Just then I remembered about the rule – “Oh my God!” I thought, “I’ve forgotten the rule!” Then, for the next few minutes, overwhelmed with panic, repeating the horror-struck mantra in my head, “The rule! The rule! The rule! The rule…”
I had forgotten about the rule. I had broken the rule, which was worse, which was more serious than merely forgetting about it! I couldn’t believe that I had been so incredibly foolish! What had I been thinking about? Remorse overtook me, or maybe it wasn’t so much remorse as the fear of the punishment that was inevitably going to follow. What could I do to escape it, I wondered, what could I say?
Then it occurred to me that perhaps I ought to be punished for breaking the rule and that I was wrong to be thinking of how to avoid it. Perhaps it would be good for me to be punished. Then, having paid my dues, having undergone the necessary penance, I would be able to hold my head up high again, and resolve most heartily to never break the rule again! I could be vigilant, I could stand firm against the evil tide. I could be on the side of righteousness again. Instead of being on the other side, like I was. On the rotten side…
How much better that would be, rather than sitting here consumed with guilt and self-loathing for having broken the rule. I couldn’t ask to be forgiven – how could I expect to break the rule one minute and then be forgiven the next, just like that? I could however hope to be punished – that was something that I quite reasonably could expect. And then, when I had endured the punishment – as grueling as it might be – then I could emerge at the other end purified by the pain, and regain my self-respect. This thought gave rise to another fervent mantra: “Punish me for breaking the rule! Punish me for breaking the rule! Punish me for breaking the rule! Punish me for breaking the rule…”
Seizing a handful of dirt from next to where I was sitting, I rubbed it into my face, smearing myself with the filth from the gutter. I then took a handful of gravel and started rubbing this into my face too – “Punish me for breaking the rule! Punish me for breaking the rule! Punish me for breaking the rule!”
Then it occurred to me that the only reason I wanted to be punished was because I couldn’t bear the guilt that was torturing me from inside, the corrosive feeling of self-loathing, and I knew that being punished would deliver me from it. So in truth it was the awful guilt and self-hatred that was the punishment and my fervent desire to be punished was really just the desire to escape the punishment in disguise! So not only had I broken the rule, I was also sneakily trying to plot a way of avoiding the consequences of my wrong-doing! I was plotting to avoid the punishment and at the same time I was pretending that I was doing something good, something decent…
What a worthless, conniving, self-deceiving wretch I was, I realized! It was at that moment as clear as day to me that there wasn’t a sincere or honest bone in my body. If I had been sickened with myself before, I was revolted to the very core now. “What a vile wretch I am! I moaned, and straightaway launched into a new mantra: “Punish me for being such a vile, despicable wretch! Punish me for being such a vile, despicable wretch! Punish me for being such a vile, despicable wretch! Punish me for being such a vile, despicable wretch…”
This mantra preoccupied me for a while but then I realized – of course – that I was simply doing the same thing all over again! I had been feeling guilty about sneakily trying to escape from my guilt by asking to be punished, and here I was now begging to be punished in order to escape from the guilt of having been caught out trying to escape from the guilt.
I saw then that there was no help for me at all. I was incorrigible – I was rotten to the very core. What a slimy sneaky conniving worthless worm I was! There wasn’t even a tiny bit of honesty or decency in me. I was devoid of any trace of integrity – everything about me was a lie, including my desire to express remorse for being so worthless!
Was there anyone so base, so unspeakably vile, as me I wondered? I must be unique in my rottenness, in my incorrigible desire to deceive myself. I would go to any length to avoid taking responsibility. “Now I know what it feels like to be rotten to the core!” I said to myself and a moan of pure self-hatred escaped from my lips. Seizing a handful of the sharpest bits of gravel I could find I started rubbing them as hard as I could into my face, heedless – or almost heedless – of any damage caused.
“I’m rotten to the core! I’m rotten to the core! I’m rotten to the core! I’m rotten to the core! I’m rotten to the core! I’m rotten to the core…” I moaned, realizing as I did so that by freely admitting to be rotten I was in this way sneakily trying to prove that – underneath it all – I was a decent human being…