The Messiah floated gently down Constitution Avenue, his arms spread wide, as if to hug mankind. Traffic stopped and people gawked, their eyes and iPhones pointed toward the heavens. All who gazed upon Him knew at once why he was here: Earth was saved and all their pain was ending.
His throne came to a stop above the Parliament House Forecourt. He was fifty meters tall and beautifully proportioned, with golden skin and eyes like polished sapphires. A pair of cherubs sat on his shoulders, playing silver trumpets. Their song was so beautiful that it moved people to tears.
“I am the Messiah,” the deity announced, as if there were any question. “And I have come to bring you all salvation.”
Some reporters from the Press Gallery had scrambled onto the Forecourt. The Messiah smiled down on them indulgently.
“Feel free to ask me what you wish,” He said. “Bernard Keane from Crikey!, you can go first.”
“Thank you,” the reporter said. He was trying his best to remain composed, but his cheeks were damp with tears. “What, exactly, do you mean by ‘salvation’?” he asked.
“All suffering will cease,” the Messiah answered. “And Earth shall be turned into a heaven.”
The crowd cheered wildly. Strangers embraced. The elderly danced like children.
“The Guardian’s Gabrielle Chan, you go next. You’ve had your hand up the longest.”
“Thank you,” the correspondent said. “I was wondering what this means for the world’s poor?”
“Deliverance,” the Messiah said. “The poor shall eat, the lame shall walk, and all wars shall be ended! ” The cheering grew so loud that the Messiah had to shout to be heard. “O.K., who’s next? How about you, Andrew Bolt?”
The cheering stopped.
“What’s wrong?” the Messiah asked. The cherubs whispered something into His ear.
“Oh,” He said, turning pale. “I’m sorry. I meant SKY News Stan Grant.” He cleared His throat and forced a smile. “Go ahead, sir! ”
Stan Grant glared up at Him, his arms folded tightly across his chest.
“You were going to ask me something?” the Messiah pressed on. “Go ahead, ask away.”
“O.K.,” Grant said. “I guess my question is: Why did you confuse me with Andrew Bolt?”
“Look, I’m sorry about that,” the Messiah said. “It’s just that you’re both so handsome, and you’re both on TV.”
Grant raised an eyebrow.
“Are you sure it’s not because I’m black and he’s white?”
“It’s not that! ” the Messiah said. “I’m just really bad with faces. Ask anyone.”
“If you’re so bad with faces, how come you recognized Gabrielle Chan?” Grant asked. “Why didn’t you confuse her with Liz Hayes?”
The crowd murmured in agreement as the cherubs exchanged a worried glance.
“Look, this is crazy,” the Messiah said. “It was an honest mistake. I’m the Messiah—I love all mankind! I’m not racist, O.K.? I’m not racist!”
The cherubs tugged on his robe, but the Messiah kept defending himself and making everything worse.
“You’re both males! You’re both on TV! I’m not racist!”
Brooke Boney from the SBS thrust her microphone toward the heavens.
“Messiah, do you think you ought to apologise to Mr. Grant?”
“Apologise for what? Confusing two people who are both males and both on TV?”
“Do you regret your comments?” Waleed Aly asked. He’d moved on from the salvation story and was now focussed on the race angle.
“Guys, this is crazy! ” the Messiah said, his face contorted in a pained grin. “I have black friends. I’m a fan of black culture! ”
At this point, the cherubs were trying to physically close His mouth.
“I love Kanye West! ”
The Forecourt fell silent. The cherubs buried their faces in their hands.
“O.K.,” the Messiah murmured. “Let’s just stop for the day. I’ll come back tomorrow, and we’ll try again. Or something. Sound good ?”
No one responded.
The cherubs, their cheeks redder than usual, played a few rushed notes on their trumpets. Then they grabbed the Messiah’s elbows and dragged Him awkwardly up to Heaven.
The Messiah paced back and forth on his cloud, scrolling though tweets on His iPad.
“This is ridiculous,” He said. “I’m trending on Twitter. And, look at this, look at Google.”
The cherubs dutifully hovered over His screen.
“If you type ‘Messiah’ into the search box, the first thing that comes up is ‘Messiah racist.’ Not ‘Messiah salvation’ or ‘Messiah to end death.’ ‘Messiah racist!’”
He forced a laugh. “This is crazy! ” He nudged one of the cherubs in the ribs, sending him tumbling across the sky. “You guys think this is crazy, right?”
The cherubs shared a long, silent look. Eventually, the one called Gorath cleared his throat.
“Oh, sweet and noble Messiah,” he said, in a honeyed voice. “The thing is . . . Stan Grant and Andrew Bolt look nothing alike. Stan Grant is Aboriginal, and Andrew Bolt is an older, sensible, smartly dressed white male. Also, Grant has a wonderful tan and Bolt is completely grey.”
