He said with toes between his teeth, “Well now, it’s a bit hard to know if it was someone else’s bread, wouldn’t you say?”
His hair was ratty, dangling in strands over his complicated eyes. And yet, there was a simple grin on his face.
“You know, it’s not as if it had sentimental value. It was bread, for God’s sake.”
“You were crucified for a piece of bread?” I asked quizzically.
“No, not quite,” he said sheepishly. “I mean, there are rules. Don’t mingle with the higher-ups. Don’t eat the food of a centurion. And most definitely don’t laugh at them when they demand their food back. What was I supposed to do, cough it up?”
“You said something before you died,” I said, shaking his story off.
“Ah, yes. That bit about Jesus.”
“What was that about?”
“How do you mean? He never stole bread. I heard something about a spat in the temple, but who doesn’t get into a brawl with money changers now and then?” Laughter trickled out from between his dregs.
“He said you’d be in heaven. And here we are. Did you see that coming?”
“I kind of live my life day-to-day. I really wasn’t sure they would crucify me for that piece of bread. I mean—bread! Who does that? Like they were one crucifix short on the hill and needed somebody to fill in. Fucking Romans.”
“God’s will be done,” I muttered.
“Nothing,” I coughed, trying to change the subject. “So, if you’re the good guy here, what did the bad thief do?”
“Let’s just say … he deflowered God’s creation.”
“You’ll have to be more specific.”
“He stole a 12-year-old girl’s virginity.”
“I know, right? And I was strung up for manna.”
“It does seem ironic. But he seemed ok with death on a cross.”
“Well, I was ok with my ‘crime’ too. I just didn’t think mine did anyone any real harm. It certainly didn’t deserve crucifixion. He knew better. He had to have.”
Silence lingered as I pictured the three of them on Calvary. “We know what Jesus said to you. What did he say to the other guy?”
“You’d never believe it,” he chuckled. “There’s no one more unpredictable than Jesus. He wasn’t human, for Christ’s sake.”
“Now I have to know,” I pressed. “Can you give me a hint?”
He looked at me with another eerie grin at the corner of his mouth, his thin lips curling. “I’ll never forget it. You know how the Bible says Jesus looked at me and told me I would be with him in Paradise?”
“Yeah,” I said, waiting for the punchline.
“They got that wrong, you know. Jesus never said anything to me. He looked straight at him and said that: ‘Today, you will be with me in Paradise.'”
The momentary silence floated as his words sank in. A reversal of justice. Hell, a complete destruction of justice, goodness, and every sense of right. The rapist went to heaven.
My mouth stayed open long enough for drool to catch at the edge of my bottom lip. Noticing it just in time, I sloppily wiped my face with my arm and looked down. I couldn’t help but ask the obvious question, though I couldn’t make eye contact.
“So … he’s around, then?”
The good thief laughed, a deeper and more guttural laugh than I have ever heard. “Oh yeah,” he said matter-of-factly. “We eat dinner together all the time.”