On the Day of the Crucifixion
by Leonid Andreyev
On that terrible day, when the universal injustice was committed and Jesus
Christ was crucified in Golgotha among robbers—on that day, from
early morning, Ben-Tovit, a tradesman of Jerusalem, suffered from an
unendurable toothache. His toothache had commenced on the day before,
toward evening; at first his right jaw started to pain him, and one tooth,
the one right next the wisdom tooth, seemed to have risen somewhat, and
when his tongue touched the tooth, he felt a slightly painful sensation.
After supper, however, his toothache had passed, and Ben-Tovit had
forgotten all about it—he had made a profitable deal on that day,
had bartered an old donkey for a young, strong one, so he was very
cheerful and paid no heed to any ominous signs.
And he slept very soundly. But just before daybreak something began to
disturb him, as if some one were calling him on a very important matter,
and when Ben-Tovit awoke angrily, his teeth were aching, aching openly and
maliciously, causing him an acute, drilling pain. And he could no longer
understand whether it was only the same tooth that had ached on the
previous day, or whether others had joined that tooth; Ben-Tovit's entire
mouth and his head were filled with terrible sensations of pain, as though
he had been forced to chew thousands of sharp, red-hot nails, he took some
water into his mouth from an earthen jug—for a minute the acuteness
of the pain subsided, his teeth twitched and swayed like a wave, and this
sensation was even pleasant as compared with the other.
Ben-Tovit lay down again, recalled his new donkey, and thought how happy
he would have been if not for his toothache, and he wanted to fall asleep.
But the water was warm, and five minutes later his toothache began to rage
more severely than ever; Ben-Tovit sat up in his bed and swayed back and
forth like a pendulum. His face became wrinkled and seemed to have shrunk,
and a drop of cold perspiration was hanging on his nose, which had turned
pale from his sufferings. Thus, swaying back and forth and groaning for
pain, he met the first rays of the sun, which was destined to see Golgotha
and the three crosses, and grow dim from horror and sorrow.
Ben-Tovit was a good and kind man, who hated any injustice, but when his
wife awoke he said many unpleasant things to her, opening his mouth with
difficulty, and he complained that he was left alone, like a jackal, to
groan and writhe for pain. His wife met the undeserved reproaches
patiently, for she knew that they came not from an angry heart—and
she brought him numerous good remedies: rats' litter to be applied to his
cheek, some strong liquid in which a scorpion was preserved, and a real
chip of the tablets that Moses had broken. He began to feel a little
better from the rats' litter, but not for long, also from the liquid and
the stone, but the pain returned each time with renewed intensity.
During the moments of rest Ben-Tovit consoled himself with the thought of
the little donkey, and he dreamed of him, and when he felt worse he
moaned, scolded his wife, and threatened to dash his head against a rock
if the pain should not subside. He kept pacing back and forth on the flat
roof of his house from one corner to the other, feeling ashamed to come
close to the side facing the street, for his head was tied around with a
kerchief like that of a woman. Several times children came running to him
and told him hastily about Jesus of Nazareth. Ben-Tovit paused, listened
to them for a while, his face wrinkled, but then he stamped his foot
angrily and chased them away. He was a kind man and he loved children, but
now he was angry at them for bothering him with trifles.
It was disagreeable to him that a large crowd had gathered in the street
and on the neighbouring roofs, doing nothing and looking curiously at
Ben-Tovit, who had his head tied around with a kerchief like a woman. He
was about to go down, when his wife said to him:
"Look, they are leading robbers there. Perhaps that will divert you."
"Let me alone. Don't you see how I am suffering?" Ben-Tovit answered
But there was a vague promise in his wife's words that there might be a
relief for his toothache, so he walked over to the parapet unwillingly.
Bending his head on one side, closing one eye, and supporting his cheek
with his hand, his face assumed a squeamish, weeping expression, and he
looked down to the street.
On the narrow street, going uphill, an enormous crowd was moving forward
in disorder, covered with dust and shouting uninterruptedly. In the middle
of the crowd walked the criminals, bending down under the weight of their
crosses, and over them the scourges of the Roman soldiers were wriggling
about like black snakes. One of the men, he of the long light hair, in a
torn blood-stained cloak, stumbled over a stone which was thrown under his
feet, and he fell. The shouting grew louder, and the crowd, like coloured
sea water, closed in about the man on the ground. Ben-Tovit suddenly
shuddered for pain; he felt as though some one had pierced a red-hot
needle into his tooth and turned it there; he groaned and walked away from
the parapet, angry and squeamishly indifferent.
"How they are shouting!" he said enviously, picturing to himself their
wide-open mouths with strong, healthy teeth, and how he himself would have
shouted if he had been well. This intensified his toothache, and he shook
his muffled head frequently, and roared: "Moo-Moo...."
"They say that He restored sight to the blind," said his wife, who
remained standing at the parapet, and she threw down a little cobblestone
near the place where Jesus, lifted by the whips, was moving slowly.
"Of course, of course! He should have cured my toothache," replied
Ben-Tovit ironically, and he added bitterly with irritation: "What dust
they have kicked up! Like a herd of cattle! They should all be driven away
with a stick! Take me down, Sarah!"
The wife proved to be right. The spectacle had diverted Ben-Tovit slightly—perhaps
it was the rats' litter that had helped after all—he succeeded in
falling asleep. When he awoke, his toothache had passed almost entirely,
and only a little inflammation had formed over his right jaw. His wife
told him that it was not noticeable at all, but Ben-Tovit smiled cunningly—he
knew how kind-hearted his wife was and how fond she was of telling him
Samuel, the tanner, a neighbour of Ben-Tovit's, came in, and Ben-Tovit led
him to see the new little donkey and listened proudly to the warm praises
for himself and his animal.
Then, at the request of the curious Sarah, the three went to Golgotha to
see the people who had been crucified. On the way Ben-Tovit told Samuel in
detail how he had felt a pain in his right jaw on the day before, and how
he awoke at night with a terrible toothache. To illustrate it he made a
martyr's face, closing his eyes, shook his head, and groaned while the
grey-bearded Samuel nodded his head compassionately and said:
"Oh, how painful it must have been!"
Ben-Tovit was pleased with Samuel's attitude, and he repeated the story to
him, then went back to the past, when his first tooth was spoiled on the
left side. Thus, absorbed in a lively conversation, they reached Golgotha.
The sun, which was destined to shine upon the world on that terrible day,
had already set beyond the distant hills, and in the west a narrow,
purple-red strip was burning, like a stain of blood. The crosses stood out
darkly but vaguely against this background, and at the foot of the middle
cross white kneeling figures were seen indistinctly.
The crowd had long dispersed; it was growing chilly, and after a glance at
the crucified men, Ben-Tovit took Samuel by the arm and carefully turned
him in the direction toward his house. He felt that he was particularly
eloquent just then, and he was eager to finish the story of his toothache.
Thus they walked, and Ben-Tovit made a martyr's face, shook his head and
groaned skilfully, while Samuel nodded compassionately and uttered
exclamations from time to time, and from the deep, narrow defiles, out of
the distant, burning plains, rose the black night. It seemed as though it
wished to hide from the view of heaven the great crime of the earth.