PART ONEAlex and his wife, Sheila were all dressed gallantly. They were in St. Alexander Parish, a suburban parish in downtown city of Kalo. As the service was ongoing, Sheila knew something was off about Alex.“What’s wrong, darling? You seem upset.”He looked at her as if in a trance. “Nothing to worry about, just reflections.That’s all.”“Am looking forward to the sermon, I heard Fr. Crane is a strong preacher of the word.”“So it seems…”he replied.She looked at him amazed “What’s that supposed to mean?”“Don’t judge a book by its cover” he replied sarcastically.As the last hymnal was recited, the priest walked up to the altar to preach his sermon titled ‘The wages of Sin’. He spoke about the common sins that man considers convenient and its danger to spiritual upliftment. He encouraged all to surrender their lives to Christ. At the end, about ten of the worshippers gave their lives to Christ and became born again. Still Sheila noticed Alex wore a sad look throughout the service.At the end of the service, Sheila urged Alex to introduce themselves to the priest as he was the new police chief in the community and had just resumed duty a week ago.‘It won’t be a bad idea’ she said. Surprisingly, he agreed and they went towards him.“Reverend Crane, it’s a pleasure to meet you” she said warmly with her cheeks grinning from side to side.“You too. If I may ask, are you new to this church?” he asked. With sunburn tans and a thick moustache, he appeared older than his age. The priestly robe covered up his athlete build.“Yes. I just moved into the city with my husband, Alex.”Alex with a wry smile brought out his right hand and shook him firmly “ I am the new chief of the police. You have a wonderful parish here.”“Thanks be to God for his mercies. We are growing everyday in his word. It’s nice to see you around. I hope you won’t mind having dinner with my family, perhaps this evening.”Alex was about to say something but Sheila rudely interrupted, “ We would not mind at all. Alex can be shy at times, aren’t you?’ and she held his hand. He reluctantly smiled and said “Tomorrow, I think will be better. We got some settling down to do today.”“No problem at all” replied Crane. “I will see you tomorrow. You can call me on this cell number 0165234980. Can I have yours?”Alex brought out his business card and gave to him. With his left arm, he took Sheila and said to Fr. Crane “Till tomorrow then.”“May God be with you.” He replied.In the car, Sheila was furious. “That is a man of God, why are you behaving so odd to him?”He kept mute and continued driving. She kept on making comments in order to get his attention but he did not say a word.He thought “Some things could not be said, not even to Sheila…”PART TWOAs he shaved his beards, his face bore a resemblance that was a far cry from his youthful days. The long hours of work, individual responsibilities and images of a distressed childhood made his face so worn out. What a relief he had when he got wind of his transfer to a quiet part of town to be in charge. Now he had his past to face and what a burden it will be…The phone rang. “Please answer the phone, Sheila” he cried.“I am in the kitchen. Take a message” she replied.It rang about three times and then a message was left. When he was through with his facial cleanup, he picked the phone and listened to the voicemail message. It was Rev. Crane “Good morning y’all. Sorry, a charity event came up this evening so dinner won’t be possible tonight. Can we have lunch instead? Let me know if you are okay with it. Bye”“Sheila, Rev. Crane says he won’t be free tonight. Do we really have to see him?” he said as he gave her a peck on the cheek.“It will be polite. Is he rescheduling?”“He says lunch is available. That so near” he said with sarcasm.“We can make it. Tell him we are coming by 1pm. Please go, I don’t want to burn the cake am baking”“Sorry, am disappearing.” He gave her a hard kiss and left the kitchen.As he climbed the stairs, memories flashed through his mind. Many years ago, on a similar staircase, he was being flogged by his foster father with a hard belt, his body shrieking in pains, blood streaming from his nose as he was given a hard blow, with no one to come to his rescue. He felt desolate, praying for death to come and save him from his misery. Images of the different people in his life who had mistreated him one way or the other surfaced. Only the voice of his wife, Sheila brought him back to present day.