THE man rushed along the village lane that joined the main road to the parish. Beads of sweat rolled down his brow. His remorse-filled face was long, his ears were wide, his eyes protruding and red. And he had a broad chin with broad shoulders hefty arms and thick palms. His chest was hairy, legs long and plump.
With his right hand he wiped the sweat that still flowed down his brow. And then he raced on......
THENGO Parish stood isolated at the foot of Thengo hill. In that December late afternoon sun, leaves from trees in the bush that guarded the parish stood erect, angry and ominous in their captivating green. The grass in the yard was well slashed. A cool breeze was blowing across the yard.
Thengo Parish, despite its old and desolate buildings, was a spiritual oasis to thousands of peasants from the surrounding villages.
Father Ignasio, the only priest at the parish, stood leaning against a solitary baobab tree at the main entrance to the parish. He wore a white long sleeved shirt, a pair of black trousers and brown sandals. Despite this simple, civilian attire, Ignasio was easily recogniseable as a man of God. The closely cropped hair on his round head and his clean shaven chin gave him an unmistakable air of holiness. There was only a thin neat line of moustache running along his upper lip.
The previous month had been hectic for Father Ignasio. It was a month of tears and grief. A month whose events had left him with no doubt in his mind that death was something never to be understood. During homilies and sermons which he had hitherto conducted on requiem masses for members of the church, he had downplayed the sting of death. The words of encouragement he preached during such moments had become routine utterances to him. He had, in his funeral sermons, painted death simply as a “way of graduating to a land close to our heavenly Father.” He had believed that the message was enough to completely wipe out the tears of the bereaved.
In the church doctrine, death was seen as a passage from this life to the new, everlasting life promised by Christ. The doctrine also taught that the departed soul goes into the afterlife, which includes purgatory, heaven and hell. It further taught that bodies of the dead would resurrect at the end of time.
But now that death had struck upon his family with a big blow, he was forced to revise his view of death. He now realised that the philosophy of the church needed something more. He realised that Man stood not on his physique alone, but also on a strong soul inside. His soul now lacked strength. He was crumbling within.
It all had started with a simple call one Saturday afternoon. His cell phone rang and when he picked it up, he quickly recognised the voice. It was that of Jervasio, his little brother.
Memories sprung up. When he left home to join he seminary 15 years ago, Jervasio was just a little kid. Now he had grown up. He had, in fact, sat his JCE examinations and was home with Mum, waiting for the results.
Father Ignasio remembered Jervasio’s determination not to become a priest. One day, he had asked him, “Jerva, don’t you ever dream of becoming a priest someday?”
Jervasio’s response was direct. “No, I want to become like father. I want to marry and to have children.” Despite that, Father Ignasio loved his kid brother. No wonder he had a big picture of Jervasio on his office wall.
“Achimwene, home is not fine! Mum is not well!” Jervasio’s voice woke him up from his memories. “She is seriously ill and we need money to hire Mangulenje’s car to take her to the hospital immediately!”
The distance between the parish and his home village was not long. It was a two hour walking distance. The church had sent Father Ignasio to a parish that was close to his home village.
At exactly 3:30 pm, Jervasio arrived at the church to collect the money. The charm that was normally on his face was missing. Instead there was sobriety and seriousness.
“Mum, is very ill!” He repeated. “Her condition is critical. We urgently need to take her to the hospital.”
After the special mass that he was supposed to lead late that afternoon, Father Ignasio climbed on his motorbike and headed for the village at great speed to help Jervasio to take their sick mother to the hospital. His mind was so distracted that he could not notice the waving hands from his church members along the way. He hardly noticed the small children standing by the roadside shouting “Father! Father! Father!”
The children followed him. Dust followed him, too. It created a cloud behind him. Near the river that marked the boundary to the village, the land was wet and tricky, forcing Father Ignasio to slow down. As he negotiated his way past banana plantations bordering the river, he saw a group of young men pulling along what looked like a bag from the bush. He stopped.
“He is dead!” One of the young men said.
“Dead? Who is dead?”
Father Ignasio nearly collapsed. He could see the attacker’s knife stuck in Jervasio’s rib cage. Blood was still oozing out. And there was a big hole on the sides of his trousers. The attacker must have been after the money he had given Jervasio.
Father Ignasio reached home a devastated man. Tears welled up in his eyes. And they spilled down his cheeks. He wept.
FATHER Ignasio was shuffling his feet in the grass at the parish yard. His heart was still heavy with sorrow and grief when the man appeared. Panting for breath and drenched in sweat, the man fell before Father Ignasio’s feet.
“Father, I am a sinner, I need Jesus.....” the man stammered.
Father Ignasio took him to the confessional.
“The Lord be in your heart and upon your lips that you may truly and humbly confess your sins.” Father Ignasio muttered as his hands made the sign of the cross. He blessed the man and urged him to speak out. They were sitting face to face.
“Father, eer, I killed a man and errr...err... stole his money.... “
Father Ignasio listened keenly to the man’s story.
“I confess to Almighty God, to his Church, and to you, that I have sinned. I need Jesus. I humbly beg for forgiveness of God, I ask you for absolution, Father! The money is here.....”
As the man fumbled, a bunch of five hundred kwachas and a small card fell from his pocket. It was Jervasio’s school identity card. Father Ignasio could see Jervasio’s smiling face on it.
“Father...Father I need God’s forgiveness!” the man went on, tears all over his face.
Father Ignasio took a long gaze at the man. In a flash of a moment, tears welled up in the eyes of the man of God. He rose up and walked out of the confessional, banging the door behind him.