24 April 2018

Torment In The Torrent

I recently taught Dante's Inferno.  In it, Hell is divided into nine circles, each reserved for particular kinds of sinners and each with its own punishments.

(As best as I can tell, I'd end up in the third ring of the seventh circle.  But I digress.)

One thing that has always struck me about the punishments meted out in each part of Dante's Hell is that they are not only retributive (at least, according to notions of divine justice prevailing in his time);  they are also meant to torment those who are sentenced.  At least, that is how it seemed to me.

Sometimes it seems that the torment is worse than the punishment itself.  I think it's because the resulting pain, humiliation and embarrassment endure for even longer than any physical torture.  Plus, folks whom you believed to be friends or allies--or, at least, fellow travelers--will pepper you with "witty" comments or taunt you with laughter.

At least, that was the experience related described Dublin-based writer Cal McGhee in his Broken Bicycle Blues.  As if it weren't bad enough to get thrown from his bike into a parked car, all of his attempts to call would-be rescuers failed:  The Vodafone customer you are calling is not accessible at the moment.

Oh, but it gets worse:  He starts to walk his bike in the pouring rain.  He doesn't get very far when the "innards of the back tyre unravel and intertwine with the wheel, rendering it absolutely 'bolloxed'."  So, unable to roll his bicycle alongside him, he has to carry his machine--until he no longer can.  

Then, "not equipped with any weaponry," he saws at the tire with a key in an attempt to cut the tire off.  But that key proved no match for the tire and snapped in half.

That key was--you guessed it--his bike key.

Having endured the ordeal of flat tire, crash, broken key and the jeers of other cyclists who passed him, he finally reaches home, where he is "greeted by the beaming smile of a child."  He reaches out to embrace the tyke when he notices how grungy he is and stops himself.

"That's how I died," he informs us.

He asks that no flowers be brought to the funeral.  Instead, he requests donations that can go to "an experimental business heralding a new regime" in which "cyclists in peril" will be "rescued and fed curry sauce until they are restored to full health."

Will that ease the torment of other cyclist seeing him walking and carrying his bike?

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