“Honey, please put off the shower for me. I left it on, just remembered now”. After a pause, she shouted again “Alex, did you hear me?”He muttered “Yeah, I will.”He entered the bathroom and put off the shower. He opened his wardrobe to choose the clothes for the lunch date with the priest. He had never had the opportunity of dining with a clergyman before so he was nervous a bit. But that was not the only reason he was nervous. Father Crane was not just a priest to him; he was part of a memory that shaped his entire life. As he opened his briefcase and looked at his mother’s picture, tears welled up in his eyes.He knew his mother for so short a time in his life but who was to blame for that? Only time will tell…PART THREEAs they walked up to the front door, he could not help but survey the environs. It was a typical priest quarters, a bungalow with a garden. Parked outside was a Sienna jeep with a cat squatting on the front porch. In his light blue shirt and black pants with sleeves rolled up, he hoped he was not appearing too casual. Not that it mattered to him anyways.He rang the bell. It took just two seconds and a warm fair face greeted them with aplomb “Hi, you must be Alex and Sheila. You’re welcome”.They uttered in unison “Thank you.” She ushered them inside and shut the door.They entered the living room and sat. “Father Crane will be with you shortly. By the way, I am his wife, Carla. Welcome once again to our abode”Sheila answered “Thank you. I can hear children noises. Any kids around?”“Yes, dear. My daughter is 10, the boy is 6. I will bring them to greet you.” she answered. “No problem at all. Please tell Fr. Crane we’re here” Alex said. He was not in the cheerful mood for family pleasantries. Lunch was lunch. He also had other things in mind.When Carla left the room, he got up to look at the pictures displayed on the wall. He saw pictures of Crane with Carla, Crane with a boy, then all together. They appeared as one happy family. Then his eyes caught a picture that resurrected an image known to him. At that point Sheila walked up to him “You must love these pictures. Such a good family, worthy to emulate.”Alex answered ‘Sure looks like it. Don’t worry, soon we will all know about that.”Sheila stared at him, totally confused by his statement “Are you okay?”“Perfectly fine” he smiled. He turned around as he heard footsteps approaching.Lo and behold, it was Fr. Crane!PART FOUR“I am enjoying the meal. Thanks a lot” she said . Obviously the atmosphere around the dining was too quiet and needed some life in it. Sandy and Tom had earlier come to greet them before they went to their drama classes.“So, Alex, what made you to choose here as your station? Or were you just assigned?” Crane said.Alex replied “I wanted to start a family in a small town for a start. Kinda fed up with the life I had in the big city.”“Well, you won’t regret it. It’s a very peaceful community with a lot of honest and disciplined people in it. Been here for the past three years and it’s been a blessing”“Where did you grow up, Alex?” Carla asked.Sheila said “Alex does not talk much about his home. I guess being raised by foster parents most of his life didn’t help.” She certainly didn’t want this talk to deviate into an x-ray of Alex life.“It’s not a problem at all. My childhood was marred with a lot of resentment and bitterness, not something I enjoy discussing. Anyways, I think I spent most of my early days in Mago as far as I remember “Alex said.“I was in Mago too in my younger days. Quite a big city, full of life. I guess it needs some spiritual input as well. How devoted were you to the church then, Alex?” Crane asked.“Perhaps I was an atheist then, Father” he replied sarcastically. Everyone looked at him. “I was just joking” and they all laughed.“I was a devout Christian for most of the time. Fell off for a time but I am back to the fold now.”“That’s a good thing to do. Sheila, what about you?” Crane asked. Most times the wives had a crucial role to play in the man’s spiritual life.“My parents were devout Christians of the Presbyterian order. I was raised to be so.” she said succinctly.As the meals were finished, Carla and Sheila offered to clear and wash the dishes. Alex and Crane were all alone in the living room. The television was on with the news channel broadcasting, though the volume was low.Alex asked Fr Crane “What do you consider as the greatest sin of all?”“Every sin is equal in the sight of God, though the sins of fornication and adultery are grievous against the body. Why do you ask?”“I find that hard to believe. Men commit terrible sins against each other and get away with it because Jesus is all forgiving. They deserve some punishment” he argued.“His mercy covers us all. If we truly confess our faults and make efforts to retrieve our ways.”“So what say you about a man, who mistreats his family, abandons them and goes about his life as if nothing happened?”With a subtle frown, Crane replied “If he is a true Christian, he will seek his family for forgiveness and show remorse for his actions, no matter the circumstances.”“Is he responsible for the actions of his children afterwards? Consequences of child abuse abound.”“Till he confesses and seeks mercy, he shoulders the responsibility of his family actions in the eyes of God. He is the head of the family, remember” Crane replied. He was still wondering where this conversation would lead to. He was getting a bit uncomfortable.“Interesting. An act of penance is required then” Alex said with a stern face.Fr. Crane was getting scared…PART FIVEIt was 11:45pm. Fifteen minutes to Fr. Crane midnight prayers. He was in the living room studying the scriptures. Carla and the kids were fast asleep. Suddenly, his cell phone beeped. He put it on beep mode so he could concentrate on his bible study.He checked. It was Alex. He answered “Good evening Alex.”