Part II of When There Were Me & You
*Crossover with The Physician / Der Medicus (2013)
He was, to put it simple, an immortal man.
He was immortal not in the sense of going on for century after century without going old and dying – that was vampirism, and a vampire was the last thing he would use to draw an analogy. As a matter of fact, he similar to a mortal man in that he was born, he grew up and grew old, wrinkled and ailed, until he ultimately died. And then, the cycle repeated: his undying soul regained a newborn flesh and began anew. No matter how many lifetimes he’d gone through, his appearance, as well as his core personality, remained unchanging, and he was in full awareness of his past lives. That was what drew a clear distinction between his immortality and reincarnation, a notion proposed by many religions and faiths. He didn’t commit himself to any religions though – it was difficult to be preached and convinced about the greatness of the Almighty, about Heaven and Hell, about sins and the Judgment when an existence as abnormal as his was permitted. Still, godless as he was, and would remain to be, he believed in the omnipotent, all-knowing yet unseen force that governed everything – from the smallest grain of sand in the dessert to the constellations in the black velvet sky. He believed it had created what he was, and lodged him into this life for a reason as unfathomable as its being, but there was a reason alright, there had to be. Nothing happened without a reason and believing so had kept his sanity intact and kept him going. He refused to think that his existence was meant solely to exemplify a natural loophole.
He had gone through many lifetimes under many names, so many that he could never remember them all.
Some were more memorable than others.
In that life time he was christened Rob Cole and given an uncanny gift to ‘see’ death approaching a person. But he hadn’t realized he possessed such talent until he witnessed his mother succumb to the side sickness while being utterly helpless to do the smallest thing to help her. In hindsight, it was the exact moment that had outlined his destiny as Rob Cole – to become the one to try and hinder the cold, clammy hand of death brushing over a person’s eyes. But of course, he hadn’t had a slightest idea this lifetime’s purpose either until well later in his life; back then he was but a nine-year-old brat who had just lost his entire family in one day – his mum gone and his younger siblings taken away – and was desperately trying to find a new one in the vagabond barber.
It took the barber’s going blind for Rob Cole to see being a barber was simply never good enough to help the people in need of treatment; had it been, he wouldn’t have witnessed a plethora of deaths on his way across the country, and just about as many lives handicapped.
From the Jews he heard about Ibn Sina, the greatest healer the world had ever seen and his palaces residing amongst the ocean of golden sand, where he healed as well as passing the sacred art of healing onto his students. That was where he would go, Rob decided on the spot, with an unwavering resolution that surprised even himself, much less his aging barber. There was no way he could explain it to the old man, same as he couldn’t give a plausible explanation for his gift to see death approaching; he just knew it was embossed in his fate as Robert Cole and he had to fulfill it.
So, to the east he went. He landed on foreign land and was greeted with both hostility and hospitality. He arrived at Isfahan with nothing but the tattered and besmirched clothes on his sunburnt back and pleas ready on his chapped, cracked lips. He met the great Ibn Sina and got admitted to his madrassa in a favorable twist of fate. There he learned, he loved, and he lost. Tears were shed and wiped, heart broken and mended, wounds opened and sewn, and years later, he found his way home, to England.
His wise teacher, the great Ibn Sina, had once said that he was to live a long life so that he could save as many people as possible. Long did he live and many a life had he saved, but also as many he had failed. Death saddened him a great deal when it took someone from him – his next-door neighbor, his trusted friend, even his beautiful, devoted wife – but it no longer devastated him; Hakim Robert Cole had come to make peace with death and consider it an old friend.
There was one death that stayed with him till his own. There was a war going on, and his hospital, situated somewhere on the border, was filled with casualties. He did not discriminate between ally and foe and treated every man brought in with equal dedication. Some he had succeeded in snatching from Death’s hand whilst some he had not. The blank space behind his hospital quickly became a makeshift graveyard where unmarked graves kept sprouting up like mushrooms after a rain.
He couldn’t tell at first if the man that had just been carried in was an ally or enemy – his outfit was covered in blood, both his own and not. The only thing he was able to tell was the man was probably an archer, judging by how his hand was tightly clutching his bow even when it was already broken. Rob examined the man and as he did, a grim sense washed over him. With the excessive amount of blood he had lost and the fatal wound that ran from his left shoulder to his chest, almost splitting him in half, one should wonder how he was even breathing. Time stood completely still for a second, and the veil of reality dispersed so that Rob could glimpse into the truth of existence. It was his gift, no longer seen as a curse, telling him that death was near. He heaved a sign and took the dying man’s hand in his, trying to offer him as much comfort as he could.
