Father Charbel had paid a visit to Iraq, returning with painful memories which found their way out at the slightest opportunity. Those close to him said that he had tired of life in the monastery and wished to return to Assyria; that the spirit of the place had taken possession of him, like the ghost of a spell lodged deep within him, and turned his dreams into terrible nightmares. Did he want any help? Never, he would say: “No one can help you find your destiny. You must face the towering waves alone. The monk has no one, not even the Lord.” These were the doubts and emotions that assailed him. He couldn’t throw them off. It was clear he could not go on like this, his head stuffed with books, and his life split into two parts, one dominated by the books, the other by daily existence, and between them, this torment: the sharp contradiction between the two.
Just days later we awoke to a great uproar in the monastery. The monks and nuns were clustered at the entrance to the library screaming in anger: “A crime! A crime! A crime!” Father Charbel had been stabbed in the back with a knife and lay bloodstained, stretched out on the ground. His last book was gripped hard in his hand, testimony to the agony which he had tried, or so it seemed, to offload between its lines. Everyone was craning forward to read the two pages that had lain open before Father Charbel’s eyes as he was taking leave of our world, grief-stricken that he would never see his dream fulfilled. Father Joseph hurried up and the monks and nuns surrounded him, anger flaring in their eyes. “Let’s call the police!” one shouted. While Father Joseph tried to calm them, he was staring at Father Charbel’s face, as if trying to read the last word that had crossed his lips. Perhaps he might work out the name of the killer, uttered by Father Charbel; the last word he had ever said. The monks and nuns insisted on calling the police and having the pathologist go over the body, but Father Joseph said: “We’re Christians. We don’t believe in dissection.” Then added: “Let us wait until evening. Maybe the murderer will come to the confession chair.”
They rushed to brush the worst of the blood from Father Charbel and, having placed him in a coffin, to lay him out in the crypt to wait for evening. But no one came to the confession chair. Father Joseph leant against the altar, waiting for the killer to show: maybe his conscience would nudge him into that illuminated corner of the soul where a man encounters himself for the first time. A terrible silence possessed the four corners of the monastery. No one could
36 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015