In the chapel, Father Romy felt something jump down there between his legs. He had never experienced that before, at least not since he lost his memory.
There was also something else. He felt like going to the refrigerator in the rectory and throwing out all the papaya. He felt a distinct distaste for the fruit that had saved him from many a temptation. For some reason now, he couldn’t stand the sight of the yellow antidote to all dirty thoughts.
He also felt a little taller. That can’t be, he said to himself. He went to the mirror in the sacristy where priests would fix their stoles before kissing them. He looked pretty much the same, except perhaps for a barely noticeable sudden growth of a stubble. He touched his cheeks and his chin. The stubble was rough. He remembered shaving just that morning, not to mention that he really did not have a stubble before.
Crossing himself, he walked quickly to the confessional box, hoping to get some advice from his fellow priest, who was scheduled to hear confessions that day. There was no light in the box. That meant that there was no priest inside. To check, he opened the center portion where the priest would sit and, sure enough, there was nobody there.
Suddenly, the light turned on. That’s strange, he thought. Perhaps his opening the door triggered the light.
He felt a strong urge to open the penitent’s side. Inside, he knelt down, only to rest his wobbling legs.
“Yes, my son,” came a voice from the priest’s side.
Startled, Father Romy blurted out, automatically, since he must have done it hundreds of times before, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was . . .”
He stopped. This is silly, he thought. There is no one there. He must have imagined the voice.
It came again, this time much louder. “Yes, my son.”
Father Romy stood up, almost bumping his head on the low ceiling of the confessional box.
The voice came. “Relax, Father Romy, I am here.”
“Is that you, Father?” Father Romy asked. Priests referred to each other as “Father,” the way doctors called each other “Doctor.”
“No, I am not a priest.”
Father Romy’s goose bumps could have made him explode.
“I have come to tell you what’s what.”
Father Romy remained speechless, but his knees did the talking, as they kept hitting each other. He knelt down.
“You are reincarnated. You died before we were ready for you.”
Well, Father Romy thought, that’s original, even for his fellow priest, who was notorious for practical jokes.
“Unfortunately, we made a very bad mistake, Father Romy. We reincarnated someone else into your body.”
Now, this was really weird, thought Father Romy. He couldn’t even begin to grasp the concept of reincarnation, and now he was being told about someone else in his own body.
Father Romy stood up.
“That’s enough, Father,” he shouted. “You’re really freaking me out. Enjoy your laugh.”
He went out the penitent’s box and opened the priest’s compartment. There was no one there.
There was something different about this priest, Julie thought, as she watched Father Romy walking on the driveway of the rectory. He was walking straight, not a little bit stooped as she had observed him in the school. He also had a longer stride, she thought, or perhaps imagined.
“Hello, Father,” she said.
He must have been in deep thought, she thought, because he seemed startled.
Of course, she must be imagining it, she thought, when he looked at her strangely, as though he had known her for a much longer time.
“Oh, it’s you,” Father Romy said, moving towards Julie. He offered his hand.
Should she kiss it, she asked herself. She had seen the schoolchildren kissing his hand as he walked past them.
Instead, she took his hand and shook it.
“I asked to see you, Father,” she said.
“I know,” Father Romy said.
Julie waited to see if he would mention the hospital, but he didn’t.
“Come,” Father Romy said, not letting go of her hand. It was awkward, because she felt like a little kid being led to the principal’s office. Except that she was the principal.
She withdrew her hand.
Father Romy put his hand over her shoulder. He was a bit taller than she was. He seemed taller, in fact, than before.
She let him lead her to the reception room of the rectory.
“So, what did you want to see me about?” Father Romy asked, when they were seated across each other.
“It’s a problem that has been bothering me, Father,” she said. “No, it’s not about my late husband. It’s about someone else.”
Father Romy stood up and sat beside her.
“Do you want to go to confession?” he asked.
“No, Father,” she said. “This is not confidential. In fact, I think everybody knows.”
Father Romy did not know but suspected whatever it was that everybody knew.
“I’ve been having a, what, special friendship,” she said.
“Say no more, my child,” Father Romy said. He put his arm around her shoulders.
Then she broke down, cried like she was indeed a child, put her head on Father Romy’s chest.
He lifted her face to him.
Then he kissed her.
On the lips. Long.
She kissed back. It was instinctive. She hugged him tight. Very tight.
Then he moved away. Shaking.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what came over me. It won’t happen again. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” The words kept running over each other.
She stood up without a word, and walked quickly out of the rectory.
He fell on his knees, covered his face with his hands, then cried, aloud, much too loud, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Father Romy took the hosts gingerly in his hands. They were already consecrated, and he knew that dropping them to the floor would mean that he would commit sacrilege, the unforgivable sin. He closed the tabernacle door, genuflected, and faced the people lining up for communion.
For some days now, he felt bad handling and handing out the consecrated hosts. Nobody knew it, of course, but he was no longer in a state of grace. Last week, he had done what he had vowed never to do – kiss a woman.
Of course, she was no ordinary woman. He had Googled her name and discovered that she was not an ordinary principal of an elementary school. She had won an award for Outstanding Principal from a Non-Government Organization that specialized in giving awards. Of course, there was something odd about the award. She had to shell out money to attend the awarding ceremonies. It smelled of a scam. But the award being a scam or not, her being an Outstanding Principal looked good on her résumé.
