My heart was heavy as I approached the Taj Mahal. Everyone else, I was sure, would be having a wonderful time. I feared I might not even be allowed in.
But from the moment I received the invitation, I knew I had to go. I had to try.
I passed through the Great Gate unmolested. I plodded beside the Reflecting Pool and eventually arrived at the mausoleum itself.
As I approached the arched doorway, I saw the man I had feared, standing there in a gold embroidered, ruby-red, silk sherwani. He was the one making sure only invited guests entered the party.
“I am Partap. I am at your service. Name, please?”
“I’m sorry, there’s no ‘Thomas’ on the list.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, “that’s what I figured. I was afraid it was a mistake when I received the invitation.”
“You have an invitation, Sahib? Can I see it, please?”
Partap read the embossed words: “You are Cordially Invited to a Gathering of Fictional and Legendary Characters from the Stories Of and About India.”
“This looks authentic,” he declared. A glimmer of hope stirred in my heart. “I cannot announce you yet, but I will let you enter while I investigate.”
Partap gestured for me to follow him into the Taj. “Those,” he said, with a nod of the head, “are our hosts: Shah Jahan, and his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. He built the Taj as her mausoleum.”
“The problem is,” he continued, “I don’t know where to ask you to remain until I verify your legitimacy. Do you see that group? Those are the Hindu gods. I do not want you with them.”
I followed his gaze. I saw Vishnu and Krishna, his eighth avatar. Several of the four-armed gods and goddess—Shiva, Kali, and the elephant-faced Ganesha—were engaged in animated conversation.
“No problem,” I replied.
“Well, that seems to be the conqueror/tyrant/warrior club over there,” he pointed. “That won’t work.”
I looked. Sure enough, there was Alexander the Great, who conquered northeast India. There were Babur and Akbar, the greatest of the Mughals. I spotted a few others I recognized, from the British Raj back to the Sihk Confederacy to the Islamic sultanates and the Guptas. Beyond that I was a little rusty on Indian rulers.
“Those are the other religious folk—besides the Hindus, I mean. That won’t work either.” I looked over my shoulder as we passed by and felt sadder than ever. I saw Buddha himself, who was so important to an earlier age of India, and various Sikh gurus. The eclectic Mahatma Gandhi had attached himself to this group.
Rounding a corner, Partap exclaimed, “Aha! This will work. Sahib, please join the group in that giant litter box and—I beg of you—do not leave until I return for you.”
A litter box?! I looked. There was Rikki-Tikki-Tavvi, Baloo, and several sacred cows.
I entered the litter box, went to the back where I could be alone, and hung my head in despair. After a few minutes, I heard footsteps crunching through the liter towards me. When I lifted my head I saw ... Mother Teresa!
“Mother! What are you doing here? You’re not a fictional character. And you haven’t been dead long enough for your life to be shrouded in legend.”
“Have you seen the comic books?”
“Thomas, you are not a failure.”
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we all have special powers.”
“Sure—Heroes for India. Why not? But Mother, I did fail. First I denied Him and now I’ve failed Him as the Apostle to India. No one even knows who I am.”
“No, Thomas, you did not fail Him. You opened the door for all the rest of us. So many came after you with the Gospel: Francis Xavier, William Carey, the Plymouth Brethren missionaries, my own Missionaries of Charity. There are twenty-four million Christians in India, Thomas.”
As she finished speaking, Partap returned. “St. Thomas! All is well. The people in the Fictional Characters Department had never heard of you, but those in the Legendary Historical Figures Department were outraged that your name was not on my list. It was a terrible mistake. Your invitation is real! Please, come this way. I must take you to the Most Highly Honored Guests Table right away.”
Before I could follow him, Mother Teresa reached out and wiped away the tears of joy that were running down my cheeks.
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