By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Jan. 21, 2015    I was there by the gate when he came in—this wild-looking man stomping along as if he was mad at the whole world. Maybe even the gods. Then again, I get that. I’m mad at the gods a lot, too, especially the great and fickle goddess of love, war, and sex, Ishtar. Why do they always have to make things so hard? You work and work to do everything to appease them, make sacrifices, visit the holy prostitutes, and still your land may or may not give good crops, your animals may or may not be healthy, your wife may or may not love you.

Anyway, this guy looked even madder than I felt, if that’s possible. He stamped along like an angry lion. I could swear he was growling low in his throat. Curious, I found myself following him. He tramped up the main street as if he was headed for the center of the city.

Suddenly, he stopped and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

I stopped, shocked, and nearby people turned to look. Some of them followed, along with me, as the man marched angrily on again.

This went on all day. At first we laughed. Children chased after him, throwing things and giggling. But after a while, well, maybe I’m crazy, but it started to seem serious. Others thought so, too. They shushed the children and shooed them away. Some turned back and went home. Women leaned out of windows above the streets, and then silently turned back within.

I wondered what would happen when the king heard. It was only a matter of time. He was making enough of a racket, and it seemed like half the city had already turned out to come and see. Our progress through the narrow ways between stone buildings was getting difficult.

Near the end of the day, I saw mounted soldiers pushing their way through the crowd. Ah! King’s men. Now we’d see. The crowd pressed back against the walls. Some people were knocked down. Nobody wanted to be too close to this crazy man when the king’s justice fell.

We were astonished when the lead soldier dismounted and informed the man that the king would hear him. The crazy man turned to follow, surrounded by the horses as if they were guarding him. He looked as mad as ever. Mad in both ways, I mean. The rest of us fell in behind the strange little procession. We weren’t about to miss whatever would happen next.

When we reached the palace, of course, we all had to wait outside. We shifted and whispered, but there was a very odd atmosphere hovering over the throng. “Surely we aren’t going to take that guy seriously!” I muttered to the man next to me. “Who could overthrow the Great City?”

“I don’t know,” he muttered back. “Anyway, even if someone were that powerful, it’s insane to give us six weeks’ worth of warning! I’ll bet the king has him executed.”

“After he finds out everything this guy knows,” added a third person.

But we all shivered a little. It was really strange, that feeling. Everybody seemed to feel it.

Finally the big gates opened, and out came the crazy guy, and—the king himself! We couldn’t kneel, but we all bowed. I don’t know about anybody else, but I admit I was scared. I don’t know why.

The king lifted his hands, and everyone became even more silent than they already were. I couldn’t believe what happened next. He took off his royal robe! A servant standing nearby helped him wrap something around himself, and to my shock, it became clear that the king was now wearing sackcloth. My shiver became a full-fledged chill as I listened to his proclamation.

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.  But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

And the king unceremoniously sat down in the dust and threw some on his head.

The two men near me and I traded glances. All our mouths were hanging open. We’d never seen such a thing! The king himself was taking this crazy man seriously?

Also, it was clear he wasn’t talking about Ishtar, or any of her consorts. I thought he must mean that famous “One True God” the Hebrews are always talking about. You know, I once heard some things that made me want to follow that God. I mean, he’s still capricious and gets angry when you cross him, or anyway that’s how it seems. But I’ve heard Hebrews actually talk about him loving them. Loving people! A god! Can you imagine?

As I stood there, I’ll never know why, but all of a sudden all my petty attitudes and hidden cruelties rose up in my mind as if my own insides were in revolt. I remembered the fight I’d had with a friend, and the way I’d cheated in my trades, and that woman in the alley…my wife does love me. She really does. She’s just…I guess she has the right to be angry with me.

Silent, forgetting all those around me, I turned toward home. I thought I’d better find some sackcloth, too. I was startled to feel a hand touch mine. I turned, and there was my wife. She didn’t say anything. Her look said it all. As we headed for home, I could feel her there close behind me, almost as if we were holding hands right in public.

I hope God does relent. I want a chance to do things differently…