The institution (Chapter 50)
Tension and excitement fills the air. Yet no one moves.
The only noise is those men weeping and the shuffling of men trying to make their kneeling position more comfortable.
I glance as the man who escorted me. His face is grim as he examinations the crowd.
I look back at the square. Everyone seems to be in a state of expectation, but I’m not sure if it’s worth waiting around to see what will happen next. I desperately need a bath and the stressful day is beginning to wear on me.
I begin to turn back towards the darkness of the alley, but he grabs my arm to stop me.
I look at my escort questioningly. I’ve taken my peek, what else do I really need to see?
He nods his head towards the back of the square.
I look back. I see at the back of the square a procession slowly making its way silently through the crowd of kneeling men. Leading it is a man in a black robe carrying a long thin pole with a short stick fixed to the top to form a ‘T’. Long red strips of fabric knotted to the second stick wave in the air, sometimes hitting the man in the face, but he doesn’t react. Behind him, a man carries a heavily decorated black box out before him like it holds the most precious objects.
Next is a woman dressed in an almost translucent light blue dress with a cord around her waist. Her shoulders are high and she shares straight ahead. Her hair hangs loosely around her head. Four men in black follow her, carrying various items.
The reaction of the men in the crowd is acute. Some are fixated on the woman, watching her every step as the procession makes it way to the other side of the square. Others look ahead at the podium with a dedicated look of reverence. Others still lean over to quietly whisper to their neighbors.
I hear someone cough loudly near my side of the square. No one looks our way, but I retreat a little back into the shadows of the alley just to be safe.
Despite the crowd, it feels like I am spying on something private and spiritual. Something I shouldn’t be violating with my human eyes.
The procession reaches the stairs of the temple and begins ascending the steps to the platform. The woman in blue stumbles, what almost appears blindly. The man behind her reaches out a hand to held steady her but she doesn’t seem to notice. He hands his vessel to the man walking behind him and hauls her up by her arm. Once standing she again proceeds up the stairs, head forward, never looking back, never looking at the crowd.
When they reach the platform, the older Pinn in the white robe who had been waiting for them directs the woman to stand between the wooden pillars. He then turns back to the crowd and begins chanting in a language I don’t understand. The crowd is silent, listening, watching.
The men in the procession begin to work. One man takes the red strips of fabric and grabs the woman’s arm, winding the fabric around her arm like a vine and then knots it to the pole. The man then proceeds to do the same thing with her other limbs, slowly tying her to the pole.
One of the men in the procession steps towards the man in white offering him a decorated vessel. The man in white stops chanting, grabs the vessel and drinks liberally before handing the vessel back. The man then takes the vessel and brings it to the lips of the tied woman. She too drinks, but not fast enough and the creamy liquid spills down her front causing her dress to darken and stick to her. No one seems to notice or care.
The man in white, the seeming leader of this ceremony, then beings chanting again and another man steps forward holding a decorated box. The leader opens the box and carefully lifts out a heavily decorated dagger. He steps towards the woman and my breath hitches with fear. He holds it to her chest.
My initial fears, however, were unfounded. He grabs the fabric of her dress and uses the knife to cut it straight down the middle. The knife seems sharp, but with the awkward angles this seems to be difficult work and the man seems to be half ripping the fabric. Once done several other men step forward to help remove what is left of her clothing.
The leader in white then turns back to the crowd again and beings chanting louder. The black choir joins in responding to the leader
The procession places their items on the ground and then return to the woman. One holds a different golden bowl while the remaining wait next to the bowl. The first man dunks his hand in and it comes out golden. He then approaches the woman, he places his hand on her chest and then drags it down her body, leaving a painted streak of gold.
As the men of the procession take turns painting her body gold. She doesn’t seem to notice. Though she is too far away for me to make out her expression, she does not resist, or scream, or even try to move. Her head is straight facing the crowd who watch the action with interest.
Once they are finished, they cover her head with a short blue veil, just long enough to cover her face and hair.
The leader then bellows and rips off his white robe, exposing his extended belly and stocky legs. It’s an unimpressive sight.
“ What the..?” I turn to my escort.
My escort puts a finger over my lips and shushes me quietly.
I turn my eyes back to the ceremony to see than the procession is now painting the leader. They mark his body in long golden streaks from his shoulders all the way to his calves. One man reaches down and yanks the leader’s penis almost violently, painting it gold in a way that makes me flinch.
The drums begin to slowly beat.
Boom, boom, boom.
It echoes off of the buildings around the square.
The Pinns in the crowd respond to it. Some raise their hands in the air and sway to the beat. Others return to wailing. Most at pounding their fists on the ground to the beat.
The now naked golden leader walks around the tied woman twice. She never turns her head or acknowledges him.
He then stops behind her, grabs himself and tries to direct his penis into her. He fails, once, twice. He grabs himself again and begins to yank. After a few moments, he tries to penetrate her again and succeeds.
Boom, boom, boom.
He moves in rhythm with the drums, grabbing her hips to steady himself. In, out, in, out. She continues to stare absently into the crowd. The chanting gets louder and louder, the voices rising in beat with the drums.
Boom, boom, boom.
He grips her breasts, smearing the paint. Her body jiggles with his movement. He grasps her hair hard through the veil, tugging her head to the side as he kisses her neck.
Boom, boom, boom.
It’s disgusting, it’s confusing. Is it rape? It has to be rape. Or maybe she agreed? She doesn’t seem in distress....
Boom, boom, boom
The old man’s movements are becoming sloppy, jerky. I can’t quite see his face, but it’s clear he is panting.
Boom, boom, boom.
It’s over. The man surges into her so her body tilts forward, straining against the red cloth rope. I realize the breath I was apparently holding and breathe in the smell of trash and smoke once again. The weird sex ritual is finished…
A man in black robes approaches the leader, who is still inside the woman.
I glance at my escort. Surely now we can go.
I hear a roar and I turn back to the platform just in time to see the leader drag the dagger across the woman’s neck. It takes but a second before blood begins spurt out, covering the once gold painted flesh with thick red. Her body goes limp and the leader who murdered her steps back.
They murdered her, in broad daylight in the center of the city.
The pain of the shock shakes me. It’s like a burning in my chest. I place my hand over my heart. Never have I felt such a physical manifestation of an emotion. It’s the only thing reminding me that this is real. Too real.
And I am stuck on this planet with them.