It did not make much sense that in a godless cosmos the most beautiful places were built in his name. In a world in which one wakes to a deceptive sunlight, head pounding and stomach twisted in tormenting knots, emerging from a dream that was but a mere continuation of the gnawing anxiety that lulled you to sleep, who could be so foolish as to think this relentless ache served a celestial promise? The sun is warm when it wakes you, and at first, it is tender, but then it begins to sting. Too much. The cacophony of reality registers as you lie with your eyes open, listening to the cars, and the people, and the wind as they argue and babble nonsense outside while you speculate why after rest you are tired. Meanwhile the ceiling above you suffers from jaundice, while the cerulean sheets that envelop you provide a curious contrast to the yellowed plaster. A sky flipped upside down. You cannot lay there forever though, and so you get up because you’ve been given this day, this daily bread, and maybe you can yet be delivered from evil. Fleeting relief splashes across your face. The touch of water, while kind and cool, is not enough to wash away the needles in your head, but perhaps that’s just because you’re hungry. So you pat away the lingering drops on your parched skin of porcelain, take the scrap of bread left haphazardly by your bedside and chew it slowly. Considerably plain, the wheat has the faintest taste of salt on your tongue. Salt of sea and salt of tears. You can, at least, confess that the bread is sacred, having sustained years of humanity. You grew up on bread, as did your mother for whom this was a small constant in a largely bitter life. But it could not really be his gift because if he loved every single person who he created equally there would be bread for the soldiers. There would not be soldiers at all.

Bread finished, you wonder what kingdom you wait for and why you cannot live it now. Earth is not as it is in heaven because heaven is a lie. A pretty picture sold through prayer. Still, you decide that perhaps you should go and see what Earth is like today—it could have changed while you slept restlessly through the night. The decisions that broke the promise, after all, seemingly happened in seconds. One, two, three, four. I declare a world war. They were not delivered from evil.

You step outside and walk through the winding streets. Though there are countless people, they are faceless and only make you feel more alone, trapped in your thoughts and this role of the observer that you’ve been assigned without asking. The vibrant colours that had once adorned the buildings lining your route have turned into nothing more than chips of paint, faded and muted. An echo of what once was. You walk like this, the cobblestone pathway underneath your feet worn away by countless wanderers whose stories have long been erased, noting everything around you and crying without shedding a tear until you find yourself facing religion in all its Romanesque and Gothic glory. Something sways you to push its worn, wooden door open, and suddenly it’s just you and still not him. The lingering scent of incense floods at you, blending with the potent musk of decay and cold stone. You’re alone on the route of a Roman road, a fragment of a wall and columns of the baptistry hinting that before the Catholics said this was god’s place it was Apollo’s. You do not know Apollo either though, and he doesn’t know you. Mary was supposed to have been here as well, arriving on a boat belonging to Lazarus. Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Augustinians. You wonder how many soldiers have passed through seeking sanctuary in places like this one. How many were cast out.

A thread pulls you further in like it pulled all these before, past the carved doors with figures framed by garlands of acorns and pomegranate. Grapes and a dragon. A slab of marble in the gallery, inscription worn away. Maybe a tomb. And you meditate on what it would be like to close your eyes in a place like this. Would your insides heave like they do in your own bed? Would the song of the choristers be like syrup, sweet honey to your ears as you laid in eternal rest? The organ, you concede, is a testament to some form of beauty that manages to exist on this wretched terrene, gold and jade swirling together to create an instrument whose simple sight steals your breath. You try to imagine the music, and something tells you that if you heard it you would weep because its delicacy would threaten to break you who grew up knowing crudeness. This organ lines the path you take to draw closer to the altar, and you pause as you pass the confessional. It is terribly dark and empty, and you step closer to grab its bars and peer inside. And you whisper, how many sins do you hold? The smell of age-old dust rushes towards you, as you look and imagine how many were forgiven for their trespasses. Against whom? You ponder, too, if anyone has ever been kissed inside the confines of this temporary prison, knowing such thoughts are sins burning like scarlet. Your mind harbours the image of the power and the glory of this forbidden love, love for the person before you rather than some entity that never loved you. Then you notice someone’s looking at you, and you remember that you’re grabbing the bars with your own two dirty hands that will never be white as snow. Hands like the ones now caked in carmine mere mountains away. So you make yourself let go. Move nearer to stand at last before this domed divinity.

Unwittingly, a surge of reverence courses through you, and you have the sudden desire to fall to your knees, bones turning into shattered glass as you drop. Yet you cannot—your legs are locked—because you know there is no one to bow to, and if there was why should you. You would bend to the sheer beauty though, so you sit down and you look. There is not enough air. You are small before these towering arches that touch the sky and the glass stained with glorious images of a story you could never believe. You can’t believe, but you could look for hours. And you do. The needles subside for a spell.

At some point you remember that you don’t subscribe to religion and proceed to make your way out of this intoxicating temple. There is a candle stand, asking for 1.50 euros and only three are lit. You hesitate, unable to move past. You wouldn’t pay the church to preach fallacies. You shouldn’t. But the candles.

The candles, so small and so humble, are too magnificent, their flame dancing and dazzling as the wax melts in gradual surrender.

You pay two euros and light a candle for your mother and the soldiers. You know he has forgotten them, but you never could.