▪ ♦ ▪
THE day Dana Bala came into the Good Shepherd’s home, two people were particularly shocked that day but only one of them feared the beginning of a bad end.
When Dana was dropped off at the gate of the home, seen only by the old gatekeeper who’d watched the odd goodbye scene from his old room attached to the gate, she only had with her a small suitcase that contained her few clothes. What the old man who minded the gate didn’t see and no one else noticed was that Dana had a letter with her.
Only three people knew about the letter—the one who’d written the letter, the one who it was given to and the one who it was meant for.
Unlike most children who came into the home quivering with fear and uncertainty, Dana was bubbling with curiosity and confidence. She greeted the old gatekeeper and requested to see Fr. Chrysostom Okeze. The old man sent her instead to Sister Clara who finally sent her into the small office to meet the Priest she had requested again to see.
Dana waited until the introduction was over and Sister Clara had left the office before she extracted the letter from the pocket of her jean skirt and then passed it to Fr. Chrysostom without a word. The latter received the letter and read it, equally without a word.
The meeting was brief and little was said. But Dana left the small office filled with even more confidence and her curiosity tossed aside.
No one thought the events of that day unusual and no one talked about it after that day. Not during her eighteen months stay at the Home and certainly not on the day she’d been found dead or even after.
But there was one person who could not stop thinking on the events of that day or stop considering what the consequences would be if those events were ever to be known.
▪ ♦ ▪
FR. Chrys was in his bedroom reading, when a purposeful knock came at the door. He closed the book he was reading and turned towards the door, surprised by the knock.
No one ever came to his bedroom. Sister Clara never did and the children usually preferred to see him in his small office. And Ebuka, who was the only frequent visitor, only came when he wanted to clean up the bedroom, and this hardly ever happened while he was inside it.
Still, despite his surprise he stood up and walked to the door, opening it with a smile on his face. Of course the smile vanished once he saw who it was.
“May I come in, father?” Dana asked, smiling in that mocking manner she did whenever they were alone.
Fr. Chrys hated when she called him ‘father’ in that tone of voice. They both knew what she meant but still he preferred if she never used that insinuating tone.
“You shouldn’t be here.” He told her, doing his best to keep his own voice steady.
He obviously didn’t succeed because Dana leaned against the door frame and whispered. “Why not? Are you afraid, Father? Or should I say, daddy?”
Fear made his hands tremble and he gripped the doorknob harder. “Don’t call me that.” He whispered roughly and because he knew he had no choice, as he’d never done where she was concerned, he stepped back from the door and allowed her in.
Dana walked into the room with the air of someone walking into where they belonged. It was her first time inside his bedroom. She’d never thought of coming to see him there before. But since she needed to talk to him now and not later when he went into that miserable small office, she’d decided there was always a first time for everything.
The bare furnishing of the room didn’t surprise her. It was just the same as every other room in the ancient big bungalow house where they all lived.
“Why did you come here? Why couldn’t you wait to see me in my office?”
Fr. Chrys’ slightly shaky voice interrupted her reverie.
Dana turned and regarded him with the usual derision she felt towards him. “You know, I always wonder why you became a Priest.” When he opened his mouth to speak, she waved a careless hand. “I know, so you can serve God. But the thing is, you are not really serving God here, are you?” She ambled over to his reading desk, sat on his chair and then sent him a mocking smile. “You are not really serving God, Father. You are deceiving people.”
She interrupted with another careless wave of her hand. “Oh please, stop looking so pious. It irritates me. I mean you act all holier-than-thou but you are not at all holy, are you? A Catholic Priest is supposed to be celibate, never marry and never have children. But here I am—your daughter.” She let out a loud, mocking laugh.
“I am celibate.” Fr. Chrys defended in a hoarse whisper. “I made a mistake after I first entered the Seminary…”
Dana snorted loudly.
It infuriated Fr. Chrys, scared him. “It is true. It was a weakest moment where I fell into temptation and failed God. It only happened once, but obviously it only takes just once to make life.”
“Oh please, don’t teach me biology, I know all about it.” Dana looked away from him because something tugged in her. She hated that he always called her a mistake. It was what her mother called her too—a mistake she should never have made and for which God was punishing her.
