I am the Son of God crouched under the ripped awning of an abandoned restaurant, hiding from slanting rain of Northeast proportions. The soles of my shoes have been patched with a roll of duct tape I fished out of a dumpster behind an upscale hardware store that sells $200 Christmas ornaments made from the tears of Filipino mothers suckling their infants while hammering brass into angels. I’m eating the sandwich you bought me to make yourself feel better about leaving your one true God to drown in the rain. You were late to pick up your Bichon from the groomer, but when you saw me, you thought of how good it would feel to brag to your boyfriend about the food you left on the ground in front of me. On one hand that was kind of you. On the other, if I’d recently lost my job or been evicted from my apartment as the world quarantined against itself, you’d not care to know it. If I’d been some loving mother’s child you’d just as soon prefer not to think about it. If my father had been a carpenter known as Joseph of Nazareth, you’d want to see proof and I could give it to you except that even nail holes in my hands wouldn’t be enough to get you to see past the self-righteousness of your own bleeding heart.

Me, I am Al-Hakim, wearing an N95 mask I stole from a CVS in the Embarcadero. Maybe you’ve heard, there’s a plague out there. Which is great for me—He who is All Wise. Wise enough, at least, to know that if the San Francisco police couldn’t be bothered before the pandemic to stop me from shoplifting thirty dollars’ worth of masks and Cheetos and Pepcid AC, they sure aren’t going to come near me now. Why would they? For them the spew of my breath might hold a super strain of pandemic puss I could cough all over them as I leave the store talking to myself. What they don’t know about my jabbering is that it is the chant of my blessing upon them. I rule by the order of God. The sounds from my lungs contain their salvation. Except they don’t know they need to be saved, and they don’t care to save me. Nor do you as you crawl along in traffic, watching me from behind the wheel of the Tesla you bought with stock cashed in from yet another social media app that has turned brother against brother. The fact is you’d prefer I didn’t exist, which I don’t, except that I do, for the believers among you who know my name. With a wave of my hand, I could wipe the smug off your face, turning it into awe. Except that it’s time to get back to the sidewalk grating that is my home. I need to be there as steam from the BART trains rising through the cardboard of my floor takes shape above me in strokes of calligraphy that spell my name in full. Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh. Fold a dollar into the paper cup I’ve set up for that purpose, and you can walk away thinking how grateful I am. But it’s you who should be grateful that I’ve graced this earth with my poverty and disease so you might see the poverty and disease in your soul.

I am Guan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, shivering outside a dollar store in Kansas City as I lift my two-year old and my four-year old into the cage of a shopping cart. In my bag alongside the SNAP food stamp and nursing home ID card, I have a razor knife I keep for my protection and the protection of my children. Being Mother Kwan Yin, I absorb the world’s suffering. You on the other hand absorb my suffering and the suffering my children as one absorbs the suffering of a feral cat and her litter being carted away by animal control. You cringe and ooze pity and then you move on to eat lunch with your husband who you tolerate for the millions he’s made from multi-national conglomerates that are setting fire to the human race. As far as you are concerned, I, the Bodhisattva – my thousand-armed body embracing the power of all Gods – am powerless. My children and I influence no one. We pose no threat to you or anyone. Which is to say that we are as good as dead to you. Tonight I, goddess of mercy, will lay my children down beside me in my bed, and you will be invited to rest with us. But you will not come. You will not visit my shrine offering jade and pearls because – calculating the profit – you’re too blind to see the eternal life that investment will net you in return.

