Once a Catholic...
This is a preview to the chapter Once a Catholic... from the book Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott.
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A pilgrimage to The Virgin Mary’s House was more successful. There’s no real evidence that the Mother of God actually found her last resting place there, but this hadn’t stopped Meryemana becoming a lucrative side show on the Bible tours circuit. Liam and Charlotte were in their element. I saw a cute neo-Byzantine style gaff, built on 7th century foundations and completed in the 1950s to please the tourists. They saw a consecrated church oozing with holiness and a sacred shrine to a woman who had roses growing from her blessed feet. Crowds of tourists, nuns, priests and curious Turks milled around the well-tended park, taking pictures of the pretty Italianate valley and meandering towards the sanctified centrepiece.
I’m no Catholic, but since I was there and ‘when in Rome,’ I followed Liam to the entrance and queued in silence to get closer to the main event. The theatre of it all was unquestionably well- rehearsed. A small effigy of Our Lady, exquisitely carved and painted in luscious hues of gold, was housed in a small stone shrine. The holy miscellany of candles, icons and hypnotic plainchant told the Faithful that they were in the presence of God. They could pray for forgiveness, they could commune with the Holy Trinity and they could find inner peace. Given a fair wind and the will of God, they could even expect the odd miracle. I left Liam to chat with his Aunty Mary and headed out to the blinding sunshine. Charlotte was finding the whole experience difficult to bear but stood her ground and begged divine intercession for the return of her child.
“Not going in, Alan?”
“Confirmed atheist, not my thing.”
I was with Alan on this one, it was all a little too staged and sterile for my taste. May as well believe in tooth fairies and Santa Claus; at least then I’d get something out of it. Charlotte was willing to try anything and Alan was happy to let her.
“It seems to help.”
“Well, there’s no such thing as an atheist at thirty thousand feet when the engines fail.”
“Do you find humour in absolutely everything, Jack?”
“Sorry Alan, tasteless.”
“I’ve got a good joke for you.”
“We’re being officially investigated by the Turkish authorities.”
A dewy-eyed Charlotte emerged from the shrine and joined Liam to buy some candles. They hugged and Charlotte wept. Alan watched from a distance, spent of emotion and almost immune to the continuing despair his wife was enduring.
“The state prosecutor thinks there’s a child trafficking case to answer.”
“Alan, it’s a chance to clear your names.”
Charlotte lit a small white candle and placed it in the rack with the others, hundreds of personal prayers flickering in the breeze, their flames barely visible in the bright sunshine. Alan welled up.
“Our phone’s been tapped, Jack.”
“Are you sure?”
“No question. We hear the clicks.”
The candle ritual seemed to lift Charlotte’s mood and she joined Liam to graze a gift shop selling Chinese-made plaster figurines and vials of ‘holy water’. Liam procured a Sacred Heart fridge magnet and a small woodblock icon of Madonna and Child. “Perfect for the loo,” he said to Charlotte. Catholic paraphernalia appeared to excite him to such extent, I wondered if I really knew him at all.
That evening, I rang Alan. “Hello? Alan?” Click. Click.
Liam didn’t have to wait very long for his next meeting with the Mother of God. Vadim and Beril led the way through the antique gate and we all entered Sophia’s moonlit courtyard. The fruit trees were festooned with hundreds of quivering candles, a spectacle so magnificent that Beril gasped and froze on the spot. Liam darted into a small thicket, excited to discover a statuette of Our Lady resting in a niche in the old stone wall. There she was, a replica of the original from Meryemana, illuminated by tea lights and smiling benignly back at Liam. He resisted the knee-jerk urge to genuflect and started a one- way conversation instead.
“Hello, love. We must stop meeting like this. Do something about the Adalet thing will you? Oh, and tell John that Jack loves him – that’s if he’s with you lot. Oh, sorry about the carrot legs. Long story.”
“Hoşgeldiniz, darlings. Welcome. Please, sit.”
Sophia’s social graces came straight out of Debrett’s; she was a pedigreed hostess. Her faithful head-scarfed retainer brought drinks out to the terrace.
“My Kurdish woman, Nuray. She’s been with me for years, darlings, years.”
“How’s Helga?” I asked.
“Dead, darling, as a Dodo. She went on and on but couldn’t quite make it to the final act. I miss her terribly.” Sophia paused and contorted her face. “She ‘ad a good innins.” Her phoney Cockney accent was very Pygmalion and I told her so. “I never quite stooped to Ms Doolittle, darling. It’s all about standards. Which reminds me; you were an angel when I fell. Tonight is my thank you.”
It was an extremely generous thank you. Drinks were plentiful and complemented by delicious mezes, freshly prepared by her industrious maid. Sophia was old money through and through and seemed taken by us. What old money saw in no money was a mystery to us, but we were grateful nonetheless. We were serenaded by Vivaldi, Julio Iglesias and a choir of classic crooners. Nuray remained detached from the Western decadence, falling to her knees and praying with gusto by the side of the stereo when she heard the call to prayer. In the meantime, a cocktail of rakı and vodka slowly helped Sophia divulge the secrets of her racy past. Her promising thespian career had been cut short when she married a Turkish diplomat, a man she loved “intensely”. She travelled the world as an ambassador’s wife and occasionally modelled for art- house magazines and upmarket periodicals. Her husband died prematurely; ten years on and she was still grieving. “I shall never entertain the idea of re-marriage, not even if the great Solti himself were to rise from the dead.”
All of this didn’t stop her toying outrageously with Vadim, much to Beril’s chagrin.
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