“It’s true,” Xophiel, the other cherub, said.
“They’re not exactly the same age. I looked it up on Wikipedia!”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“So you’re telling me you’ve never made a mistake like that? You’ve never confused two guys before?”
“No,” Gorath said.
“Not even once?”
“Also,” Xophiel said, “I wasn’t sure what the best time to bring this up was, but you shouldn’t say ‘lame.’ The term is ‘differently-abled.’”
“That’s the accepted term.”
The Messiah threw up His arms in frustration.
“How am I supposed to keep these things straight when they keep changing the terms?” He caught his breath and smoothed the folds of his robe. “O.K.,” He said. “Let’s fly back down. We’re doing my plan. ”
Gorath and Xophiel hesitated.
“What is it now?”
“We just don’t think it’s a very wise strategy,” Gorath said.
“It’s going to be fine,” the Messiah said. “Come on. Grab your trumpets and follow me.”
The cherubs were shocked by the size of the crowd. Everyone was covering the story now, from ABC to XYZ.
“Start playing,” the Messiah whispered.
The cherubs sighed and reluctantly launched into “Gold Digger.” There was light booing from the crowd as the Messiah did some hip-hop-inflected head moves.
“I’m not a racist,” the Messiah said. “But you don’t have to take my word for it. Instead, I ask you to take the word of . . . the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.! ”
The crowd watched in astonishment as the Reverend descended from Heaven, his golden halo gleaming. His aura was bright and radiant, but his expression was distinctly strained.
“O.K., Martin,” the Messiah said. “Tell them.”
“Tell them what?” the Reverend asked.
“That I’m not a racist! ”
The Reverend averted his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” the Messiah demanded.
“To be honest,” King said, “this whole situation makes me extremely uncomfortable.”
“You can go back to Heaven in two seconds,” the Messiah promised. “Just tell them, really quickly, how we hang out and everything.”
“But we don’t hang out.”
“What about that time we played golf ?”
“We never played golf.”
“Sure we did! Remember? You told me all those crazy stories about growing up in Michigan?”
“Michigan?” the Reverend squinted at the Messiah. “Are you sure you’re not thinking of Malcolm X?”
The cherubs hung their heads. One of them took out a flask and started drinking.
“O.K., I know that was bad,” the Messiah said. “That was bad. But answer me this: How can I be racist when I don’t even have a race myself ? I’m not a human—I’m an angel!”
“You’re clearly white,” Waleed Aly said.
“I don’t identify as white.”
“Do you identify as black?”
“I actually am part black! ” the Messiah said. “I did that thing, that genetic-testing thing that you do through the mail. I’m mostly angel, but part of me is black. I’m almost two per cent black.”
The crowd booed.
“Martin and Malcolm both start with an ‘M ’! ” the Messiah shouted, as King and Grant exchanged a weary look. “And they’re from the same era! And they both did race stuff! ”
Waleed Aly raised an eyebrow. “ ‘Race stuff’?”
The Messiah buried His head in His hands and groaned. When He finally looked up, there were tears in his eyes.
“O.K.,” he whispered. “I admit it. I never realised this before, but, I guess, the truth is, I’m a little bit . . . racist.”
“I’m sorry,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said. “We couldn’t hear that. You’re a little bit what?”
“A little bit racist! ” the Messiah said. He began to weep, and His tears rained down on Canberra, dousing the crowd. The cherubs stroked his back with their tiny, chubby fingers.
“What should I do?” the Messiah cried. “How do I make things right?”
“You can meet with Muslim leaders,” Waleed Aly said. “And start a dialogue.”
“O.K.,” the Messiah said. And He followed Aly north, to western Sydney.
A few days later, the Messiah appeared on ‘The Project.’ His apology was eloquent and obviously genuine.
“I came to save mankind,” He said. “But, in the end, mankind saved me.”
“Where do you go from here?” Aly asked.
“I’m taking an educational trip to Africa,” He said, “to improve my understanding of diversity.”
“That’s wonderful,” he said. “I think we’re out of time.” He pressed on his earpiece.
“Oh, right. But, first, one more question: Are you still going to bring salvation to mankind?”
“I’m not really focused on my career right now,” the Messiah said. “My goal is just to resolve my personal issues. I obviously have a lot of hatred inside me, which I was completely unaware of. Hopefully, though, with the help of therapy, I can unpack my white privilege and inspire others to do the same.”
“So when will you return?”
The Messiah thought for a moment.
“I’ll return when all our hearts are fully purged of racism. When we see a man’s face and no longer notice the colour of his skin.”
“And how long will that take?”
The Messiah shrugged. “We’ll see.”
Photo by Waiting For The Word