Saturday 8 – Monday 10 November 2014
Mabel reached for Eddie’s hand and gripped it as tightly as she could without hurting him. The enemy soldier poked his pistol towards her face. She closed her eyes and stifled a scream. Frances, however, could not hold it in. She let out a high-pitched scream that could possibly have been heard over the sound of the bombs exploding.
‘Shut her up!’ the soldier demanded. ‘Shut her up now, or else I’ll shoot her!’
‘Clearly, waving your pistol in her face is not the way to calm the child.’
The soldier and the children turned to the north entrance. Striding out from the small chapel, dishevelled and covered in dust came a young clergyman. He snapped shut the bible he was holding, and dabbed away the blood dripping from his forehead.
‘I am Father Adam and this,’ he gestured to the length and breadth of the building, ‘is my church. Your weapons have no place here. Either relinquish your pistol to me or I will take it from you by force if I have to.’
Father Adam came to a stop in front of the soldier and held his gaze.
‘You talk big for a man of the cloth.’ The soldier regarded his new adversary. ‘But I wonder if you are able to follow through.’
‘Well, I am certainly not the coward that you are, running from the bombs and hiding like the children.’ Adam’s words enraged the warrior who struck out with his pistol and connected squarely with Adam’s lower jaw.
‘Coward? I am no coward!’
‘You’re hiding in a church while your countrymen are fighting and dying. You’re threatening children in order to take over their place of sanctuary. In my book, that makes you a coward.’ He wiped blood from his jaw and took a step closer to the soldier.
The soldier stood his ground, puffed out his chest, and sneered at the clergyman. Eddie considered who might come out as the winner in the standoff. The soldier stood a good four inches taller than Father Adam.
‘You’re making an issue out of nothing, Father. I simply want a safe place to wait out the bombing.’
‘That may be so, but you crossed a line when you threatened children for that safe place.’
‘And what are you going to do about that?’ asked the soldier.
Father Adam smiled. ‘What am I going to do? I’m going to tell you once more: you are not welcome in my church.’
‘I claim sanctuary, preacher, and you can’t turn away a man who seeks sanctuary. Not to mention that I also have a gun.’ He waved the pistol in Father Adam’s face. Eddie and Mabel drew the younger children in closer and covered their eyes. They had seen enough death, and Eddie was determined to protect them all as best as he could.
‘It would appear that you believe that because I am a man of God that I am pious. If that is your assumption, then I am obliged to tell you that it is incorrect.’ He stepped in between the children and the soldier, forcing the armed man away from the altar and towards the rounded wall of the apse. Donald, who had earlier asked if Jesus would protect them, glanced up at the crucified man on the apse wall. Jesus and his cross rattled as yet another bomb landed close by.
‘Excuse me, father,’ Donald said in a small voice.
‘Now is not the time for little boys to be speaking,’ said the soldier.
‘Children,’ Father Adam’s voice was calm and kind, ‘I think it’s best if you go into my room. There is a little food and water in there. Help yourself to it. Off you go.’
Eddie quickly stood up and encouraged the other children to do the same. He ushered them off in the direction that the clergyman had appear, stopping only once to glance behind at Father Adam and the soldier.
‘Yes, Father Adam,’ the soldier snapped, ‘you really do talk big.’
‘Before I follow up my big talk, I’d like to know your name, soldier.’ Again, he stepped closer to the soldier, forcing the man further back from the altar. The soldier considered Adam’s request. He sighed before answering.
‘Jakob Wilhelm Bader.’
‘Bader . . . your ancestry leads back to bath attendants? And here you are, a big, brave soldier boy who hides out in a church to save himself from the bombings, and who will happily kill children for sanctuary.’
In the small chapel that Father Adam had converted to basic living quarters, the children huddled together on the uncomfortable single bed that was next to the door. Donald peered around the others to catch a glimpse of Father Adam and the soldier.
‘Eddie,’ Donald whispered, ‘Jesus is falling.’
‘Smelly Donald is imaging things, Eddie. Tell him to stop being silly.’
‘Charlie, don’t be mean.’ Mabel gently poked Charlie in the ribs.
‘It’s true. Donald’s right. Jesus is falling,’ Frances agreed.
Unaware of Jesus and his downward trajectory, Father Adam and Jakob Bader stood face to face, unflinching.
‘As you keep informing me that this is your church, I will allow you the courtesy of making the first move.’
Father Adam did not move, did not change his expression; he simply stood, calm and centred.
‘Jakob of the bath attendants, before I was a man of God, I was a killer just like you. A soldier prepared to die for my country. I may look young to you, but I have killed more men than you have faced in combat.’
At first it was shock that Adam saw spread across Bader’s face, and then the soldier began to laugh.
‘So it is because you are trying to atone for your sins that you have become Father Adam. How trite.’ Jakob holstered his pistol as he spoke. This man was no threat to him. This man was a preacher who was a skilled storyteller, and that was all he was. ‘You lack the killer instinct required of a soldier, Father Adam. You are too soft and fragile to have been a great fighter.’
‘Think what you will, Mr. Bader, but your thoughts won’t change the truth. And I will do what I need to do in order to protect those children.’
The raised voices drew the attention of the children, but before Eddie and Mabel could look out to the two men, a high-pitched whistling came from outside. The eldest boy recognised it immediately.
‘Get under the bed!’ Eddie shouted at the children. ‘Under the bed now!’
They all scarped under the spring bed. Eddie managed to call out to Father Adam before the bomb hit.
‘Father Adam! Get down!’ Eddie saw nothing more as the bomb landed almost at the church doors, forcing them open and spewing dust and debris through the church proper.
When the dust settled, the children could see neither Father Adam nor the soldier.
‘Jesus is gone,’ whispered Donald, pointing to the place on the apse wall where the crucified Christ had, only minutes before, been hanging.
‘Father Adam!’ cried Eddie. He scurried out from under the bed and bolted to the altar, jumping over dislocated pews and pieces of the church walls. He found the clergyman curled into as small a ball as was possible for a man of six feet tall. ‘Father Adam, are you alright? Can you move?’
Adam lifted the hand holding his bible into the air. He wasn’t entirely sure that he had the strength to verbally respond to the boy, so a hand would have to suffice.
The younger children had clambered out after Eddie, but Mabel kept them some distance from the altar.
‘Look,’ said Donald. He pointed to a pile of debris near Father Adam. All eyes looked at the spot he had pointed to. Jakob Wilhelm Bader’s left hand was just visible under the crucified Christ sculpture that had hung on the apse wall for so many years. Struggling to move, Adam crawled closer to the spot he’d last seen Bader standing. He reached out for the soldier’s hand and checked for a pulse. Adam shook his head. Bader was dead.
‘See? Jesus did protect us,’ Donald smiled.
‘I suppose, in a manner of speaking, he did. However, I believe we’ve had a bloody good stroke of good luck,’ replied Father Adam.
. . . The end . . .