“In this land, at this time, we practise our faith to avoid falling into the traps of the Devil!” The priest droned on as more villagers walked into the temple.
Some screamed in support, pumping their fists.
“Look at our land! Take a good look around you! Had everyone been worshipping the Devil, this land would have been in chaos. Instead, we thank God the merciful for providing us with comfort. For providing us with solace. For peace!”
One temple goer yelled, “Praise be to God!” Many others joined in. The priest, glad that his speech was being well received, gets inspired to carry on.
“The path of the Devil, the loneliest path, the most evil of all path is a sin! Only sinners follow the path of the Devil!”
Temple goers screamed in support.
“I see not sinners today but people who would have an instant ticket to God’s paradise. To all of you I say, see you in Heaven! Praise be to God! And to all outside of it, I pray they find their wayward paths futile and join us! God is our only salvation! Our hope!”
The temple became ecstatic as the priest started singing praises of God. Everyone sang heartily except for a nine-year-old boy, Adam.
Realising his son was not singing along, his father nudged him, “Adam, sing!”
He received a tight slap on his cheeks. “How dare you question! God’s words are true and should never be questioned.” Adam stared at the congregation which grew louder and louder in their praises.
Feeling absolutely confused, he runs out from the temple, his father unable to chase after him due to the large turn out.
He ran past streets filled with people wearing white robes and women covering their faces completely, save for holes for their eyes, nose and mouth.
A sign post on one of the streets had the words, “Scitanaf: The Holy Kingdom of God.” Adam ran as fast as he could away from it all. One of the security guards held him by the arms, “Woah! Where you off to, boy?”
Adam pointed at the large wooden door, separating the kingdom from the world outside.
“I’m sorry, kid. But didn’t your parents warn you that beyond those gates is Hell? The Devil resides there.” He held Adam by the collar and slapped him.
Several passerby turned up and asked what the commotion was all about.
“This boy was about to trespass outside, into the hands of the Devil itself!” The security guard screamed as he slapped Adam once more.
One of the onlookers yelled, “He must be the Devil’s seed! This boy is evil for thinking this way!”
“Kill him! The Devil’s spawn! Kill him!”
“Praise be to God and His Kingdom!”
An elderly man who sat nearby the stairs, smoking his pipe interrupted, “Hold on. This child is just wayward. Leave him alone.”
“If we do that, he’ll cause more trouble for us!” Someone from the crowd screamed as the old man wrested the child from the hands of the security guard.
“He might. Or he might not. It all depends on how we educate him.” He said as he stared at Adam. The crowd dispersed as the old man said to the security guard, “Let me help find this kid’s father, alright? I promise he is just a very confused lad. That is how children are if we don’t educate them properly.”
The security guard nodded and walked away, muttering something about the Devil and Hell and God.
Adam tried struggling from the old man’s grip as he tugged the boy into a lonely alleyway.
“Let me go!”
“Stop fighting.” The old man said as he let go off Adam’s hands and held his face. “Now, tell me why did you want to leave this kingdom, this beautiful, spiritual and peaceful kingdom to the world outside?”
Adam stared teary eyed.
“Tell me the truth, boy. I won’t harm you.” The bearded old man said. His eyes twinkling with compassion.
“Everyone is being pretentious.” Adam sobbed. “Everyone talks about this God but where is he? Where is God? All I see are people pretending that He exist but where is He?”
The old man smiled. He looked at the street leading up to the gate. “But why through the gate? You think he exists outside?”
“Yeah.” The boy sniffled.
“What if you’re wrong?”
“Then so be it. I want to see for myself because no one has ever been outside before. Everyone is just living in this kingdom. In their own shell. I want to see for myself if the Devil exists too.” Adam said.
The man caressed Adam’s head. “Fair enough. However, you were wrong about no one else going out through the gates though.” He winked at Adam.
Adam stopped crying and asked the man, “So how is it there? Does the Devil exist? How come you’re still alive?”
“I can tell you everything, my boy. In the end, I will just be like them living in this kingdom. Tell you what, go to the north wall, there is a small crack, just big enough for a little fellow like you to pass through. Go through it, see the world for yourself and then come back and tell me.”
