FICTION: THE PRIEST’S CALL GIRL (PART 1)

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She always made sure she was in a state of grace. She lived for those Sunday mornings when she would stand piously in line, hands clutched in holy grasp in front of her and head slightly cocked to one side waiting to receive communion. She made sure she never missed any opportunity to go for confession. Prisca knew her mum was crazy enough to drag her out of the communion line if she as much as suspected she had sinned. Everyone received communion for the spiritual benefit but she lived for that fleeting touch of his finger on her tongue and the gentle intoning of ‘body of Christ’.
In that fleeting moment she swore she could smell his perfume, feel the softness of his pampered palm and sometimes she knew he reserved a gentle look in his eyes for her. She was ordinarily a quiet studious child who had little interest in running around with boys like most of her mates. She was always with her nose in a book but what no one knew was that in each of the novels she read, she and Father Calistus were the characters. Every kiss, every word shared was between two of them. She dreaded going back to school because it meant sometimes six long weeks or three long months before she would see him again.

He was not handsome or at least not handsome in that eye-catching way. He was dark skinned with his hair cut in a very slight Mohawk which was maybe his quiet rebellion to an institution that took everything from them. He had pearly white teeth which he flashed regularly in quick laughter. His glasses were perched on his nose and he had the unconscious but cute way of looking over the rim like an old professor. His voice was the best she had heard in all her entire years on earth. There was an indescribable depth to it and though it was deep, it still carried easily across the church even without a microphone.

The fluid dexterity of his hands as he handled the chalice and ciborium was entrancing. He would hold up the host and look up at it with all the worship his eyes could muster and she wondered what it would be like to have him fix his eyes on her that way. She imagined him putting his lips on hers the way he lovingly lifted the host to his lips and drank from the chalice. He was friends with his parishioners but still had an aloofness about him that suggested he compartmentalized everything and none was allowed to clash.

She wanted to get his attention and being a good girl had all but made her as visible as wallpaper. She had heard some of her mates talk about how their parents reported them to priests when they misbehaved and how there was the odd chance of counselling from the priest. She knew her mum believed totally in the goodness of priests and would never believe some of the stories she had heard. On a random hope that she could incense her mum enough to warrant a visit to the priest, she decided she would rebel.

She started subtle acts of disobedience. She would refuse to go for confession even when her mum suggested it. Sometimes she would sulk and refuse her food complaining it was tasteless. Her mum was surprised at the swift change in her all loving and pliant daughter. Although she knew as a young lady her daughter was prone to mood swings and little rebellions, she couldn’t understand the refusal to go to confession. She prided herself on her Catholic faith and didn’t want any of her children to deviate. The bulk of discipline in the home was left to her as her husband was constantly on the go looking for the next big deal. Despite the immense wealth he had acquired, he still wanted more. She had resigned herself to a near single parenthood and didn’t want an intransigent child on her hands.

Prisca’s plan worked like magic. On one of the days she vehemently refused to go for confession, her mum dragged her by the ears to the parish house, dumped her before Father Calistus ‘Father, talk to her’. ‘She has refused to go to confession, maybe she has started following boys and can’t receive communion anymore’.

Father promised he would bring her home as soon as he was done talking with her. This was almost routine to him. More than thrice a week overwhelmed parents would drop their recalcitrant children at his feet. Usually these were young boys and girls trying to assert themselves and parents who were too impatient to listen to both spoken and unspoken words….

It wasn’t difficult for him to hear the hidden plea or desire in the children. Most of them wanted someone who understood and appreciated their challenges without judging them. Part of his training involved listening without interrupting, prodding without hurting and understanding without judging. He could listen for hours with only a few interjections allowing the children say even more than they intended to. It was like a protracted confession only that there was no penance or ablution involved.

Gently he ushered Prisca into the living room and bade her sit. He got her a cup of juice without asking her what she wanted and sat patiently waiting for her to utter the first word. But she was studying her nails intently and her bowed head didn’t look up for a second.

He moved closer and took her hands in his and spoke gently to her ‘talk to me child, why do you refuse the sacrament of penance and the joy of communion?’. Prisca froze at his touch and even though his palms were as soft as she had imagined, it felt like a slab of concrete on her hands. She gently pulled her hands away, looked into his eyes and said…

Her voice jolted him. Oh how he knew this voice. How he had imagined the owner of the voice. How he sat behind his confessional and allowed the voice wash over him. It was yet a young voice, not completely formed but had the allure of a seductress in it. When she confessed her childish sins, he always wanted to take off his purple stole, reach out and assure her that she was a child and her sins weren’t really sin but a growing process.

He was used to youngsters making up verbose ‘sins’ in order to be seen as bad. They used their imagination to embellish minor stories till they became like roaring lions. But this voice always told about her struggles. Her sins were never physical but mental. The voice spoke about struggling with loving a forbidden person. It spoke about wanting to be in the arms of a man who never noticed her. The voice spoke of unending anguish at the thought of not being forgiven by God even as she knew her thoughts were sinful. Oh how he always looked forward to hearing her confession, having that sweet voice rise and fall as she intoned her words sweetly and surely.

Putting a face to the voice was more than he’d expected. She was short and plump with dimples in her cheeks. Her caramel skin seemed to shimmer with the glow of youth. Her eyes had a hint of embarrassment in it and unconsciously he patted her shoulder as though to reassure her. The words she had blurted kept ringing in his head. He didn’t want to believe it but it hung like mist between them.

 

BY JANE OHAJI AKWANI

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