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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Fiksie | Fiction > English > Published authors

Love thy neighbour


Lucas Ledwaba - 2008-04-15

Father Sibiya was sitting on a soft sofa by the fireplace reading his Bible when he heard a knock at the door. He slowly took off his spectacles, then put the holy book down near where he was seated. Slowly, he walked to the door, indeed like a man of God walks, with careful, tender steps, as if afraid to exert too much pressure on God's land.

He looked through the pigeonhole on the door. It was a man. He did not know him. His hair was unkempt, his eyes wide with a combination of fear and starvation and cold, and God knows what else. But the man had come to the house of God. And here he stood now, waiting for the man in the house of God to open the door for him.

Father Sibiya opened the wooden door, but did not open the grille separating him from the man. He eyed the man suspiciously with a look as cold as the thick droplets of rain that were pelting outside. The man held a little plastic bag. Father Sibiya noticed that the man shivered. His piercing eyes scoured the man from toe to head, and head to toe, like one sizing up an enemy. The man bit his upper lip and looked away. The piercing eyes, oh ...

Father Sibiya noticed that the man's toes which protruded from his torn, unmatching pair of shoes like rotten sausages curled up as he shifted uncomfortably. He noticed also that the man's pants were held together by a piece of dirty cloth at the waist. The man did not look at the tall, lean man in black pants, shirt and white collar standing before him.

"Yebo," Father Sibiya said at last.

His voice was stern and cold. Almost like that of a soldier issuing a command. The man shivered. The thunder rumbled like his stomach, which hadn't had any food to digest for three days now. Father Sibiya looked the man in the eye for the first time since their meeting. But the man looked away. Those eyes, the father's eyes, frightened him.

"What do you want?" Father Sibiya asked irritably, the gold-plated crucifix hanging on a gold chain around his neck hitting against the grille that separated him from the man who stood shivering. The man looked at the crucifix. "Jesus," he thought to himself.

"You have been drinking," Father Sibiya said, half asking the man, half accusing him.

The man half nodded, but still, he did not look at the man with the crucifix around his neck. Father Sibiya noticed the man shivered even more than he did when he first opened the door. The man half nodded, but the look on his face wasn't exactly that of accepting the accusing words. The thunder rumbled again, and the man shivered even more. He cast his eyes on the wet floor and mumbled something. A bolt of lightning lit up the dark sky. Father Sibiya shook his head, annoyed.

"Can I help you?" he asked the man again, his voice colder and louder.

Deep down, the man knew that to survive the storm, he had to speak. He tried to raise his voice. But the words came out in a slow, tired whisper, muffled by the pelting rain and the rumbling thunder.

"I'm cold," the man managed to raise his voice at last, rubbing his toes against his wet pants.

Father Sibiya examined the man's oversized jersey, which was soaking from the rain.

"I'm hungry. Father, I'm hungry," the man said, casting his eyes on the wet floor again.

Father Sibiya shook his head, disgusted by the strong smell of brandy.

"This is a house of God. You have been drinking and now you want me to give you shelter in the house of God?" Father Sibiya shook his head again.

"Father, please, I am cold and hungry," the man pleaded, finally looking Father Sibiya in the eye.

"Where are you from?" Father Sibiya asked rather harshly.

"I am running from the storm. The park is too wet and cold today," the man pleaded.

The thunder rumbled again. A bolt of lightning lit up the dark sky. The man closed his eyes briefly, to thank God that he was under the verandah of the church house rather than under the tree in the park across the street. Home, the park was what he called home.

"You people!" Father Sibiya exclaimed.

The man held the plastic bag in one hand and held the grille with the other. Father Sibiya retreated a little. He noticed the man's hand was bloodied, but didn't ask what had happened.

"Father, please. Pray for me," the man pleaded.

Father Sibiya frowned.

"Why should I pray for you?" he asked.

The man did not answer.

Father Sibiya turned to walk away. But just before he could shut the door, the man moved forward and slowly pushed it back with his bloodied hand.

"Father, can I please touch your cross then? Please," the man pleaded.

Father Sibiya looked at the man's bloodied hand, then carefully examined the shiny crucifix hanging round his neck. He thought for a while, then finally pushed the door shut. Then he turned the key and looked in the pigeonhole. He saw the man walk slowly into the rain, his shoulders hunched, indeed like a man resigned to spending yet another night in the raging storm. The thunder rumbled again, and yet another bolt of lightning lit up the sky. Father Sibiya heard the rain come down even harder on the roof. He hurried back to his seat by the fireplace. He picked up the holy book and continued preparing his sermon for the coming Sunday.

"Where was I?" Father Sibiya muttered to himself.

"Oh yes," he said, as if speaking to someone.

He picked up the holy book and began to read, "Love thy neighbour ..."

The next afternoon, Father Sibiya read in the newspaper that the body of a man had been found in the park opposite the church, his church. The man, according to the newspaper, had died from the cold the previous night. Father Sibiya went down on his knees and prayed for the man's soul to rest in peace.