing a landmark penalty?”, the hangman asked sarcastically as he headed back to the stands. “My lord, I was the least qualified to take that kick. In fact, I also missed the last one I took three years ago. I should never have attempted it. But, my peers pressed in one voice. No man had ever struck thrice on that field. They wanted me to be the first so much they paid my warnings no heed. It was their gift to me for striking twice – and it was presented sincerely. Tradition forbids the refusal of a sincere gift, my lord. Heart and head did battle – but heart prevailed. I took the kick and missed by much; one doesn’t draw where he hasn’t stored, my lord. Only skill acquired during peace can be used in war. Still, the givers have taught me the ways of that gift – and I now know! What else do we live for, but to learn, my lord?
“Better, they say, is he who embraces his limits than he who denies them. Shortly after that miss, my lord, strength failed my feet and I was carried out – but not till I had given my very best. My lord, I turned from receiver to giver and shared spoils with my mate to strike. My lord, seven generations from this day, it was decreed that a man be measured only by what he gives – not what he takes. Surely, a man cannot be guilty of giving his very best and then some more.”
The chancellor leaned forward in a rare show of interest. “Mortal, if all you say is true, why then did you not receive the match-ball?”. Silence, once again, gripped the hall. The chancellor’s wisdom was revered even across distant worlds. Everyone understood that my fate hung on that one question. I had to get it right – or it would all have been for nothing. That added another ton of weight to my fragile frame. My ailing legs began to tremble; I couldn’t help the twitch in my arms. It was all or nothing – and my best shot was the least i could give it.
“Glory comes in many forms, my lord. On that day, the match-ball came as a bottle of wine. My lord, I have always carried my destiny in my right hand. That day, I bore the team in my left. I would have lifted the wine to my head – but only a fool bears success on his head. What’s more, my lord, everyone knows that my lips take no wine. The day’s glory was for the team, my lord, not any individual.”
My jaws locked in sober accord as the chancellor scribbled on the scroll. The haunting voices hadn’t stopped, but I had somehow learnt to shut them out. It didn’t matter what they had to say. I had chosen to fight for a second chance! Strangely, the verdict didn’t even matter anymore; it just felt good to have given as good a fight as I could.
The hangman was transfixed as he saw the content of the scroll. Shock spread rapidly across his long face. It was not a vote-summon everyone expected; it was an outright veto from the only one who had the power. I was to be released, reinstated and banished forever from the pit of shadows. My frame bowed to the floor in a mix of exhaustion and raw delight as I embraced the chance to fail again.
Many seasons have passed since then. Sadly not much has changed in the pits; the voices still haunt the ignorant. The hangman still condemns self-acclaimed failures –and who’s to blame them? Afterall, no one is forced into the pits. We all walk in voluntarily, requesting verdicts of the unqualified. Maybe, someday, we’ll learn to take charge of our attitudes and the hangman would finally be out of a job.
Here is the simple order of things: Every yin must have a yang; the world will never be perfect. There would never be enough time in one day to achieve all we planned. This, though, is for those tough times; a reminder that there’s a silver lining to every cloud – even the really dark ones! It all comes down to what we choose to see. Attitude is finding the one reason to keep going – in spite of a billion ‘voices of reason’. Remember the problem is never really the problem; it’s how we (choose to) respond to it!