When he looked into the man’s eyes, he felt a spark that shot through his entire body, making him shudder, his hairs standing on end. Centuries later he would have described it as a jolt of high-voltage electricity. It was brief but it was shocking, and he had never felt something like this before, not in this lifetime or previous others. His eyes were fixed on the dying man’s face, which, although distorted in agony, gave off a sense of peace. He felt the blood-slicked fingers weakly squeezing back. No words were exchanged as Rob held his gaze, staying absolutely still until the archer’s last breath died out.
Another unmarked mound in the graveyard. Rob buried his bow with him and visited him every day for the rest of his life.
He hadn’t known the archer’s name.
He had lived long enough to know a spark like that didn’t come once in a while; in fact it was so rare that one needed to go through several lifetimes before it happened. Therefore he decided to keep this little, precious trinket in his consciousness, where he had constructed as a chamber to store the experiences he wanted to take to his next life. For an immortal man, his mind capacity was not indefinite, and there was a limit to what his chamber could hold before it burst, blowing his mind to smithereens. There was no telling what would become of him if that happened, and he dreaded imagining the possibilities. Thus he had to choose carefully, and laid the rest of his memories down the dark, boundless basement beneath. And this spark, as well as the brief memory of the archer, definitely deserved a spot.
In this life he was named Paul Rovia, but all who knew him called him ‘Jesus’. He found that quite an irony because he was pretty sure he had met the real Savior in one of his lifetimes. Couldn’t remember the details though; two millennia was a long time. He had even lost count of his lifetimes.
This could be his last, he mused absent-mindedly on a slow, lazy and rare afternoon he had claimed for himself, because one day you woke up from your sweet dream and the apocalypse had stomped your doors.
The dead walked the earth like the living, hunting them, devouring them, adding them to the ever-growing army of dead. He had witnessed myriads of bizarrities over the centuries but never something like this. The people whom he had known, who had addressed him by the Jesus moniker, fell one by one before his eyes, rose and had to be put down by the edge of his knives. In this life, death was not an old friend but a constant threat, a scythe dangling above their heads, eager to strike.
This could be the end of the world, as well as the end of him. He was strangely peaceful about that; if this fallen-apart world was the one to greet him the next time he opened his newborn eyes, then he’d rather not be born at all.
Sometimes he entertained the thought about how it would be if he had Rob Cole’s medical skills integrated into this lifetime. Outdated by roughly a thousand years but still be useful due to the shortage of doctors. Nevertheless, even without the skills he could have had, he was still a valuable asset to the new community he had short of settled in. Short of because despite how much he tried, he didn’t feel belonged here. Not sure if he would ever. It was ironic to think about since Rob Cole, in spite of his stark differences in religion and practices, had fitted in with Jewish lifestyle during his years at Isfahan in a way Paul Rovia couldn’t with his community of similar beliefs – always feeing like an outsider hovering at the periphery. Still he managed his task well, venturing outside the gate, sometimes for days, endangering himself to scavenge for whatever supplies his people needed. He went on his own, partly because running without having to look after anyone was faster and partly because he saw himself as expendable. If he were lost out there, while his community would be one scout short, no-one would bear the baggage of grief.
At least he hoped so. Grief could be a crippling hindrance to survival, which should be anyone’s number-one priority in this crapsack world.
Whenever he thought about his inability to form a connection to anyone, he was reminded of the spark he had felt a millennium ago, happened only once. It had warmed his heart in those lonely nights where the ailing campfire had failed. It always astounded him how something that had lasted for only a briefest moment could withstand the mercilessness of time and still felt so fresh, so new, like a thousand years was only a couple of hours ago. Sometimes he thought he could feel the texture of the archer’s skin, callous and slicked with blood. It was a shame he had never gotten to know his name.
“… This is Daryl Dixon.”
He had already turned on his heels but when he heard that name, some mysterious force had him whip his body around to do a double take. Curious perhaps? His gaze landed on the quieter man of the pair, the one who was standing nearer to him with a gun trained at his face.
For the first time in a thousand years he had felt the spark again, running along his spine like electric current. He shivered despite his thick trench coat, gloves and boots.
Daryl Dixon was a perfect stranger to Paul Rovia, a man Paul had met only today. Yet he had seen this face on a man centuries ago, in an English hospital situated on the border. He had buried that same man under an unmarked grave that only he could discern from numerous others as he paid it a visit every day till the last day of his life.
What was originally a spark had become wildfire. It was consuming him and he had not felt so alive for so long.
Nothing happened without a reason, he believed.
Daryl Dixon. In this life his name was Daryl Dixon. He made sure to remember that name.
He spread his arms, flashing the pair – but mostly Daryl – his smile.
“Paul Rovia, but my friends used to call me Jesus. Your pick.”
Inspired to write this after watching The Physician, a movie starring Tom Payne as Rob Cole, a Christian young man who crosses the ocean and faces numerous adversities in order to study the art of healing. It’s an inspiring movie which I’d recommend to anyone. Plus, Tom is extremely adorable as Rob Cole.