“Sorry to disturb you, Fr. Crane. I had a burden in my heart I wish to share with you but on further thought, I would like to share it with the congregation.”“I hope it’s nothing too personal. You can share it with me as your spiritual counselor”“No, it’s better for the church. It will strengthen their faith in God. More like a testimony. Can you arrange it for me this Sunday?” Alex asked.After some hesitation, “okay, will check my schedule and fit it in. hope everything is fine though.”“It is, Fr. Crane. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. Goodbye.” And the line cut.This was a very strange call that kept Crane wondering through the night. Even in his prayers, he asked for guidance as he had some bad feelings about Alex. Little did he know what was coming….PART SIXAs the hymnal ‘To God Be The Glory’ was being sung, it elicited fond memories for Alex. This was his favorite hymn. He sang it with great fervor that astounded Sheila. “Obviously, this is much better from you compared to last time” she remarked.“Life is full of surprises. I have one in store for you today” he replied.“I can’t wait” and continued singing.At the end of the sermon, Fr. Crane announced ‘I want to use this time to welcome all of you to this service especially some new faces. I have the pleasure to invite Mr. Alex Mani to offer his testimony to the congregation. He is as you well know the new head of our police security in this community.’He received applause from the congregation as he stepped to the front .Before he started, he smiled to Sheila and Carla and the two kids. They were sitting together in the same pew.“I am honored to be in your presence this morning, most of all in the sight of God. So far, I have felt at home in this town with all your support and encouragement especially from Fr. Crane” and looked at him. Fr. Crane acknowledged.He continued “It is not easy being a law enforcement agent, having to see people of different personalities commit crimes of various degrees. Rapists, murderers, child abusers, petty thieves, arsonists to mention but a few. I was motivated to join the police because I was a victim and a perpetrator of such crimes.” The congregation mumbled. Fr. Crane listened with rapt attention.“I have bad childhood memories. I went through foster homes like a tourist, humiliation, torture and abuse were my companions and death was a fantasy I desired. Each and every day, I asked myself: where is God? My mom always told me he is omnipresent but at those times, he was an absentee. I grew up hating fathers and men of authority in general. I resorted to joining gangs of robbers who bullied rich men kids on the streets, spent most time in shelter homes, molested ladies that thought I loved them, did so many bad things that I felt God will never forgive. But I was wrong. I confessed my faults and I know he forgave me. Still I had an unfinished project. Will God forgive me in this final act? I wonder!” he exclaimed.He then asked anyone in the church if they had problems in their family. No one answered him. He then directed another question to the children “I want one of you to come out and say “I love you to your dad.”Tom rushed and hugged Fr. Crane and shouted “I love you, Dad”. He replied “I love you too.”Alex continued, “Tom, do you really think your dad loves you?”Sheila whispered in the air ‘”Alex, what are you up to?”Tom went back to Carla and was looking scared.“I am who I was and am today because of my father. You see, I had a loving and committed Christian mother but my dad made her life a misery. He was an absolute drunk and a chain smoker who had no discipline whatsoever and regards for family values. He treated my mom like a piece of shit. He killed her.” This created noisy scenes in the church.Sheila didn’t know what next was coming.“Every day he came back from the bar, he would beat her and assault her sexually. She didn’t even have the courage to report to anyone let alone the police. Even when I wanted to run away, she would stop me. I was a victim of his beatings and flogging. One day my mother got so upset that she hit him with a bottle on the head. I thought that would stop him, instead he entered the kitchen and took a knife to kill her. We ran away and entered the car. My mom drove away with speed out of fear and she was in tears. Before I could say anything, she lost control of the car and we had an accident.”He wiped tears from his eyes with tissue and continued “I woke up in the hospital. The doctors told me my mom had died on the spot; they could not trace my father’s whereabouts. Unfortunately as I had no other relative, I was going to be taken care of by child support and then foster parents. I was just ten years old. Mom gone, father abandoned me. God was being cruel, I felt. Now I know God is not to blame. We have the free will as humans to make good or bad choices and my father chose the bad route. No one is to blame but himself. Isn’t that right, Fr. Crane?”He was lost for words.He rolled up his right sleeves and raised his right palm. It had a burn scar on it“This is one of the many scars my father inflicted on me. To you, it may make you cry but to one person in this church, it will make him bleed!”He turned to look at Fr. Crane whose eyes were wide open in fear and anxiety.