What Pilot Said to Gauis One Night


It suddenly closed in on me Gaius, the impact of how trapped I was. The proud arm of Rome with all its boast of justice was to be but a dirty dagger in the pudgy hands of the priests. I was waiting in the room, Gaius, the one I use for court, officially enthroned with cloak and guard when they let this Jesus in. Well Gaius, don’t smile at this, as you value your jaw, but I have had no peace since the day he walked into my judgment hall. It’s been years but these scenes I read from the back of my eyelids every night.


You have seen Caesar haven’t you? When he was young inspecting the legion. His arrogant manner was child-like compared to that of the Nazarene. He didn’t have to strut, you see. He walked toward my throne; arms bound but with a strident mastery and control that by its very audacity silenced the room for an instant and left me trembling with an insane desire to stand up and salute.


The clock began reading the absurd list of charges. The priestly delegations punctuating these with the palm-rubbings, the beard-strokings, the eye-rollings, and the pious gut-rolls by now which I had learned to ignore, but I more felt it Gaius than heard it.


I questioned him mechanically and he answered very little. But what he said and the way he said it, it was as if his level gaze had pulled up my naked soul right up into my eyes and was probing it there. And a voice kept saying in my ears, “why, you’re on trial Pilate!” And the man wasn’t even listening to the charges. You’d have sworn he had just come in out of friendly interest to see what was going to happen to me. And the very pressure of his standing there had grown unbearable when a slave rushed in all a tremble, interrupting court bringing a message from Claudia; she had stabbed at the stylus in that childish way that she does when she’s distraught, “don’t judge this amazing man Pilate” she wrote, “I was haunted in dreams by him this night”.


Gaius, I tried to free him. From that moment on I tried and I’ll always think he knew it. I declared him out of my jurisdiction being a Galilean, but the native King Herod discovered he was born in Judea and sent him right back to me. I appealed to the crowd hoping that they would be his sympathizers. But Caiaphas had stationed agitators to whip up the beasts that cry for blood, and you know how in this town here any citizen loves the blood of another person just after breakfast and screams for another’s blood.


I had him beaten Gaius, a thorough barracks room beating. I’m still not sure why, to appease the crowd I guess, but do we Romans really need any reason for beatings? Isn’t that the code for anything we don’t understand? Well, it didn’t work Gaius, the crowd roared like some slavering beast when I brought him back. If only you could have watched him. They had thrown some rags of mock-purple over his bleeding shoulders; they had jammed a chaplet of thorns down on his forehead and it fitted. It all fitted Gaius! He stood there, watching them from my balcony, flamed from weakness by now, but royal I tell you. Not just pain but pity shining from his eyes. And I kept thinking: somehow this is monstrous, this is upside-down, that purple is real, that crown is real, and somehow these animal noises the crowd is shrieking should be praise! And then Caiaphas played his master-stroke on me: He announced there in public that this Jesus claimed the crown and that was treason to Caesar. And the guards began to glance at one another quickly, and that mob of spineless filth began to shout, “Hail Caesar! Hail Caesar!” And Gaius, I knew I was beaten; I gave the order.


I couldn’t look at him. Then I did a childish thing: I called for water. And there on the balcony I washed my hands of that whole affair. But as they led him away Gaius, I did look up and he turned and looked at me, no smile, no pity, just glanced at my hands, and I’ll feel the weight of his eyes on them from now on.


But you’re yawning Gaius; I’ve kept you up. And the fact of the matter is you are in need of some rest and some holidays. Claudia will be asleep by now. Rows of lighted lamps line her couch; she can’t sleep in the dark anymore; no, not since that afternoon. You see Gaius, the sun went out when my guards executed him; that’s exactly what I said. I don’t know how; I don’t know what; I only know that I was there and though it was the middle of the day it turned as black as the tunnels of hell in that miserable city. And while I tried to compose Claudia and explain how I had been trapped, she railed at me with a dream and she’s had that dream ever since when she sleeps in the dark, some form of it, that there was to have been a new Caesar and that I, her husband, had killed him.


Oh we’ve been to Egypt; to their seers and magicians. We’ve listened by the hour to the oracles in the musty temples of Greece chattering their inanities. We’ve called it an oriental curse that we’re under and we’ve tried to break it a thousand ways Gaius, but there’s no breaking it, except in even that it might not you see.


But you know why I have kept going Gaius? Deeper than the curse is the haunting driving certainty that he is still somewhere near, and that I have some unfinished business with him, and that now and then as I walk by the lake he’s following me. And much as that strikes terror Gaius, I wonder if that isn’t the only hope. You see, if I could walk up to him and this time salute and tell him that now I know that whoever else he is he was the only man worthy of his name in all Judea that day; tell him I know I wasn’t trapped; that I trapped myself; tell him here is one Roman who wishes he really were Caesar, I believe that would do it Gaius wouldn’t it? I believe he’d listen and know I meant it, and at last I’d see him smile.


Yes, quiet tonight. Not a breeze stirring Gaius.


Goodnight, you’d better run along.


No no, would you please waken the slave outside the door and tell him to bring me my cloak, my heavy one please. I believe I’ll walk by the lake.


Yes, it’s dark there Gaius, but I won’t be alone. I really haven’t ever been alone; not since that day.


Yes, goodnight Gaius.