Travails of the unsung hero

churches in Moscow

The cock crowed at dawn, in the little village near the Metropolis*. Aaron jumped out of bed. Today, he is going to the big city. So excited, he washed, had breakfast, and got ready to leave. As he was at the door, his mother’s voice chased him.

“Are you sure you want to leave us all here and go to work in the city?” She said crying. “Why don’t you want to work in the field with your father?”

“Mother, we went through this before. If I get this job… Oh, mother this is my dream…To live in the city. I went to many places when I was drafted in the army. But, I could never enjoy any of it, because of the army regulations.” He was passionate. He walked back from the doorway towards his mother. His slender body shaking with excitement, “Now, I am free. No body can tell me where to go or what to do! I am twenty one and I am free, mother.”

She held his hand. Her tears were flooding her face. She pulled him and hugged him.

“You got out of the draft only two weeks ago. We have not enjoyed your being with us. Now you want to go away again!”

“It’s not like I shall be at the end of the world. Mama, I shall be in Metropolis, one train stop away. I shall be here for your delicious home cooking every week.” He said, as he kissed her cheek and walked to the door.

“We all wish to see you happy my son. I shall pray for you. May God guide you every step of the way” She was talking to thin air, or was she?

                        Aaron got off the bus. He walked around the corner, into the thoroughfare towards the Awesome Cathedral. Every time he looked at it, he felt the same dizzying ecstasy. The service had just ended. He went directly to the office of Mr. Victor, The social worker.

“Aaron, good morning my friend.” Victor said hesitantly.

“Good morning Mr. Victor. I hope you have some good news for me?” Aaron spoke in a shaky voice.

Victor was looking for the right words. But, there are no right words when it comes to disappointing somebody.

“Have a seat, Aaron.” Victor said in a gentle tone, “You see my son; you do not have any skills. I tried to contact several people. But, everybody needs an already experienced worker. Very few places will train you on the job.”

“What are you saying? There is no hope?” Aaron heart skipped a beat.

“No, I mean that it shall take time to find someone who is willing to take a totally inexperienced worker with a three years old high school diploma.” Victor was talking to Aaron but looking at the far side of the room towards the huge icon on the wall. He had to face the same dilemma with many other hopeful young people. But every time it gets even harder to handle. He looked back at Aaron, who was now silently crying and struggling between defiance and despair. Victor really admired this young man. For even through his silent tears, his eyes had that challenging glimmer, and proud demeanor.

            At this exact moment, walked in father Philip, in his black garb and snow white long beard, his old skinny face beaming with compassion.

“Peace be with you my friends.” Father Philip’s reassuring voice was a welcome break. Aaron stood up and kissed his hand, and so did Mr. Victor. When everybody settled down, it was father Philip who noticed the distraught Aaron.

“Is Mr. Victor bothering you my son?’ He asked trying to cheer him up.

“No, father Mr. Victor has been very kind to me. It seems that I am a hopeless case.”

            Father Philip took a good look at Aaron’s tearful eyes. He seemed like a paradox.  His strong manly voice made him sound much older than he looked. He smelled of the refreshing scent of the fields, but his military fatigues betrayed the disturbing whiff of gunpowder. He had an innocent boyish face with a faint mustache, and a military haircut.

“Victor, what seems to be the problem?” Philip asked while still looking at Aaron.

Victor summarized the situation apologetically.

“What kind of a job are you looking for my son?” Asked the priest.

“Anything father.” Aaron sat up in his chair. He swallowed hard and continued, “Any thing, I don’t mind working in the toughest job you can find me. I just finished my military draft years. Nothing could be as tough as that!”

“What did you do in the military?” asked the priest again.

“I was assigned in the explosives division.” Said Aaron proudly.

That is the problem.” Victor interrupted. “If they taught him carpentry or medical help or any other field through which he could make a living after the draft, it would have been much easier. But no, they taught him explosives.”

Father Philip thought for a little while. Aaron was so anxious. He started to pray silently.

“Did you try the construction company of Mr. Peter?” Philip asked.

“I did. I even begged Mr. John Alexander to hire him as a trainee in his furniture warehouse.” Victor was looking to Aaron and shaking his head.

