Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Passport (07/25/05)
- TITLE: Safe Keeping
By Val Clark
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They’d shared a womb, an invented language and a childhood. They’d planned to explore the world together.
‘Tintagel, you know Gina, in Cornwell, where King Arthur was born!’
‘Spain. There are these amazing cathedrals by this guy… Gaudi.’
Was he hardening his heart even then?
The thin, scruffy book, one of many, bore testimony to the fulfillment of his childhood desire to travel the world. When Gina shared the first steps of her journey with Jesus, the schism began.
Her youth pastor prepared Gina for it. ‘What if Joe doesn’t follow you? He wants a passport out of the suburbs, not one to eternal life.’
‘Oh he will. It’ll make sense to Joe.’
But it hadn’t.
It was inevitable, but painful for Gina, watching Joe alienate her.
‘Gina? Gorgeous?’ His laughing voice echoed along the school hallway. ‘If you say so, guys, but watch it, she’s got religion. Jesus is her boyfriend.’
Seeing her, Joe and his friends would chant, ‘Gina loves Jesus!’
Their parents pressured him to come to the wedding. ‘Joe, we can’t hack this religious stuff either. She’ll grow out of it. But you’ll regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t come.’
He’d come with his spaced out, very pregnant, hippy girl friend; the first of many, impregnated and discarded.
Joe had softened as the years passed, but still visits were rare; an hour snatched at the airport, birthday phone calls, a post card in his black, blocky print saying nothing and everything.
Gina placed Joe’s passport, unopened, on the kitchen bench.
‘He left it in the hotel safe in Katmandu,’ the policeman said.
Joe’s voice on the reverse charges call had been clear. ‘Next stop my winter hideout in the mountains above Katmandu.’
A place to meditate, paint and smoke his brain into oblivion.
For twelve months Gina endured the elongated silence in hope, never anticipating ‘that’ knock on the door.
‘The concierge distinctly remembers your brother departing with his back pack. Initially he thought the passport had been left at the hotel for safe keeping.’
At lunch she pushed aside a chicken sandwich and took the well worn passport into her hands again. The sun was setting before she opened it. Joe looked so young, so alive in the photo. She touched the permanent upward sweep at the corners of his mouth, just like hers. Even in repose it looked like any second now he’d burst into laughter. Grey streaks striped curly, jet black, hair restrained in a low pony tail. She kissed the photo.
Despite her prayers she would never see him again, on earth or in heaven. How foolish to hang onto some false hope that in those last minutes of flesh and blood life he’d reached out for eternal life. Or he’d gone native. Disappeared into the mountains forever. Death. Going native. They were one and the same. Leaving the passport behind had been his way of telling her. His last message. For if he was paranoid about one thing – and smoking weed had made him paranoid about many – it was his passport, his entry home. But this time he wasn’t coming home.
Twelve months of silence. Gina ran her finger over the last stamp, pausing above the indented surface. They’d both been tactile, and secretive; transcribing their language into a code, writing heavily on the top sheet of a writing pad, destroying it and passing the indented sheet on. Gina held the passport under the light. It had been forty years since she last deciphered a message.
‘Don’t worry Gina, gone hunting.’
Gone hunting for what?
Dropping the passport, Gina lurched to her feet. Was this at last the message she’d been waiting for. Was he finally hunting for the truth? She pulled on a waterproof jacket and stepped out into the rain drenched garden. Her faithful dog, Zed, groaned and followed.
‘Is it too much to hope, Lord, that Joe is hunting for you? Please may he be hunting for you. Hedge him about so that he hunts in the right places. Thank you that your word promises the one who seeks you finds you.’
Tears mingled with the drizzling rain, but she didn’t feel cold. With gentle butts Zed nudged her inside.
She retrieved the passport and propped it, open to Joe's photo, on the mantle piece.
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