Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #25

July 27th, 2009 by Wordsman


“Let go! This is an outrage! You can’t do this to me! The Colosseum is a piece of cultural history that belongs to the entire world! You can’t dictate who stays and who goes just because you have some stinkin’ badge! It’s not right! The ancient Colosseum was free to all!”

“Jack, just shut up,” Matthew muttered.

Jack and Matthew were being led out of the Colosseum by what seemed to them like an excessive number of security guards. They were clearly being made an example of; their unceremonious (and distractingly loud, thanks to Jack) procession went through the outer arc of the building, directly past the long line of tourists waiting to get in. The message was clear: fail to obey the rules inside and we’ll parade you out here like a couple of teenage shoplifters for all the world to see. At least they weren’t handcuffed, though if things kept going the way they were it was likely that one of the guards would need to come up with some sort of gag to deal with Jack.

Their trip to the hypogeum had not lasted long. The large number of tourists inside the Colosseum made it all but impossible for two men to jump and/or fall into the underground area without being noticed. It only took a couple of minutes for the security staff to get down there and forcibly (much more forcibly in one case than in the other) extract the American delinquents. Matthew thought with regret that on what was almost certainly the only chance he would ever get to enter the chambers below the Colosseum, he had spent the entire time arguing with his friend about how exactly they had gotten in there in the first place. No one disputed that Jack had jumped in of his own free will to follow Matthew; it was just the first part of the entry process that merited debate. Of course, because he had been too busy yelling at his friend about all the trouble they were soon to get in, Matthew had had no opportunity to look for the elusive gray-clad figure.

“I am an American citizen!” Jack protested vehemently. “I have rights! You’re going to hear from my embassy about this! I’m going to—”

“Just shut up,” Matthew repeated sullenly, this time loud enough for his friend to actually have a chance of hearing him. “Aren’t we in enough trouble already? You know you’re only going to make it worse.”

“But this is an injustice!” Jack roared. “The Colosseum should be free to all—all parts of the Colosseum should be free, including the high-pojeeum! These people can’t be allowed to drag us out here in this shameful manner just because we were exercising our right as citizens of the world to explore our own history! That’s blatant tyranny! The spirits of the gladiators would—”

“You know what?” Matthew said angrily, unable to wheel to face his friend because of the security guard’s firm grip on his shoulders. “You can take your spirits of the gladiators and . . . and . . . just shut up,” he finished with a sigh. Being marched past everyone was plenty mortifying, but that wasn’t the worst of it in Matthew’s mind. To him, the most embarrassing part of the whole day so far was that he had actually let his friend’s talk about spirits and ghosts of the past get to him. That was the only explanation he could come up with for what he thought he had seen in there. After being around Jack for so many years, Matthew had thought that he had finally gained immunity to his friend’s power of suggestion, but the visions of the person in gray in his memory proved that blatantly wrong.

Amazingly, Jack went quiet, and he stayed that way until the guards finally decided they had paraded them around long enough and pushed them outside. “So,” said Jack, as bright as the sun that was once again beating down on them, “any last thoughts on the Colosseum before we leave?”

Matthew reflected that it would be impossible for him to have any last thoughts on the subject, because he was sure to remember that trip for the rest of his life. “Like what?” he asked glumly.

“Anything notable,” Jack said. “I know we kind of rushed on the way in, so now as we’re going back out I thought we should move more slowly to take it all in. Is there anything on the outside that we should particularly look at or appreciate?”

Matthew looked up. They had not yet moved from the spot where the guards had roughly deposited them, meaning that they were too close to get a good view of the mighty building. “You can’t really see much from here,” he pointed out, “other than the fornication.”

“The what?” his friend asked, looking around rapidly.

“It’s not what you think.” Even in his extremely sour mood, Matthew could not help but grin. “The word fornix means ‘archway’ in Latin. In Ancient Rome, prostitutes would hang out under archways to proposition people. So under the fornication you got a lot of, well, fornication. That’s where the word comes from.”

Jack laughed. The sound was strangely comforting to Matthew; it always had been. “I guess we shouldn’t feel so bad about getting kicked out after all,” Jack said, his eyes sparkling. “What do you say we ditch this oversized brothel and move on?”

As the two of them headed west, a figure dressed all in gray watched them from the very top of what remained of the third level of the Colosseum. The person attempted to drop stealthily down to the second tier, landed awkwardly, and almost pitched down to the ground below. Upon regaining balance, the figure retreated backward into the fornication so as not to be seen and lifted its wrist up to its face. “Targets leaving,” it said softly. “Probable destination: Foro Romano.”

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