She was known to be a no-nonsense principal. Nobody in school could disobey her, or her rules, no matter how arbitrary they were. No talking during recess. No eating after recess. No smiling during tests. No climbing the trees unless it was zoology class. No running on the grass unless it was football class. No lying down on the lawn unless it was astronomy class and it was night, which it never was, since school ended at 3 p.m. sharp. No texting, no calling, no playing on mobile phones. No nothing, really. Everybody was completely stifled and devoid of imagination and excitement. That was the way she liked the school – and life. Everything predictable. Everything in its place. No surprises. At least on Google.
Except that kiss. Father Romy could still taste her lips. That was silly, of course, because the kiss was a week ago. More precisely, it was six days, nineteen hours, and five minutes ago.
The boy stuck out his tongue. Father Romy put a host on the tongue of the boy. The man behind the boy, probably his father, cupped his hands, asking for the host to be put there instead of on his tongue. Father Romy obligingly placed a host on the man’s cupped hands.
It was like this every Sunday, even every day. There were always a number of people that wanted to receive communion. He could not deny them their spiritual sustenance. Although he knew better. Theology had changed radically since the new pope did his latest encyclical. The more things changed, the more they remained the same. Father Romy’s parishioners continued in their old ways. He could not disillusion them. He knew that, next to sacrilege, the greatest sin was scandal. Do not shatter the faith of those that believe in me, Father Romy could almost have heard God Himself one night when he was praying hard after reading yet another theology book.
Then, there she was, in line to receive communion – Julie, the principal.
He knew that he could not deny her communion. For all he knew, she had gone to confession and was now completely ready to receive the Lord. In any case, she was not to blame for the kiss. He had initiated it, and she was merely the passive receiver. Not too passive, he remembered, but still not the initiator. Not the sinner. Perhaps only the sinned against.
She opened her lips to receive the host. He saw those lips and wanted, not to put the host into her mouth, but his tongue.
He shook so violently that he collapsed on the floor, the consecrated hosts still in his hands.
“Oh my god!” shouted the women on the front pew.
“I’m a doctor,” said a woman a few women behind Julie. “Let me through.”
“I can give him CPR,” said Julie, and knelt down beside Father Romy.
39 The Fall (Oct. 5)
It happened in slow motion. I had my tongue out and my eyes closed. Then I heard a really loud thud. I opened my eyes, and there he was, on the floor, on his back. His eyes were staring straight at the ceiling.
It happened in slow motion. She had her tongue out and her eyes closed. Then I fell. I heard a really loud thud. It was my head, hitting the floor. There I was, on the floor, on my back, my eyes staring straight at the ceiling.
I knelt down, instinctively. I cradled his head in my arms. I had taken classes from the Red Cross and was certified for First Aid / Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / Automated External Defibrillator. I said, “I can give him CPR.
I could not see who it was who was cradling my head, but I felt that it had to be her. I heard her voice, that unmistakable voice, “I can give him CPR.”
But someone was saying behind me, “I’m a doctor. Let me through.”
But there was another voice, also a woman’s. “I’m a doctor. Let me through.”
I put my lips on his lips. My hair covered his eyes.
But her lips were on my lips. Her hair was on my eyes and I could not see her. But I knew it was her. It was her lips.
Then, suddenly, I knew.
Then, suddenly, I knew.
Lord called a general assembly of everyone in heaven. There were zillions there, from millions of planets.
Steve Jobs was in front. Everyone thought that Lord would be angry because Jobs had messed up heaven’s computer system.
Lord smiled. “Now that you are in heaven, you should all know better. Anger is a deadly sin, and I cannot sin. I may be omnipotent, but that’s one thing I cannot do. I cannot sin. I cannot be angry.”
Some human beings started to talk among themselves.
“I sent one of my sons to you, didn’t I? He made it very clear that what you called the Old Testament was just a preparation for what you called the New Testament. All that talk about me being angry was just, well, human. You human beings had this thing about Old and New. Now you are in heaven and you now know that there is nothing old or new because everything is Now. But I cannot send too many of you back to earth to tell them what’s what. It will just confuse everyone there, and I don’t want confusion. Confusion leads to sin, and I don’t want sin. I cannot hate sin, because hate is a combination of envy and pride, and those are also deadly sins. I just don’t want sin, I just tolerate it, because it’s part of the system. It’s a bug. You understand that, Steve?”
Jobs nodded. He knew when someone was smarter than him.
“I called all of you because I want you all to know that the computer system is back to normal.”
The angel who had put Frankie and Romy into the same body waited for the ax to fall.
“Not to worry,” Lord said to the angel. “I forgive everything. I stepped in and fixed the computer myself.”
Because this was heaven, there was no need for further explanation, because everybody knew what everybody else was thinking or feeling. The geniuses, led by the human named Leonardo da Vinci, immediately figured out all the implications of what Lord had just said, and everybody immediately understood.
The Facebook and Google creators were going to congratulate each other because they were the first on earth to dare think that everybody should know what everybody else is doing, but Lord stopped them.
“That’s pride, humans,” Lord scolded them. “There is no place for pride here.”
The Facebookers and Googlers bowed their heads. They knew, however, that they had been forgiven, because everything was forgiven in heaven.
“How will you solve the problems the computer glitch caused?” one angel asked, not able to control her curiosity.
The Lord smiled. “I just reversed time.”
Jobs smiled. He understood what rebooting meant. Everybody else, therefore, immediately understood it, too.