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The International Writers Magazine: A Boy's Story Part Two

In Nomine Patris  II
• Oswaldo Jiminez
Soon after Father Olson arrived at the school, rumors about him had began to surface. The rumors were told by students who’d heard them second and third hand, from eavesdropping on parents’ conversations, and repeated by some parents, resentful that Father Olson had been chosen to head the congregation over a local priest whom everyone felt deserved to have the post but had been passed over to accommodate the newly arrived Olson. 

One rumor described how Father Olson had been transferred from a parish in his native parish to protect him from inquiries, after a boy had been killed in a motorcycle accident while riding with him. Another rumor detailed how a student’s arm had been broken by Olson during a fit of rage. The strangest rumor, had to do with Father Olson’s incessant work with children: he had spent too much time organizing camping trips, and sports camps for young adults. It seemed to me that Father Olson understood that children deserved levity as a just reward  for hard work. I dismissed these stories as fabrications of young minds who resented him for being a strict disciplinarian.

One afternoon, when the clouds outside the classroom window loomed dull, and laziness in our Religion class lingered like flammable fumes, making everyone drowsy, Father Olson asked a student named Gorky (the youngest of triplets by a few hours) to read a paragraph from the Bible, the section where everyone begets someone. Gorky giggled peevishly when reciting the words from The Book, kindling the imaginations of every student in the classroom, and igniting a contagious fire that blazed across room and exploded into fits of laughter.

The student’s profane laughter got beneath Father Olson’s skin and scorched a raw nerve within him. His face filled with blood and took on a reddish-purple hue, like an infant about to throw a tantrum. He snatched the Holy book from Gorky’s hands and held it up above his head, like a prophet from the Old Testament scolding the non-believers. “This is the Word of God!” he shouted, “You will respect it.” His voice made the entire class tremble and coward in their seats. He then walked towards the multitude like Moses, with the book still held up over his head, causing the students to lean aside as he went passed them, like the waters of the Red Sea had receded for the Israelites. As punishment, Father Olson made the entire class kneel on the hardwood floor and demanded that the we recite the “Hail Mary,” without mistakes, until the dismissal bell rang. For nearly twenty-five minutes a cicada-like murmur echoed inside the classroom. 

That same afternoon, after class had been dismissed, Father Olson stood looming over my desk. His presence over me was as heavy as the book-bag laden with textbooks I hauled with me to school. He stood over me, mute. He waited until all the students had left the classroom before saying a word. When the stomping of feet and the voices of students had vanished down the hallway, Father Olson spoke: “Martin,” he pronounced my name with that gurgling sound that made me feel uneasy. A curious fear prevented me noticing the kind tone of his voice when he said “I’d like to help you.” 

He spoke softly, but deliberately, as if he were cajoling a young colt to trot without spooking it. I looked up at him with understanding eyes, and blushed. I knew what he had meant by “help.” He was referring my stuttering problem. I stuttered. I stuttered at the most embarrassing moments. It was particularly difficult whenever a situation made me nervous. I could not control it.  My mother had tried to prepare me for the travails that awaited me because of this problem. She always told me not to pay attention to people who reproached me when they heard me talk. She had taught me to dismiss anyone who showed signs of pity or disgust. Father Olson’s offer to help rid myself of this problem caught me by surprise. 

“I understand what you’re going through, Martin.” This pronouncement embarrassed me.
“You’re terrified.” Father Olson said and turned his head slowly, wrinkled his brow,  and flickered a fleeting smile.

The sound of his voice peeled a scab that revealed a painful sore. “You shouldn’t have to be.”  He said. I felt Father Olson was trying to reach me at some level. “I am going to help you, you’ll see.” he concluded, as he patted my shoulders with his large hands  to reassure me.  I felt the strength of his hands when he squeezed my shoulders while he smiled at me. I didn’t say anything. Father Olson placed his large hands on my shoulders, bent down to be to eye level with me, then murmured gently: “I will talk to your mother.” When he blurted the word “mother,” I felt my heart deflate inside my chest. I felt afraid. Afraid that my mother would not approve. She was a proud woman. She did not accept anyone’s pity. 

