He drowsed again in the heat, the jumbled voices of a crowd acting like so many bees, droning him to sleep. Then he was jolted by a sudden upward movement. He opened his eyes to see his lifeless feet dangling below him as the cot was hauled upwards…were they carrying him up a ladder? Then the cot straightened a bit, the sky reappeared and he both saw and heard that ropes were being used to raise him off the ground. But why?
The cot made slow, jerking progress, punctuated by grunts and muttered, “Careful there! Try to keep him level.”
Then their faces came in view again, hauling on ropes, hand over hand, and they were coming closer. No, he was coming closer. With a last groaning effort, they grabbed his bed and dragged it onto the…roof? He lay still, and listened to his friends panting, gasping for breath. Where were they? Why this heroism? How could this help? He squeezed his eyes shut against the glare of sun beating down. It felt even hotter up here than on the ground.
“All right. Are you ready?” They murmured assent to each other, as if bracing themselves for some more herculean task. What in the world–? They pushed him, bed and all, along the level surface.
And all at once his stomach seemed to drop, and then his head caught up. He cried out in panic–had they pushed him too far? Was he going to fall off this roof now and finish the job? But no. He’d hardly had time to think this was the end, when he felt his progress slow. They were lowering him now, more smoothly than they’d lifted him.
Somewhere below he was aware of a commotion–yelling. Someone was upset about something. “What do you think you’re doing?? My roof!!” Some other voices were talking all at once, and a few seemed to be laughing. Were they laughing at him?
He realized that the sun’s harsh kiss was gone. The light against his closed lids felt cooler, dimmer. He blinked open his eyes, still squinting out of habit. Four little boys looked back at him…
No! He almost burst out laughing himself. It was his four friends, looking through a window at him. They were leaning out and…oh. It was the roof. They’d cut a hole, and he was looking straight up at them.
Suddenly his view was cut off by a single face, quite close to him, which stared into his intently. Was this the owner? Would he be blamed now for the damages? How fitting–damaged goods himself, and now he’d be scolded for destroying something else. How much more do I have to bear? Will they throw me in jail to rot? Was this their plan to get rid of me once and for all? O God, why couldn’t I just have died long ago? Why was I ever born? Life is nothing but pain and trouble.
Slowly his eyes refocused–a weathered face, warm eyes, steady, understanding…knowing. Too much. They looked through him. And then–the eyes smiled. The silent man turned his head and looked up, up at the four anxious faces who still waited breathlessly above him. He seemed to nod, as if he agreed with some unspoken plea. Then the knowing eyes turned back to his own.
Though he lay helpless and still, his heart began to pound as if he’d scaled the wall himself and lowered his own broken body by a rope with his own once-strong hands. He didn’t know what would happen next–what could happen? And yet he was afraid.
Unhurried, quiet, the stranger spoke. His voice, though low, was pitched to carry to the crowd around him, and it resonated with authority. “Your sins are forgiven,” he said.