“Fr. Crane is my father!”PART SEVEN“NO!” He shouted and fell to the floor. “It can’t be!”Carla was shocked. Tom said “Is it true, father?”Sheila was in tears. She could not believe what she heard. The congregation was numbed.“Tell them the truth, father. You can’t even recognize your own son. Shame on you!” Alex said with fury and then took out his gun from his back pocket.Sheila shouted “please Alex, don’t do this! This is a church”Alex bursted in anger “If anyone dares to go out or make any phone call, Fr. Crane will be a guest in the kingdom of hell!” Everyone went silent.“Confess to them. I followed you all these years waiting for the right time to reveal your evil deeds. None better than the church of God! How ironical that you preach to others about repentance when you have not been completely honest with yourself. You want further proof, Dad?’ he revealed his left hand that had multiple scars and bruises included one that his name was scripted ‘ Alex willan’Fr. Crane had never felt so ashamed. “ I am so sorry, Alex. I never meant it to be this way. After your mom died, I couldn’t face the world, then taking care of you with all I did, I had to run! I tried to forget all that happened, though I made efforts to find you but I didn’t succeed. I went to church one day and found a new spirit within me. Carla was one of the blessings God gave to me”Alex interrupted “ You are a liar and a hypocrite! You did nothing to find me. You abandoned me like you always do and ran to the church to save you. Twenty years was enough time for you but you never thought so!”He cocked his gun; people shouted “No!”“Tell me one good reason, brethren, why I should not kill him and end my misery. Is he worth living for God?”Carla knelt “please show mercy. If you kill him, it will not change what has happened.”“At least, I will feel better. I will not stand seeing him preach when I remember what he did to me and my mother. Never!”Then a woman stood up from her pew and said to Alex “I know at this time your anger will cloud your judgment and rightly so, but you have to listen to the voice inside that tells you vengeance is not the answer. I had a similar experience as yours. My sister was murdered by a man who was under the influence of alcohol and had a gun. When it was time for his conviction, his lawyer made a plea; life imprisonment for death sentence. We all wanted him to die for his crime, but then we would have two murders. The grief would never go away. But if he stayed alive, he would never forget what he did and we would live better knowing that our sister’s murderer is alive to pay for his crimes not to seek solace in the arms of death. So I beg you, think of what you are about to do” and she sat down.Sheila tried to do the same but Alex pointed the gun at her. She sat down immediately.Alex looked all around him and saw the fear, tension that was palpable in the church. As he looked into Crane’s eyes, he saw his mother’s cries, the beatings, the pity, the torture. He shut his eyes to hold the tears but he couldn’t. He cried out “Why father? Did you hate us that much? Here you are being pled for, yet undeserving. Am I supposed to live with the fact that I let you escape with life today? Perhaps it will be best if Tom and Sandy are left fatherless. Better to be fatherless than to have a father with a heart filled with treachery!”“Please, show mercy as Christ has shown on you” Crane pled.After a minute pause, Alex with the gun still pointed at Fr. Crane’s head said “I forgive you, Father! As they say, forgiveness is almost a selfish act because it gives benefits to the one who forgives and torments the forgiven. I will spare your life today and the church of God is my witness. I will leave this town with my family because I will not stand seeing you preach to me. You will carry this guilt to your grave and your whole family is aware of it even your very congregation. That is enough punishment for you. It is your Penance!”“To the rest of you, please take care of your families. Do not molest your wives or children, they are responsibilities assigned to you by God. May God have mercy on us all!” He then pointed the gun to his own head. Sheila rushed towards him.“This is for you, Father!!” Boom!“No!!!” they all shouted.Alex killed himself….WAS THIS AN ACT OF PENANCE FOR ALEX OR FR. CRANE, HIS BIOLOGICAL FATHER? DID HE REALLY NEED TO COMMIT SUICIDE TO PUNISH HIS FATHER? WAS THIS A SELFISH ACT KNOWING HE HAD A WIFE TO CARE FOR? THESE ARE QUESTIONS I WOULD LIKE MY READERS TO ANSWER. THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENTION!
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