May 14, 2011
HC Anderson’s short story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ gave him the most pleasurable reading. He closed the book as bus came to a halt close to church. He tapped his card on electronic system at exit point and leaped out. Life was not easy for him. He was beaten by economic recession and was tossed out of storekeeper job. Living in a Middle East country with very limited contacts, he struggled hard from last two months. The PRO of old company had threatened to cancel his visa by next one month. His parents and siblings back in his home country were dependent and he was their only support. The emotional strain had taken its toll.
He stepped into the place of worship. The serenity in the area gave him comfort factor. He found solace, tranquility and hope in his deeply offered prayers. Especially the Eucharistic celebration by the new Parish Priest provided immense joy and pleasure. Once on the altar, Pastor was exceptionally special in his own ways. He was highly radiant and well poised. His articulation had motivational constituent towards intensification of faith. Powered by the wisdom and reflective skill, the transformation into divine purity was a treat to watch.
New Pastor appeared at raised structure with altar boys. The impetus remained same throughout mass. He was in his elements with hilarious humor all through the homily. He emphasized the essence of compassion in human life. A momentous aide memoir was declared while ending the sermon. “Riding on materialistic success, at times we fail to feel the suffering of people in pain. Christ had compassion towards common man. Jesus came in contact with common people in distress and did something about their needs. And so we as his followers must find joy in compassion. He is watching you and he is always at your side during your difficult times.’ Pastor had pointed his finger at the cross. “You have to trust the man of Nazareth. He will test your strength of character. So don’t go defeated. He creates unlimited number of opportunities. As one door closes another opens. The sense of insecurity will not bother if you have true faith in Jesus.”
The unemployed young man felt as if the sermon was scripted for him. He found relief and liberation while passing through devotional moments. At the end of mass, Pastor thanked congregation for their munificent donations, which assisted the Church in facilitating the requirements of needy, deprived and poor. Finally, he prayed for abundant blessings on all benefactors.
Most of worshippers vacated the place soon after mass. The young man spent a few more minutes at pew. He kneeled, prayed for a job and emphasized his desperation. The caring and gentle words of the Pastor ricocheted. An inner call inspired him to meet the Parish Priest. Perhaps it was God’s call and believed it so. ‘The Priest could be having some contacts with business community.’ His confidence level had shot up to the extent of explaining his hardships to the Parish Priest. He truly trusted in his hunch that the Pastor would help him. He had never ever seen a Priest as compassionate in his expressions as the new Pastor. He walked out of Church with spanking optimism and exuberance.
Extreme apprehension caressed his mind and body as he stepped into Parish office. An attractive woman was busy in attending calls while a male employee was occupied in filing some documents. The assembled visitors seemed waiting for Priest’s arrival. The beautiful green lawn in the open inner plot beside the office drew his attention. He observed the activity through a glass door. A man in Nike sportswear was diligently engaged in instructing the workers at backyard. The face appeared familiar. It took him some time to realize that the man in Nike sportswear is their Pastor. He looked different devoid of his traditional cassock. The young man’s heart thumped in awe.
The Pastor pushed the glass door and entered in. The visitors stood to greet and wish him.
“How is my newly laid lawn?” The Pastor asked with immense pride. “The former Parish Priest had left it barren. I converted the unproductive plot into a luscious yard. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It’s very beautiful father.” Some joined in chorus.
“And very expensive too!” Pastor reacted while moving into his office. Creating and maintaining such a landscape was a pricey indulgence in notoriously hot desert.
Looking at the number of visitors, the young man felt weak in his feet. The hesitation destabilized his determination. Suddenly he felt unsure of Priest’s reaction. Would he understand and help him? He turned dreadfully nervous and decided to approach the Priest when less occupied. Today didn’t seem the perfect day to present his plea. Without any second thought, he marched out. The desire for a fag bothered him. He reached the designated smoking zone and lit a cigarette.
The subsequent day was Saturday.