Father Olson’s face change expressions, from concern to pensive. He tilted his head slightly, lifted his arm, and scratched his chin with his index finger. Without looking at me, he murmured something to himself inside his mind, and answered  himself out loud: Yes! said father Olson pointing his finger at me. “I’d like you to stop by my chambers every other day, after school.” I nodded in response.

Two days later, my mother had given me permission to go to Father Olson’s chambers twice-a-week after school. Twice a week after school, instead of heading to the bus stop with the rest of the students. Two-days-a-week I’d walk to Father Olson’s chambers instead of going home on the late bus.

The quarters where the teaching priests  were housed, were connected to the rest of the school by a long, narrow hallway, paved with immaculate, shiny, floor tiles.  Several large windows let in the sun which bounced on the walls and bathed the scene with subdued hues, that were reflected by the tiles on the floor giving the passage way an aura of heavenliness. Father Olson’s alcove was the last one in a row of dormitories that had been built for the purpose of providing shelter to visiting church officials, and to house the priests who taught at the school.

I remember walking down the corridor for the first time. I was enveloped by the scene which covered my body like a mist. There was light all around me. It blinded me with its splendor. Its brightness made my eyes water, and caused me to sneeze repeatedly. In the distance, the sound of laughter, banter and cheering of students playing in the courtyard below was clearly audible along the  hallway. The tunnel-like hallway had been built in such a way that it had excellent acoustics: I could stand at one end of the hallway and whisper words to a person standing at the opposite end, and the words would be clearly heard by that person, despite the distance it had to travel. Father Olson’s room stood at the very end of a row of identical doors. It was the last door on the right, past the white marble statue of the founder of the school, and the mosaic panel of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus. 

Father Olson’s room was small. It accommodated a bed, a night stand, and a wardrobe, atop of which sat a small television set. The floor was covered with a simple colorless rug, which reflected the spartan feel of the room. The door leading to the hallway was made of solid wood, painted white, with four glass panels covered with sheer curtains that filtered a soft light from the sun into the room in straight lines, made visible by the floating specs of dust that dance around within them. On the dresser, next to the TV, were photographs of varying sizes. The fading photos showed Father Olson riding trains, driving autos, standing with backdrops of landscapes unfamiliar to me. Invariably, in the photos, Father Olson was surrounded by the smiling faces, and grins, of children, typical of group photographs. 

The scent of fresh linen and soap permeated the air. The alcove was spotless. I felt awkward stepping onto the clean rug with my dusty shoes. The neatness of the room made me feel self conscious about my appearance. I hadn’t noticed before the dirt under my fingernails. I glanced at my reflection in an oval mirror that hung directly in front of the doorway, and almost didn’t recognize the young stranger with the dingy face staring back at me. I saw a swarthy kid with large weepy eyes and messy hair who looked like a dingy sheep lost in a meadow in springtime. 

I remained motionless, balancing my body between the rug and the front door. The voice of Father Olson inviting me in grabbed me by the collar and gave me the needed pull get my feet moving again. ‘Come in, Come in” said Father Olson inviting me to come inside. I stepped gently on the rug as if I were testing the temperature of the water in a pool timidly, before going in. 

“Go on, lad, the water’s fine.” Father Olson muttered, with his gurgling accent. I moved shyly. My eyes danced in their sockets as if they had been recently lubricated and regarded the scene. I was distracted by every object in the room. Once I had made a mental inventory of the furniture, I realized there were no chairs to sit on.  Father Olson stood watching me, holding a towel in his hands as if it were a newborn child. He‘d been washing up in his tiny bathroom when I arrived.

