The cobbles were shining with a thin layer of rain as she made her way through the centre of town. It was a week night during autumn and pockets of students were starting to emerge.
It was late. She asked herself why she hadn't got a taxi home; too prudent, she surmised. She could smell the cold of the air and she pulled her coat tight. She was thinking about the ocean, about the colourful creatures of the deep, with their electrical lights and pulsing lures. Her thoughts were interrupted as she heard footsteps behind her. She turned to look and saw the tail end of a coat disappear around the corner of a building. She faced forward and carried on walking.
The rain came again, this time only lightly. She pulled up her hood, it was large enough to engulf her head and bathe her face in shadow. She walked by the church in the square and looked at the stained glass windows; their beauty restricted by the black metal mesh protecting their fragility from vandals. In that moment she stopped. Walking up the stone steps she sat against the thick wooden door, protected from the wisps of rain by the intricate stone porch.
Setting down her backpack she retrieved her tobacco. Rolling a cigarette she lit it and lent her back against the door. Her eyes were closed as she listened to the the hum of electricity in the air. She blew out the smoke from her lungs and raised her cigarette to her mouth, but was surprised to hear a voice speak out.
"Good night? Long night?"
She opened her eyes with a start to see a young African man down on the steps in front of her. She sat up and cleared her throat, "Yeah, definitely a long one, but good as well." The young woman could hear the tell tale waver of apprehension in her voice. "And you?"
"May I join you?" He pointed to the floor under the archway.
"Yes... yes, of course." She was nervous but polite and worried it would be her undoing.
He ascended the steps in a couple of bounds and sat down cross legged opposite her. He took out a bottle of water from his jacket and unscrewed the cap taking a big swig. He then looked self conscious, "Sorry, would you like a drink?"
She hesitated before she spoke, as her throat was really dry. "No thank you." She smiled.
He shrugged his shoulders, "Okay, it's up to you... So, where have you been this evening?" He capped his water and there was a smile in his eyes.
She began to relax a little, "I was over seeing friends."
"And where are you going now?"
"I'm going home. What're you doing now?"
"Talking with you." He grinned. "Well, sometimes when I feel unrest in the town I like to come here, to the church."
"Do you visit often?"
"Oh yes, far more often than I should... So much unrest of late..."
The young man was not young, at least not in his words. She felt as though she was speaking to someone much older, much wiser than herself. "What's causing you to feel so uneasy?" She relit her cigarette, illuminating her face with a soft orange glow.
"Ah, that is a hard question to answer when the world is how it is today." He smiled at the floor. "I pose the same question to you; what makes you so uneasy?" He looked towards her.
She pulled on her lip and before her mind had time to stop her, she answered, "Judgement."
"No..." she said,
"You're own judgement?"
"Why do you fear the judgement of man more so than the judgement of God?"
The young woman sat quietly for a second, "Because, if God exists He would surely understand the motives behind every man's actions and in turn would be able to forgive him. But quite often a man cannot see passed his own perceptions to understand what giving forgiveness truly means."
The young man smiled. "I see. So you are not religious then?"
"No, that is I don't follow any one religion."
"Why not?" His eyes were bright and healthy.
"Well, because most of what I've heard or read is shared between religions. When I strip it right back I see the same set of morals."
"But by following all religions are you essentially not following any of them?"
She laughed a little, "Yes. Why should any one set of rules be better than the other? They are all just constraints right? Just fables directing us onto the correct moral path. I thought being human was to live with freewill? If we follow every rule then we're not making our own choices."
"But it is a person's freewill to follow the rules." He took out a little sketchpad and a pencil and started to draw.
She bit at her lip while she thought on his comment, eventually nodding and accepting it from his point of view. She leaned in toward him like an inquisitive child, "What are you sketching?"
"You, if you sit still." He laughed.
"Let me make a cigarette first." She rolled quickly and quietly.
He had been scribbling a little before she lit the roll-up. She sat back, closed her eyes and smoked her cigarette for a while. She could hear the lead of his pencil running along the thick, soft paper. She felt she knew when he was looking at her as the pencil would stop.
What a strange evening. She smiled, and keeping her eyes closed she asked, "What do you do?" She heard him snort, but carry on sketching.
"I suppose I don't really do anything." He replied
She laughed. "How can you be alive and not do anything?"
"Okay, that is a fair point. Let's say I'm a traveller. I like to visit churches around the world and talk with the people I meet."
"Why? I mean, why those specific people?"
He took a deep breath and sighed. "I feel that this is where I find the people who most require love and protection. Even the people who do not believe in Christ need a sanctuary."
She was touched by his words and the genuine tone in his voice. She was about to start speaking when she heard footsteps approaching quickly. In that second she heard the young man's pencil fall to the ground and afterwards... nothing.
An unusual voice spoke out through the darkness. "Miss Perata?" It was loud, but seemed to echo from afar. "Lalia Perata? Can you hear me Miss Perata?"
Lalia opened her eyes to a blur of white light. She heard the same voice:
"Her eyes are open. Miss Perata, you are at the hospital. You are going to be okay, we just need you to try to relax."
She closed her eyes once again.
The birds were singing in the trees outside of the window. The shallow breeze teased her awake. Lalia looked hazily around the room and back through the glass pane.
She gazed around to the cabinet at the side of the bed. She saw a sketchpad with a couple of the pages hanging out, all tattered. Reaching for it she felt a rush in her stomach as she remembered the young man. She thought about the church. She hesitated before picking up the book and opening it to a random page. It was a sketch of her. She looked asleep, but she was leant against the heavy church door. Flicking through she saw how in each little drawing he'd captured her essence. Every tiny detail. The way that her top lip sat slightly uneven, the way her nose was perfectly straight. The way she sucked on her cigarette... How long had they sat together?
The door to her room opened suddenly and she jumped. "Sorry Miss Perata, it is good to see you finally awake!" The nurse was very smiley and a little patronising. "How are you feeling?"
"Where did this book come from?" Lalia held it up. "Where is the boy that it belongs too?"
"Oh dear." The nurse said as she opened the curtains and began fussing around, "When you were attacked-"
"I was attacked?!" Lalia dropped the book to the bed.
"Perhaps I should get Doctor Lodi." The nurse made her way quickly from the room.
Lalia sat for a moment. She looked down at the book but decided not to open it again just yet. She remembered nothing in detail.
The door opened abruptly. "Hello Miss Perata, it is good to see you back in the land of the living. I'm Doctor Lodi, I am looking after your recovery. How are you?"
"Doctor, where is the boy who owns this book?"
Dr Lodi stood at the end of the bed. He looked at the sketchpad and then into Lalia's eyes. "My dear, the young man died a couple of hours ago. He asked for us to pass this to you. My condolences."
"What was his name?"
"Oh, you didn't know him? I was hoping you could tell me. He didn't have identification with him."
Lalia sat back against the pillow. "I don't know," she whispered, "that was our first encounter."
"Well Miss Perata, whatever his name, that young man saved your life... You were set upon by a couple of muggers. Fortunately for you he stepped in and... well... I am so glad to see you awake. I know he would want you to be happy, from my brief talk with him he seemed at peace with himself."
They chatted for a little while. Dr Lodi said that Lalia's parents would be arriving within the next two hours and they would be allowed to stay with her for the night.
As the doctor left the room Lalia called after him, "Let me know if you find out his identity!"
She sat quietly and gazed out of the window, the sketchbook held within her hands.
"What ever your name, I will call you Salvatore."
© 2015 AJG