He ate his breakfast in an economic south Indian restaurant and caught public transport bus to reach Church. Pastor’s beautiful secretary was all alone without any co-workers and visitors. Her eyes were completely focused on computer monitor. He reluctantly stayed to draw her attention. The wait continued for couple minute in anticipation of her response. Her utterly quiet style left him on edge. He rolled his eyes in silent disbelief and cleared his throat.
“Good Morning.” He broke the silence.
“Morning.” She replied without looking at him. The silence continued for three more minutes.
“Excuse me. I would like to meet Parish Priest.” He gathered courage to speak.
“Any Problem?” She questioned without looking at him.
“I have more than one problem.” He reacted.
“Marital issues?” She refused to notice him.
“It’s not related to marital issues. I am unemployed and looking for a job.” He clarified.
“My goodness.” Infuriation was visible as she finally looked at him. “You have come to a wrong place. I don’t think the Parish Priest would be any of your help. This is not an employment agency. We can help you in your spiritual and religious needs. The priest also could assist in sorting out if you have marital issues.”
“Could I meet the Pastor just for couple of minutes?” He pleaded.
“You can not meet the Pastor on your wish and whims.” She said unsympathetically. “The meeting is possible only with prearranged appointment.”
He tried hard to be rational. Gone are the days the faithful would just walk into a priest for help. Now he was living in modern times. The Churches and Priests had suitably adapted the corporate culture and commercial style of management.
“Could I seek an appointment?” He solicited.
“However you need proper grounds to meet the Pastor.” She asserted.
“I am his huge admirer.” He sincerely meant it with twinkle in his eyes.
“Sorry.” She declined. “The new Pastor has thousands of admirers. It’s humanly impossible for him to meet his all fans.”
It was a reality check. The exclusivity of the new Pastor was in line with movie and sports celebrities.
“Excuse me.” She showed the door. “You may please go.”
She had made it tough. Perhaps the Pastor was kind hearted. He had attended the Masses of new Parish priest. The man of his stature could never be harsh and insensitive. While turning back he glanced at the newly planted lawn. The Priest had translated the barren land into pleasing green pasture. In some ways, the Pastor was magical and certainly, his best hope in distress. Frustratingly he came out, but then he had decided find a way out to reach the Parish Priest. He lit a cigarette at the allocated smoking area.
He called the Parish office from his cell phone on the following day. The secretary answered from the other end.
“I want an appointment with the Pastor.” He informed after greeting her.
“Sure. Could I know the reason?” She demanded.
“I am planning for a separation.” He deliberately lied.
“I will arrange your meeting.” She assured.
“Could I come today?” He insisted with an undertone of urgency.
“No, you can’t.” She turned down. “Today is Sunday, Masses are lined up. It’s tiring for the Pastor.”
“How about tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is Monday, the Parish Priest prefers an off every Monday.”
“I can make on Tuesday.”
“Tuesday, it’s weekly off for the Parish office.”
“He is busy on Wednesday, all meetings are already booked. Can you try on Thursday?” She stopped for a while.
“I will. Could you tell me the time?”
“At 4:30 in the evening. You will have to come in time. Otherwise the appointment would be cancelled.” She cautioned, asked his name and number.
Next few days were spent in hunt of a job. The frustration remained due to lack of progress. However, by Thursday morning he was asked to appear for an interview by evening at 5:30 for a Store Keeper’s post. He decided to meet the Priest at 4:30 and then proceed to attend the interview. By 4:20 pm, he walked inside the gate. He passed across a woman puffing a cigar outside the Parish office as he paced his strides into Parish office.
“I have an appointment with Pastor.” He informed.
“I have seen you somewhere.” She stated.
“This is my first visit.” He declared.
“You may have to wait. The Priest is not in. Don’t worry; you will be given the first chance.” She showed him the seat.
“Your lawn is beautiful” He peeped at backyard.
“And very expensive too!” Her reaction was instant. “We have enough resources. The Church is blessed with generous donors. The Priest has to just make an appeal and funds pour in like rain.”