Adam stared at the man in disbelief. “You’re not stopping me from going away?”
“You’ll understand why when you do. Once you go through the crack, you’ll never be the same.” He grinned, revealing his yellowed teeth. “You’ll understand what this God and Devil business is all about.”
Adam’s father arrived in time and grabbed him from the cackling old man. “What were you doing with that man?” He asked as he carried Adam away. “He is known as a mad fellow.”
That night Adam received lashing from his father’s whip. “You sinned! You sinned!” He screamed as each whip hit Adam’s frail tiny body.
“Don’t you even dare thinking of going against the word of God, you hear me?” His mother gave him a slap. “I don’t want a son who is a sinner! I want you to grow up, becoming someone working for the king and have a good life! I love you, you hear me? I love you!”
His father then forced him to join the family in a prayer of forgiveness before the family’s altar. A photo of their God, a pot bellied man in a red suit and a red hat, with a red bag, hung as several candles were lit before Him.
“Dear Lord, forgive our son who has gone wayward. Let not the path of the Devil dictate his life. In you we trust, Atnas Sualc. Keep this family safe.”
“What is the name of our one and only God?” His father thundered the next morning.
“And who was his prophet?”
“Retsae Ynnub.” Adam responded like a tape recorder.
“What are our Lord’s Five Principle of Life?”
“Love for God, Love for the King, Love for the Country, Love thy parents and respect thy law.”
“And what does our God, Atnas Sualc warn us about?”
“Let no man trespass the Kingdom of God into the land of the Devil. The Devil is the greatest illusionist.”
Feeling satisfied, Adam’s father kissed him on his cheek. “Please understand, we’re doing this for your own good. We love you very much. But yesterday you broke our hearts. You have sinned you know that?”
His mother, sitting next to his father interjected, “Do you think we should take him to the town priest to pray for forgiveness?”
His father mulled. “It will be good if we can do that along with a cleansing ceremony as well for Adam. But you need five dollars to do it. Make it fifteen if the cleansing ceremony is included.”
His mother checked the drawer in the living room. “We have twenty. Oh God Almighty is with us! Thank you Lord for not being angry with us for our stupid ungrateful son!”
Seeing what is taking place, Adam asks, “But why? I’m fine mother.”
She rubbished it. “You may say you are fine. But the Devil is the greatest illusionist. He could have possessed you to do such a thing.”
“Yeah, I agree. I suggest we better do both, honey.” His father said before turning to Adam and saying curtly, “See how we are wasting money for your sake? Had you not done that, all these wasn’t necessary.”
“Following the Five Principles of Life will always keep you on the right path, away from trouble, the Devil and sin.” His mother added.
Adam’s father held him by his face and said, “Adam, always remember, Devil is trouble, God is good. Okay?”
Adam stared silently, not knowing what to respond. His mind raced back to the old man he met yesterday.
His father slapped him. “Don’t make me do this, Adam! I hate beating you, but you have to promise me you won’t do such a thing!”
Sobbing, Adam promised. His mother kissed him on his forehead and whispered, “We love you, son. We really do. Stop breaking our hearts.”
“What this child needs is not a cleansing ceremony.” The old pot bellied priest dressed in a black robe seated in the tiny compact room said, as Adam’s parents looked at each other. His mother was in the white robe and spoke through the gaping hole located at her lips. Her voice was muffled.
“Hold on.” The priest said as he touched his temples. “I’m receiving a Divine message from our Lord, our Lord Atnas Sualc.” He kept silent as Adam’s parents clasped their hands in prayer, tears trickling from their closed eyes.
“Our Lord wants this child to be enrolled in our religious school.” The man said, opening his eyes. “It’s a command from God Himself.”
In the religious school, numerous children were ordered to wake up everyday at a routine basis to read and memorise their Holy Book, “Atnas Sualc Speaks!”
From dusk to dawn students chanted like robots verses from the 856 paged book as the old priest sat at the table, his eyes closed, asleep.
