(Illustration courtesy of Cesar Branco, el Corcunda – the Hunchback)
Cesar Branco (or Cesar the Terrible / Cesar the Hunchback / Cesar the child eating witchman) as he was known by the school children that played in the streets near his home in Cuzco, Peru – was, by all accurate descriptions, an exotic bird. It was not his plumage however that made him exotic, but his peculiar habits. He had made a career out of being a thorn in the side of the academic establishment, and had irked off numerous colleagues on account of his visceral and acerbic criticisms of their work. Although his forte was in anthropological archaeology, this did not prevent him from dabbling (or straying as his academic colleagues would mildly put it), into other fields: biochemistry, physics, oriental philosophy, homerian history, quantum computing and most recently…astrophysics.
He lived atop a musty grand old apartment in the ‘Old District’ of Cuzco, which he shared with a cat (Oliver) and Hakheem – his surly and ill-tempered butler, cook, general secretary and all round busy-body. Hakheem, was a Muslim of North African extraction and Cesar Branco (in fitting colonial style), had ‘brought’ him from a market in the Saleh oasis in the Sahara, many years ago whilst he was digging there. Well, if truth be told – if he hadn’t of ‘brought’ him, the poor man Hakheem would have been executed, as he had stood up to the bullying of the then Caliph; a most detestable creature called Ibn bin Khedive. Hakheem lived in thanks to Cesar; for he had saved his life, but he constantly chided him for his ‘heretic’ dabblings in the dark arts of ‘Alchemy’ as he liked to call them. For Hakheem was a man of faith. Five times a day he would place his mat in the direction of Mecca and pray to his god. In a world of capricious forces, dark motives and aloneness – he found solace in his faith. It gave him strength and his life meaning – a meaning beyond that of the appetites of his ephemeral earthly body.
Cesar Branco on the other hand was as irreligious a creature as you could invent. He had; at the tender age of seven, decided to do away with God. But unlike Nietzsche’s overblown pronouncement, the young Cesar had decided to keep his a little low key. The epiphany and insight that led to this came to him in school, in the classroom of Mr Goethe – the classics teacher. They had been going over Homers Iliad and the story of the Trojan War. The archer god Apollo was on a killing spree, as his priest on earth had been slighted and spurned by king Agamemnon of Mycenae, who had refused to give back the priests daughter who Agamemnon claimed as his rightful war booty. Not withstanding the details; what struck young Cesar at the time, was that god Apollo was more interested in his own hurt pride, than the actual plight of his priests’ suffering daughter. So Apollo comes down from the heavens and starts attacking the troops, but only because Agamemnon has not shown him due respect. At that moment, young Cesar decided, that all gods – be they ancient Homerian – were creations of the human mind. Because they were thoroughly human! They got angry. They got jealous. They were ill-tempered and surly. They brooked no argument. In fact – they were created in the image of any earthly king of those times!
But alas, we are straying away from the story here. Suffice it is to say that young Cesar from that moment onward’s remained devoutly unfaithful.
But there was a downside to his brilliance. As he grew up he found most human company depraving and detestable. Human intercourse somehow left him dissatisfied, with a nasty after-taste, and as a result he shunned human company when it was of the vulgar type. He locked himself away in his library and books, he scorned the wider world of politics, family, citizenship and instead spent his hours amongst his friends: dusty old yellow manuscripts; most of them in tatters, that had somehow managed to survive the ages and the scourge of time. He collected them all! Like a rabid fanatic. And he spent hours poring over the scribbling’s of long dead savants for that insight, for that rare gleam of wisdom, for that candle-in-the-dark, that would show the way to the answers he was seeking.
And what grand answers he sought!
And it was on one dark and stormy night, in Cuzco, a few months ago – when Cesar; locked away in his library, had come across the wonderfully dark and strange tale of a 15th century Franciscan Friar named Father Omassi. Father Omassi, who was from the city of Firenze (modern day Florence), had – for his own reasons decided to take flight from the world he knew, and embrace the unknown in the service of God. Thus, he took a place aboard one of the caravel ships destined for the New World of the Americas. Little did he know that instead of converting heathens to the ‘one true faith’ – he’d be converted himself. To something totally out of this world…
It is a remarkable tale – which deserves its own chapter…
[To be continued…]