 He was wearing a white baggy-sleeved cotton shirt with shiny pearl buttons down the front. I noticed that one of the buttons was missing near his protruding belly, creating a tiny oval gap in the shirt that let a pinkish patch of hairy skin show through. The bulging skin of his  stomach folded over an ox-blood leather belt, that fastened a pair of khaki slacks that matched the leather of  his sandals, which he wore without socks, giving him the cliched look of a missionary.

‘Ah-ah-am S-s-sor-r-ry.’  I spit out the words. I tried desperately not to stutter, but I couldn’t help it. I was in a situation that called for it. I was very nervous.

Father Olson draped the towel over his left shoulder, walked towards me, and gave me a surprising bear-hug. I stood motionless with my arms stuck to my sides. I instinctively turned my face sideways to keep my nose from being squeezed into Father Olson’s belly. He smelled of soap and aftershave. I imagined this was the scent of a father, a scent I had never felt before. I felt happy and a little embarrassed at the same time. It was a sudden rush that felt familiar: I had felt it when climbing to the highest branch of a tree, or swinging so high  on a swing that  its force might had swung me like the hands of a clock, causing time and the motion of the earth to stop for a wonderful, scary instant, then return to its random, practical fluidity.

Before I had a chance to recover from his embrace, Father Olson walked over to his dresser, opened the top drawer, and fished out a round and compact tin box, decorated with pictures of castles and flowers, painted in colorful designs. A stray ray of sunlight hist the box and flickered on its coppery underside. When Father Olson pulled the lid, it caused its golden reflection to nearly blind me. The copper-yellow patches of light danced about the walls and ceiling as Father Olson moved towards me with the open tin, and offered me its contents: Cookies! Thin vanilla wafers with soft, sugary cream in the middle. I stuck my dingy fingers into the box, and timidly picked a cookie between my finger and thumb. The contrast between the whiteness of the cookies and my brown little fingers was not easy to ignore. 
I pulled my hand out slowly, trying not to touch the other cookies with my fingers.

“Take more, don’t be shy” said Father Olson, moving the tin box towards me. I grabbed one more cookie with my trembling hand.

“Sit down Martin, please,” father Olson said as he placed the tin box of cookies on the mantle. I looked around the room but there wasn’t a chair, or a stool, or a box, or anything that might resemble a place where I could sit. Father Olson noticed my predicament and pointed to the bed that dominated the small room. I felt self conscious and very uneasy about sitting on the bed. I did not want my dirty trousers to make contact with and the cottony white bed spread. It was so white, in fact, that I could swear it sparkled under the subdued light filtering through the sheers covering the square little windows of the front door. Nervously, I eased myself toward one side of the bed and slowly let the weight of my body rest on its pliable softness.

I could feel the soft mattress giving way, more, more and more, until it nearly swallowed my entire body. I was startled by its softness. Father Olson walked over to where I motionless sat, pivoted his large body on his heels, and sat next to me.  The weight of his body caused a wave in the mattress that nearly bounced me to the floor. Soon, I felt his arm easing around my neck and his large hand close its fingers firmly on my left shoulder.  “Don’t worry son,” Father Olson whispered into my ear. “I will help you get rid of your problem.” “I too,” he whispered, “worked desperately hard to overcome my problem.”  This revelation gave me hope. “I will help you, you’ll see... you’ll see,” murmured Father Olson, then added clearly: “But you have to learn to trust me.” Again he sounded like the horse whisperer cajoling the young colt to keep moving.

“Trust” Father Olson said, “is the only way to rid yourself of this problem” He spoke as a prophet delivering his wisdom to the non-believers. He then lifted his chubby hand and pinched my chin with his doughy digits. He turned my head gently to meet his pale blue eyes, and with a soft and nearly inaudible whisper, he repeated:  “Trust me.”  

Father Olson’s words made me feel important and self assured. Their promise of salvation instilled in me an  inner strength that I’d never felt before. I had never felt anything like it, not even from the reassuring words of my mother. It was an inner strength that had been missing from my life, and filled a vacuous place within me, which I had sensed was caused by the absence of a father.
© Oswaldo Jiminez August 2013
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Part One here

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