And in the evenings, each one would be instructed to repeat what they had memorised.
“Chapter 5, page 78, verse 7!” The priest yelled at the kid infront. A beeline had been formed.
The kid said aloud, “The Devil is an illusionist. Let no man walk through the gates of God’s kingdom lest he falls into the temptation of the Devil!”
Satisfied, the old man patted the kid infront of Adam, gave him a candy and slapped his butt. “Well done! Well done! You are God’s angel!”
Next was Adam. The priest frowned at him and said, “Ahh Adam. Chapter 2, page 32, verse 9.”
Adam’s mind went blank.
“It’s Holy Priest! Holy Priest! Have you been sleeping in class again? Chapter 2, page 32, verse 9!”
Adam choked. He couldn’t recollect the verses. Several kids behind him sniggered.
“Chapter 2! Page 32! Verse 9! What does it say? Adam!”
Adam fell to the ground, wailing. The priest pulled him up, “I’m giving you one more chance, boy. Chapter 2, page 32, verse 9!”
Adam couldn’t recollect his memory of the huge Holy book where the texts were tiny and letters were to complicating.
The priest slapped him while screaming, “Chapter 2, page 32, verse 9 says “Love, compassion, understanding and without fear makes men proper human beings.” You stupid, good for nothing fool!”
He did not receive his dinner that night.
Feeling absolutely lost and confused, Adam decided to run away while everyone was asleep through the dormitory’s window.
Managing to sneak out, he ran towards the North wall in the middle of the night, hiding himself from the guards who were patrolling the streets.
He found the particular crack the old man had spoke of. He stared at it, contemplating.
“Once you go through the crack, you will never be the same.” He remembered the old man’s warning. He turned to look back at his home, the kingdom. The smiling poster of the king stared at him. The words, “God’s Own Kingdom Ruled by God’s Own King” written below. He felt a tinge of pain on his cheeks. The pain reminded him of the futility of remaining here.
Adam scrambled through the crack and came out to the other side. There was a huge forest and he dashed into it.
One whole night, Adam ran through the dark forest. There were times when he heard weird noises and sounds, but he did not stop running.
When the sun rose, he had succeeded in coming out hungry and worn out from the forest where he was greeted by a vast open valley.
There were huts several miles away as Adam dashed towards them.
As he approached near, he discovered men and women just like him living in the huts. They were all naked. As he walked into the settlement, a voice called out,”Hey, you got your clothes on you.”
It was a girl about the same age as himself, naked, sitting on a rock munching on an apple.
Adam looked at himself. “Yeah. It would be impolite to be naked.”
The girl laughed, “It would be impolite only if you can’t control your desires.”
Adam stared at her as the curly golden haired girl continued munching on her apple.
“What are desires?” He asked.
“Desire is when the desired object takes control of you. Not the other way around.”
He was confused by what she said. Sensing this, she continued, “I love eating apples. But I only eat one a day because if I eat all, there won’t be enough for everyone.”
“What happens if you do eat all? Would your parents hit you? Would God be angry?”
“What is God?” She asked.
He stared at the tiny naked girl in disbelief. “God is the Devil’s enemy. Didn’t you know that?”
She laughed. “What is the Devil? I like the way you think. I ate all the apples once. My parents took me to our orchard and showed me why I shouldn’t be greedy. That year the apples did not fruit much. So I understood.”
“You have never been hit?”
“No. Why would someone do that?”
Adam was in total disbelief. He looked around him. Many others walked about naked, without a hint of embarrassment or fear.
“Why is everyone naked?”
“What if the women are raped? My Holy Books tell me if a woman does not wear-”
The girl sighed. “Do I have to repeat the apple analogy again?”
That was when it dawned upon him. He remembered the old man’s words, “Once you go through the crack, you’ll never be the same. You’ll understand what this God and Devil business is all about.”
His view on reality came crashing down upon him like bricks.
It had everything to do with Truth and Freedom.
“I’m Eve.” The little girl said as she munched on her second apple. “My dad has a pet snake, you want to see? We named it Lucifer, after our late grandmother, Lucy Fei.”