Seven days ago, Dismas and Gestas were finished, kaput, past-tense, d-e-a-d, but now they walked the streets of Jerusalem like they owned the place.Their deft swagger wasn’t just born out of their new celebrity, but also from the wounds on their feet, which although starting to heal, had left each of them with a slight limp. This only added to their mystique.
Entering the market, it would start with the crowds whispering as they passed. Gestas would wave and then play to the crowd, egging them on--gesturing as if to say “yes, it’s really me.” Dismas shuffled his feet and played shy. He was “quiet and sensitive” the girls would titter to each other. When the crowd was primed and focused, Gestas would feint one way pointing his left arm out and then feint the other way extending his right. Then he’d raise both his arms out wide and make his head hang limp, simulating his most famous moment. The whole market would cheer. During the cheering, while everyone looked at Gestas (such a show-boat), Dismas would pocket ripened figs and dried dates. Old habits were hard to break.
During one stunt with a particularly enthusiastic crowd, Gestas called over to Dismas to join in. Dismas waved off, but a chorus of wheedling commenced. He made a show of relenting to their demands before he assumed his position, mirroring Gestas. The crowd lapped it up.
Someone in the back shouted, “Weren’t there three of you?”
The crowd fell into nervous laughter. Gestas looked at Dismas and Dismas looked back. They hated this part. It happened every other show. Some joker would yell out some variation like “Where’s the other guy! I thought he’d be here.” It popped the wheels off and brought the whole bit to a stop. They hadn’t found the comeback yet.
Dismas’ voice croaked a bit, but he belted out, “He went upstairs!”
The crowd lost their shit. And as the two thieves turned crucifixion survivors turned men-about-town had learned, leave ‘em on a high note. They then graciously exited stage left.
The two had taken to sleeping outside of the city gates, not far from the tombs. Location, location, location! Gestas hoped they’d get recognized and be offered some cheese or honey. This was a far better place to camp than by Golgotha, which stank and was as unsettling to be near, as a place called “Golgotha” should be.
Gestas watched the road, while Dismas looked up, counting stars. In the preceding days, they hadn’t really talked about that day, or the days of darkness after, or digging themselves out from under the big ass rock. They simply didn’t have that kind of relationship. Partners by happenstance.
“You should’ve been nicer to him,” said Dismas quietly.
“Who? Him? I think it worked out fine. And really, calling himself ‘king,’ what an a-hole!”
“That was a little much,” Dismas agreed.
Gestas jumped to his feet and whistled at Dismas. Four travelers had appeared on the road.
As they approached, Gestas extended his right arm out and pointed in the direction of the tombs.
“Right that way, folks. See the tomb where it all ended and began again! Or you you can head back to the city, that way.”
He then extended his left arm out toward the city. His eyebrows danced for the travelers as they passed. Three of them paid him no mind, but the fourth, an old woman, sneered at him. It was the first unfriendly face he had seen since that soldier stuck the other guy like a pincushion.
The next day, the pair entered the market and the crowd took a little long to warm up. Gestas had to clear his throat very loudly before someone paid any attention. Dismas tried not to notice that the girls seemed less interested in him today. Except for Ruth, the bronze polisher’s daughter. She was way into him, but she was real boney and not at all what he was into. Dismas saw that the high-times were sunsetting already. The act was stale and no longer relevant.
Gestas refused to see it. The day after that, he entered the market wearing a crown of thorns he had made from a bramble. The crowd smelled the desperation of a one-hit wonder. Dismas, embarrassed, followed several paces behind him. Gestas did his pose and Dismas reluctantly followed. The crowd mumbled mostly, with some polite applause.
Gestas shouted, “the other guy went upstairs!”
A woman in the back booed and it spread through the crowd. Someone threw a gourd, which hit Gestas in the head. The gourd split open and the stringy innards with seeds tangled into the thorns of the crown. Roman soldiers soon appeared in the market and the two thieves turned crucifixion survivors turned men-about-town turned has-beens, ducked away.
They quickly moved down an alley, away from the sounds of the crowd. Dismas roughly pulled the crown off of Gestas’ head, who yelped, but said nothing. Dismas knew it was time to go and Gestas, for once, followed his lead. They then crossed through the city making their way to the southern gate.
At the gate, a crowd had gathered. A fuse had been lit that would turn that crowd into a mob in no time. When the pair approached, their heads down, their backs bent, their limps exaggerated, they tried to play it up as beggars. Stolen rags were wrapped around their shoulders to complete the ruse.
As they moved past, Gestas couldn’t help but peek up just a smidge to see the last crowd he’d draw in Jerusalem. His eyes locked with the old woman from the tomb road. He knew her and she knew him and, boy oh boy, she did scream.
The fuse hit the powder and the crowd exploded into the mob. They were on the thieves in the time it takes to rend someone limb from limb. Which it turns out is pretty damn quick.