After another long moment of silence, Father Philip spoke slowly,

“How many gate keepers do we have in the church?”

Victor did not answer right away. He kept moving his eyes back and forth between the priest and Aaron. The priest had to ask the question again.

“We have two gate keepers and two janitors, father. That is more than we need.” Victor felt uneasy. “We cannot hire everyone asking for a job. The church Board will not approve …”

“Temporarily… Until Marcos gets back from his vacation. May be then you shall have found something suitable for him.” Philip said, and stood up to leave.

The first few days were like being in heaven. Aaron learned what he had to do. It was an easy task. He was nine days on the job that Sunday when he met Andrew, the alter boy, very early in the morning, on his way to prepare the church for the Sunday service. A throng of parishioners was already gathering in the courtyard. As he entered the great hall, he immediately noticed the pew near the center leaning backwards. Andrew went to the altar to get ready. Aaron went to straighten the pew.

By virtue of his training, he resisted the instinctive impulse to push the large seat in proper position right away. He circled around, and then looked under. His heart started racing when saw the tell tale string attached to the back, running down to the large box of toys on the ground. Now his eyes were peeled, and a million images from the military camp suddenly crowded his mind. He broke into a cold sweat and started to feel giddy as he stooped down to take a closer look. He knew, what he was looking at, was a bomb. But he did not want to believe his eyes. Until Andrew’s voice woke him up.

“These are toys. Somebody forgot his child’s toys here?” Andrew was looking over his shoulder, but his innocent comment made him realize that he had to act fast. He pulled Andrew away and grabbed his shoulders.

 “Andrew, run to father Philip. Run. Get any priest. Now, don’t talk. Don’t. Hey Andy, close the door of the hall. Don’t allow any body in.” Aaron was talking and pushing the young boy to the door. He ran to close the other doors. Then he ran around the church to check between the other pews. He went into the altars. He checked the closets and the storage areas. Finally he heard father Philip’s voice and ran to meet him

“No. don’t touch it.” Aaron screamed as the priest was about to straighten the ill positioned pew.

“Why?” The priest asked, in a baffled voice.

“It would pull on that string, trigger the explosion and blow the whole church away, that is why” Aaron said, breathlessly.

                        From that moment, Aaron’s life was changed forever. The storm that followed almost drove him crazy. The police, the media, and the huge number of people kept asking an endless number of questions. They went as far as to accuse him of planting the bomb!!

He spent twenty four hours in custody, tortured and questioned by investigators. If it were not for the strong stand of father Philip, the police would have pinned it on him. They knew it was the work of Moslem militants. But the police commander himself was a Moslem militant. They tried every devious and wicked method to get the young man to “confess.” As they failed, and to avoid a bigger scandal, they finally let him go.

               Aaron was now sitting in father Philip’s office. His face was swollen and covered with cuts and bruises, his clothes were ripped and many wounds were showing through. A doctor was bandaging his wounds with a nurse. The room was crowded and noisy. A couple of hours later, Aaron was alone in the room with Philip. He started to cry loudly. The priest gave him time to release his anger. They made some small talk. Then Aaron raised his boyish face up.

“Why? Why did they do this to me?” He asked defiantly.

Philip’s saintly face was covered with sorrow. He looked calmly at Aaron. When he finally spoke, his voice sounded like it was coming from miles away.

“They arrested me before, when I complained about the kidnapping of one of our girls by a gang of militants. My son, you suddenly got a sobering dose of reality. I am sorry about what happened to you. No, No hear me out. Aaron, to some people you are now a hero. To others, you are the worst enemy. Some will even still think you are a criminal. Now, you have to make up your mind. Can you take the heat? Would you rather go back to live at peace in your village? Whatever you decide, I don’t blame you. But my son, it is very clear that God sent you here in the proper time. Nothing in this world ever happen by accident. I think you should go home and relax for a few days. If you decide to come back, we shall all receive you with open arms and grateful hearts. But you shall not be coming to a picnic. You shall be enlisted in the army of Christ as a guardian.”

This short story is based on factual events. Names of people and places had been altered for obvious reasons (previously published under the title of “the guardian”