Some call me Yahweh. Some call me Jehovah. You call the cops when you find me strung out and dope sick on the stoop of the D.C. townhouse where you own a two-bedroom unit you bought with the money from your wedding. In truth, I was at your wedding. I consecrated the vows you made at my altar. I heard the smashing of glass under your feet. I was there for you and now you refuse to recognize my babbling or to look into the pinwheels of my eyes. I frighten you. As I should, but not for the reasons you think. I am all-powerful and all knowing. I can create rainbows and rivers. I can read your mind even as my own mind is screaming inside the body I present to you, the human form in which I have returned. In this form I have lived through a childhood of abuse. In this form I have snatched pills from the medicine cabinets of my mother and father and the mothers and fathers of my friends. In this form I have been in and out of more church basements to attend more 12-step meetings than there are six pointed stars in all the synagogues on earth. In this form I have robbed businesses that have hired me to buy the drugs that have once again defeated me. In this form, I lay prostrate on your stoop as you wait for a squad car to arrive not caring that the prescriptions you take to keep your mood in check come from the same mob of drug company drug lords who have dropped me on your doorstep. Winter clouds I have made are about to give up the snow I have sent and standing above me in your doorway as if you were God, you seem to have forgotten that even the coat you are pulling on for protection has been my gift to you. You dare not get any closer to me, even if by this one act you save yourself and all of humanity. Even if by getting closer to me it means you are that much closer to God.

At the Jacksonville train station where the undocumented congregate and plead for work, I am the Buddha. I swam snake-infested rivers to get here. Crawled on my belly through concrete culverts evading the searchlights of border patrol ATVs. The politicians you elected have brainwashed you into believing I am stealing your jobs. But I ask you, for what you are willing to pay, who other than me will drain the shit from your septic tanks? Who will pull the leaf sludge from your gutters and roof the houses you will someday underpay my wife to clean? Lord Buddha to you, I discovered the path to freedom from ignorance, greed and suffering. All so you can celebrate your ignorance and greed. All so you can look upon my suffering as the suffering of a beast. To your way of thinking, my skin is as thick as a hide and my blood should be sacrificed for your gain. You point at me from the cab of your pickup, gap-toothed, red faced, finger-cocked like the handgun you open-carry; I bow my head and climb soundlessly into the bed of your truck. Sitting there cross-legged, hands folded on my lap, I’m giving you every chance to recognize me from the portraits that have given me human form. In your rear-view mirror, you spy me sitting patiently, grateful for the chance to work – to chop wood and carry water, if I am to speak as I am – and you think I am a fool. You are the fool. Life is nothing more than the gift of chopping wood and carrying water. How is it that you think you are a better man when you cheat the Buddha into working for you? You who don’t know you are dead among the living until you learn what I have come to teach you.

I am the Alpha and Omega, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. I am Elohim and Shàngdi, Hu and Zhŭ, Kartār and Khuda. Say my name. I am any God you believe in, however you know me, reincarnated as the beggar, the oddball, the sick and the weak. I’ve answered your prayers. I’ve given you your health and your wealth. Why do you answer me with scorn when I come to you in the shape of those who have neither?

There is no corporate ladder you can scale to get away, no island where you can buy a ticket to escape. You’ll not build a mansion with walls thick enough to keep me out nor grow pockets deep enough to hide from my sight. There is not a sailboat you can covet or ivy covered college you can buy your way into that is fleet enough or elite enough to obliterate me. I will be here until the earth wants no more to do with you. Waiting, until you see me for who I am.

Jesus disguised as a soldier in a wheelchair outside the bus station with a sign reading, “Lost my legs for my country. Help and you will be blessed.”

Allah cloaked as a wild-woman screaming at the sky while pushing a shopping cart with bottles she scrounged from dumpsters for the redemption of pocket change.

Shiva masked as a runaway teen in line at a soup kitchen, her hair rat-tied and dirty, her lungs bursting with the stifled cries of all who are holy.

The Gods you worship are watching you through the eyes of those you see as less than you. You, who are their family. You, who are no better. You, who are one of them.

But for the grace of me.

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

CategoriesShort Fiction
Tony Taddei

Tony Taddei is a writer who lives in Pennsylvania and whose stories have appeared in publications including Story Magazine, The Florida Review, New Millennium Writings, The Funny Times, Pif Magazine, The Blue Mountain Review, Animal Magazine, Voices in Italian American Journal and Honeyguide Magazine. Tony is a recipient of the New Jersey State Fellowship in Fiction, and is a graduate of the MFA Fiction Program at Bennington College where he worked closely with writers such as David Gates, Amy Hempel and Jill McCorkle. A collection of short stories, “The Sons of the Santorelli” was also published last year by Bordighera Press in NYC.