Inside the small room used by Father Chrys as an office, the two men quickly dealt with the exchange of pleasantries, so they could get to the crucial matter at hand.
Fr. Chrys broached the subject first. “So, what’s your verdict?” He asked with as much calm as he could muster.
Charles gave a mild laugh. “I’ll hardly call it a verdict; wasn’t a court case and we weren’t trying to play judge.” He made a casual movement with his shoulders. “But I get what you mean, so… the final part of the autopsy was rounded off yesterday evening and a report was sent to me… to the Station. Dr Chikelu’s submission is death by natural causes, no evidence of foul play or murder.”
“Death by natural causes?” Fr. Chrys repeated.
“She died on her own, Father.” Charles explained. “Well, not exactly, there seemed to have been a shutdown of her organs.” He shook his head, still baffled that such could happen to one so young. “It’s not clear what brought it on since there was no clear presence of any poisonous substance. And no proof of any heart disease or deficiencies to her organs.”
“She always complained of asthma.” Fr. Chrys put in.
Charles sighed. “She never had asthma.” He raised the small booklet he had in hand, the diary. “I think she was, err, a little dramatic and cunning.” That was putting it mildly. But it was the best way he could surmise the odd discoveries he’d made from Dana’s diary. “Not only is there no evidence that she’d been asthmatic, she’d clearly stated it here in her diary.” He passed Fr. Chrys the book. “It’s, um, quite an informative little book but, well, you know how it is with youngsters—over-imaginative.”
Fr. Chrys set the diary on the table and placed his palms over it. “Did she say anything about the, ah, goings-on in the home?” He cleared his throat. “I mean between her and the other children?”
Charles noted his embarrassment and felt sorry for him. Fr. Chrys had always had an innocent view of people and the world. He was, himself, an innocent at heart. The contents of the diary will shock him and no doubt hurt him.
“She wrote a number of things. But she was young and as I said earlier, young people tend to be imaginative and it is an age when many try out things.” He stretched his hand and patted the hands lying over the book. “But it seemed she had a particular attachment to you. I think she thought of you as her father. There’s a place she said—Fr. Chrys is a father to us all, but he is my father.” He offered his old friend a smile. “She must have felt close to you. It is not surprising, I’m sure most of these kids think of you as the father they never had.”
“Yes, and they are my children, all of them. And that is why this is so sad”
“Yeah, it is very sad for one so young to die without any explanations.” Charles understood. A parent never hoped to bury his own child and Fr. Chrys was like a parent to these kids. “But now you can lay her to rest, give her the peace she deserves.”
Fr. Chrys raised his head, exhaled and tried to push aside the heavy gloom. “Yes, we can do that now. As a matter of fact, we will do so this evening. She was just a young girl and shouldn’t have been left unburied for this long.” He gave a wan smile. “But this had to be done. It clears all doubt, if there was any.”
“Not on my part.” Charles said instantly. “Not on anyone’s who knew you and this home. It was just procedural and it is done.”
Fr. Chrys nodded and tried to smile more warmly. “Thank you, Charles. I’m grateful you were here to help and have been this supportive. God bless you.”
“Amen.” Charles smiled, pushed back his chair and got up. “Wish I could have stayed for the funeral, but duty calls.” He extended a hand. “We’ll talk later. My greetings to Sister Clara and the children. And my condolences to you all.”
“Thank you.” Fr. Chrys said simply.
▪ ♦ ▪
THAT evening, the small community church was filled. Many of the community members had come for the funeral Mass and internment of Dana Bala not particularly because many of them had known or loved her but that was the way for them—they buried their dead.
Fr. Chrys had invited a Priest friend and brother from another parish to officiate the funeral Mass and final rites. He’d wanted to have the solitude to finally feel the grief of what had happened.
As the Priest gave a short eulogy on the life of Dana Bala whom he’d only known briefly, and on the shortness of life in general and the need to be always prepared for God’s final call, the congregation listened with quiet sombreness and among them the five remaining teenagers listened on and as was natural when one listened, their mind contemplated varied thoughts.
Cyprian, on his front pew, stared more at the opened coffin in front of the altar than at the Priest delivering his sermon. He’d been so relieved to hear that it wasn’t his wicked act that had killed Dana that he’d made God a couple of promises. Chiefly being that he was never going to have sex again until he got married and even more, he will always forgive his enemies and leave vengeance to God as the Bible recommended.
Beside him, Anthony’s thoughts were somewhat different as his eyes stayed fixated on the Priest at the pulpit. So, it wasn’t his poisoned drink that had killed Dana—thank God. He had his mind made up, he was going to become a monk. He would go straight into the Monastery right after his final school exams. And much like his Patron Saint Anthony of Padua, he was going to be as holy as he can be and avoid girls like a plague. His eyes drifted to the dark brown wooden coffin but he quickly averted it. Oh yes, he was done with girls and their troubles.
On the other side of the church, separated by a concrete cemented aisle, Dominic’s thoughts weren’t so pious. While he was hugely relieved the demonic girl had dropped dead on her own and they didn’t need to tell Fr. Chrys of Anthony’s deed. He had advised Anthony to confess instead to Fr. Vincent who was now rambling on the altar about the silly girl, that he’d had impure thoughts about his neighbour. It was now impure thoughts in his opinion, after all it hadn’t caused any harm. He had also recommended he tried the self-service act, it was safer and less dramatic. But poor Anthony had sworn he never wanted to think of fornication again. Well, in his opinion, it wasn’t fornication if you only looked at naked girls and their nice, round boobs. It was appreciating God’s perfect creations.
Behind him and beside Sister Clara who had the most peaceful and pious look on her face, Justina and Veronica sat quietly their thoughts running alternately from their gratitude that this torture was finally over and they were not going to jail to varied inspirations on how they were going to be good girls from now onwards. For Veronica, it was study harder and maybe become a Reverend Sister like Sister Clara who was so godly and kind. And for Justina, it was to do her best to become a successful beautiful woman and find a man who would love her and only her.
Those were their different thoughts and thankfully as Shakespeare had pointed out what the mind was thinking was never written on the face because as Fr. Chrys stared at their solemn, sad faces from the altar where he sat, he felt even deeper sorrow that they all had to go through this.
But his own thoughts were on the need for a Spiritual retreat—maybe for nine day—so as to make penance for all their sins, by commission and omission, and to re-instil love and friendship among the children and restore proper devotion to God.
It was what they all needed. And thankfully, God was a merciful God and He would forgive all their shortcomings and give them all a new heart and a new spirit. That, after all, was His promise.