But she didn’t really care anyway. If they both hated her and thought her a mistake, well, she hated them too and considered them liars and pretenders. Her mother had dropped her off to come live with a father she’d never known because she had finally found a man to marry her and didn’t want the mistake of her youth ruining that chance. And her father had accepted her into the home because he’d been threatened of exposure by her mother if he turned her away.
“I am not here for lessons in the science of reproduction.” She continued, composed enough to look at him again as coldly as he was looking at her. “I came here to tell you that we need to make changes to the way things are in our home.”
“Changes?” Fr. Chrys frowned. “What changes?”
Dana shrugged. “I think this house is overcrowded. There are just too many people living here. Too many unnecessary people, and I want them gone.”
He gaped at her. “Gone? Gone where?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere. I don’t care.” She shrugged carelessly to show she didn’t. “I want them out. Not everybody; just some annoying people. Like Sister Clara. She’s just too nosy and always trying to overwork me.” She rolled her eyes. “And then that pompous Dominic and Justina and finally that dull fool, Veronica.” Dana fixed her eyes on him. “Drive them all out.”
“Are you crazy?” Fr. Chrys sputtered. “This is a home for abandoned teenage children…”
“No.” Dana interrupted. “This is our home—yours and mine. You are the Parish Priest here and this is your house and I am your daughter. Our home.” She gestured to the both of them with her finger.
“But they are your brothers and sisters.” Fr. Chrys protested helplessly.
Dana sighed. “Unless you are telling me you fathered them too, they are not my siblings. Are you their father too, father?”
Fr. Chrys looked at the cold, piercing eyes and felt the fear return. “This is a home for young children, Dana. I can’t just drive them away.” He turned away. He couldn’t bear to look at this seed that he had formed. Just one mistake, one sin and Satan tormented him forever with it. “And Sister Clara was sent here by the Bishop, I don’t have the authority to send her away.”
“Then we must contact the Bishop, don’t you think?” Dana got up, walked towards him. “I’ve been thinking lately that it is my duty as a good Catholic to enlighten my Bishop of certain facts that he is not aware of. It is after all a sin of omission to withhold the truth.” She gave him a sunny smile. “I know that things are not as perfect as the Church would have us believe but I still wonder what his Lordship would say if he found out that one of his holy Priests is not so holy after all, hmm.”
She laughed at his shocked face. “I expect your answer this evening, dear father, so, I can plan my itinerary tomorrow, especially if I have to make a long trip to the Bishop’s Court.”
Not waiting for a response, she walked to the door and giving him another twinkling smile, slipped through it.
Alone, Fr. Chrys staggered to his bed and dropped heavily into it. He sat there for maybe close to an hour or more before he finally decided what to do.
Getting up, he walked to his wardrobe, opened it and brought out the small padlocked box. He took it to his desk, opened the last drawer of the desk and got out the key. Then slowly, with slightly quivering hands, he unlocked the box.
Steadying himself, he lifted out the cellophane pack containing dry leaves and set it on the desk. It was hemlock. It was said to kill quickly and surely by an instant paralysis that only kept the mind working until the respiratory system shut down. He’d ordered it online a couple of months back when she’d first started making her threats of visiting the Bishop. He hadn’t used it since because he never found the courage to.
But now when she threatened the children he loved so much, the children he’d sworn before God to protect and love, he must overcome his fear and do what is needed. Not for himself. No, never for himself. But for the children.
▪ ♦ ▪
WHEN she opened the door and invited him in, Fr. Chrys knew by her smug smile that she believed she had won. And he knew without doubt that he was doing the right thing.
He passed her the big pack of juice and watched her pour herself a glass and drink greedily. “You never have to worry about the other children again, Dana.” He told her quietly as she poured another full glass. “I am sure that by tomorrow everything will become all right again.”
▪ ♦ ▪
AND so it had been. Though Fr. Chrys had been shocked to find Dana lying outside in the field rather than on her bed where he’d expected her to make her quiet journey out of this world, it had still been a relief to know that finally God had taken away this child of his iniquity.