“I have attended his celebrations. He is charming and enchantingly captivating.” He truly admired him.
“I love his attitude towards life.” She opened up. “It’s heavenly experience to live here.”
“What do you mean by live here?” He asked her.
“I am single you see.” She clarified. “I have been allowed to stay within church premises. This place is highly secured. He is modern & techno savvy. You can see those security cameras inside & outside. Parish Priest keeps a watch on every possible threat.”
‘The sense of insecurity will not bother if you have true faith in Jesus.’ Pastor’s words reverberated.
“You said something?” She demanded.
“No.” He shook his head. “I wish Jesus had such security cameras when the soldiers came to arrest him.”
“You stupid….” She smirked. “Jesus knew everything.”
“Having cameras all around, if is sense of security or insecurity?” He impulsively responded. “Forget it. I am delighted to know more about our Pastor.”
“I had seen his work in his previous Parish. He is gifted and highly capable. You will witness a vibrant transformation in this Parish very soon identical to this pleasingly beautiful green lawn.” She was in her rare mood to talk.
“You mean, you know him from his earlier Parish?” He turned inquisitive.
“Yes.” She nodded. “I was his secretary in his previous parish. I could not refuse his offer when he asked me to join at his new Parish.”
“It must be pleasure working under him.” He quipped. “I am sure he would invite you to his next Parish as well.”
“You are talking too much.” She blushed. “You may wait. I have plenty of work to do.”
The time was getting closer to 5:00 pm.
Half an hour had passed after his arrival. He turned uneasy and fretful while worrying about the interview at 5:30 pm.; could it be possible to reach in time? He had managed to obtain Parish Priest’s appointment with great difficulty. Unable to exert control over the situation, the desire for smoke stemmed out. He assured the secretary that he would return in 5 minutes. He came out and rolled the cigarette across his lips. A volunteer stopped him as he was about to light up.
“Don’t you know it is prohibited to smoke within Church compound?” The volunteer gnashed his teeth.
“I saw a lady smoking here some time back.” He argued.
“I see. You saw the woman and thought you too have the right to smoke.” The volunteer mockingly conversed. “Don’t you know the gorgeous lady whom you saw puffing is recently appointed by our new Parish Priest? No one has the power to confront her. However I have the authority to stop you.”
The young man looked confused and helplessly placed the cigarette back in pocket. The newly appointed female worker had taken her seat when he returned. The male employee too was behind his desk. The young man had skipped the 5:30 interview by relying on his unfounded faith over the Parish priest.
Parish Priest’s cabin door was pushed open and elegantly dressed Pastor stood at doorway. He was in his top of the range branded blue jeans and T-shirt. The Youngman was delighted to have a close look at his idol and role model. His defining moment of life of meeting his admired icon was just a minutes away.
“I over slept, my siesta went slightly longer.” The Pastor addressed his secretary. “I have a coffee meeting with a journalist at Starbucks. I am already late. Could you cancel all my appointments? I will celebrate the seven o’ clock mass. There after, I have to attend a function at Le Meridian. I don’t think any other work is possible for rest of the evening.”
“There is something more.” Pastor remembered. “A friend of mine is expected to turn up at six o’clock. He is leaving his sports car for couple of weeks for my use as he is going away on vacation. Please collect the key and offer him a cup of coffee. I love sports cars.”
He turned without waiting for reply.
“Mister…” The secretary hesitantly uttered. “You know our Pastor is very busy. Please call by next week for a fresh appointment.”
‘Jesus came in contact with common people in distress and did something about their needs.’ Pastor’s sermon resounded!
The young man was left speechless. He silently got to his feet and glanced at the lawn for one last time. To his amazement, the lawn did not appear green anymore. The dark black loam underneath the green top was exposed. All at once he developed an impulsive urge to read H.C. Anderson’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ all over again.
Note: The plot, narration, events & characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real, living, dead is purely coincidental. Most important, any similarity to those living/non-living with dead conscience is entirely accidental & unintentional.