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  • Writer's pictureNijay K. Gupta

STRANGE ENCOUNTER– Episode 1 | "It's going to be okay."

**This short-form fiction series is set in Rome in the late first century AD.


“Felix…Felix…are you listening to me…” 

Anna was focused on her sewing, but her tone became more and more serious. 

“Felix! Stop staring out the window. There’s work to be done.”

Felix came to his senses and turned away from the window to look at Anna. “Sorry, my love.” 

“Felix, you’d better get to work, there is lots of cleaning to be done before Decimius arrives. You need to get all that soot cleaned up, or he’ll fire you…” “...Again,” they said in unison. 

“I know,” Felix whispered in agreement. 

His eyes were fixed on an older man, everything about his clothing told Felix the newcomer was a commoner

He leaned out the window and took one last look before changing for work. His eyes were fixed on an older man, everything about his clothing told Felix the newcomer was a commoner—a perfect fit for their “no-frills” insula [apartment building]—but the old scars on his arms and legs told a story he was curious to hear. They looked like the scars of war, but no Roman soldier would end up in this dump, he reasoned. 

“There’s someone moving in,” Felix commented to Anna as he rushed around looking for his cleaning supplies. 

“There’s always someone moving in.” Anna had a way of being endearingly cynical.

“I know, but…nevermind, I’m late.” 

Felix quickly collected his things and turned for the door.

“Are you forgetting something?”

Felix rushed over to Anna with a smile and kissed her on the cheek. 

“Well, thank you, but that’s not what I meant; don’t forget”—pointing would require a break from her knitting, so she just nodded at the shrine an arms reach from the small dinner table— “We need an extra bit of luck this week, that building fire could have reached us if the Vigiles [fire brigade] was delayed another hour.”

Felix knelt before the shrine and prayed just louder than a whisper. “Hail, Lar Familiaris. Bless us and watch over us today. Protect our home, and we will honor and recognize you.” He took a fig from the food table and ripped it in two, placing one half before the lar figurine and popping the other half in his mouth. 

Felix rushed out the door and down the stairs; before he got to the bottom he crashed into someone carrying clothes. Both men tumbled all the way down to the ground floor and onto the stone road in front of the insula. Felix shook off the dizziness and looked around to assess the situation (clothes everywhere). He looked up from the ground to see the old man he had been staring at through the window. The stranger reached out his hand and hoisted Felix up.

“I am Hermes, and the poor fella you just knocked down is my friend, Marcus.” Felix turned around to see Marcus still laying on the ground. 

“I’m so sorry, I was…”

Hermes interrupted, “It’s all right, Marcus will be fine.” Marcus shot a glance of protest and disagreement. Hermes picked up the rags and the small vessel of liquid and handed it to Felix, after inspecting the items. “I’ve never seen anyone run so clean!” Hermes exclaimed. The lilt in his voice revealed his curiousity about where Felix was off to.

“I work in the tavern,” Felix pointed to the first floor of the insula. “Decimius will wring my neck if I don’t clean up before customers arrive.” 

Hermes curiosity seemed unabated so Felix added, “Decimius is my boss, the owner. Nasty fellow. He fires me almost every New Moon. But he always changes his mind.”

But Hermes wasn’t curious about Decimius. Hermes was looking in at the tavern’s ash covered walls. 

But there was something in the way he said it. Like, he was talking about life.

“Oh right,” Felix said, catching on, “We had a fire here last week. We had to shut down for a while, construction crews came in to reinforce some damaged walls.” Felix held up his supplies: “And now I have to scrub the ash and soot before we open. A few rooms were ruined, but at least no one was hurt. Merciful Vulcan! Anyway, welcome to the building.” He pointed to the windows overlooking the three of them and continued, “My wife Anna and I live just there , above the tavern. If you need anything…” (Felix lifted up his rags) “’ll know where to find me.”

By this time, Marcus was upright, and holding his elbow. A small stream of blood worked its way down his weathered forearm. When Felix noticed the scrape  he couldn’t conceal his embarrassment and concern and was about to say something but Hermes spoke up first, “Marcus is fine, just a scratch. Son, it’s going to be okay.” 

Hermes and Marcus collected the scattered clothes and marched up the stairs, and their chatter to one another faded as they moved higher up into the building. 

Felix stood there for a moment. 

He knew that this new neighbor, Hermes, was saying “it’s going to be okay” about the awkward encounter and knocking over his friend Marcus. But there was something in the way he said it. Like, he was talking about life. Life is going to be okay. It left his mouth the way a soothsayer might say it. Felix shook his head, like he was shaking off a daydream. “I need to get more sleep,” he muttered to himself. He walked over and stood in the entrance of the tavern, scanning the room full of smokey scent and dirty soot. He was deciding where to start. “Little by little,” he said, giving himself a pep talk. He knelt down and poured some cleaning ointment on the rag and started to scrub.

This short-form fiction series serves as a companion to Dr. Nijay K. Gupta’s book Strange Religion: How the First Christians Were Weird, Dangerous, and Compelling.

Stay tuned for Episode 2: “Who is Greater than Jupiter?”


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