40th Thread: The water washed our family’s sins
My mother was strong, too strong. She cut so much wood that a fire was kept going all winter long. We were always warm, warmer than here. My father hunted to feed us, like a pagan. He grew grain too, in small patches scattered in the forest that he and my grandfather had cleared. We ate our fill. We did not talk, we did not sing, we did not pray, because we did not know. No one ever came. Then one day a monk arrived from his distant island, and set his hut in the middle of the woods. I took my siblings to spy on him. He prayed, kneeling on thorns, his face twisted by pain. He was skinny, his hair floated around his head in a golden cloud, his eyes sank in their sockets like scars in a tree trunk. A metal cross hung on a bush. My parents, let us pray that their souls found rest with God, served him food when he appeared in our hut despite his protestations. He lectured them, using strange, sacred words which sounded nothing like ours.- Men must live together. Fair laws govern the unruly, and courtesy rules educate the commoner. Men can save their souls under the guidance of the priest, as the sheep in the fold are protected from the wolf, if they confess their sins. The sins that you have committed here remain attached to your back. If you do not get rid of them, the devil will spear you when you die.
I understood then that he knew the crimes that our grandparents had committed. Our life of plenty in the clearing was not deserved.
– We are better off away from men, my father replied. Here everything is quiet, nobody beats us, nobody steals from us, no one takes my wife.
– Father, father, I cried, we need our sins to be forgiven!
– Men are bad, they do not respect anything, said my mother, pouring the soup in the bowls. They steal, they kill.
She knew about the crimes too!
– At least, let me baptize the children, to protect them from the demons, which might fly them away while they sleep, said the priest, with his high pitched voice.
I pleaded with my father.
– Please, I want to be baptized, I want to be forgiven!
– You can baptize the children, he replied.
– Thanks be to the lord. I will need holy water. Or holy salt.
– Can you bless our well?
– Only the water or salt sanctified by the abbot at the convent can save the heathen. You’ll have to walk there in blessed spirit.
– It’s far, said Mother.
– I’ll try, said Father.
Mother protested for days, she did not want him to be gone for so long, it was unsafe. My father, of blessed memory, said that holy water would protect us from bandits and diseases. I followed my mother everywhere begging her to let our father go. And my grandmother who was dying moaned, yes, yes, we must all get baptized, for our sins to be washed.
When he brought the water, it shone with a miraculous light. My brother who always complained noticed it smelt a bit of goat because of the water gourd, God forgive him. I ran all the way to the monk in his hut. He blessed us with long prayers inside our home, while my siblings yawned. I repeated his formulas in a whisper to remember them for ever. The drops he sprinkled on our small heads turned into twinkling stars. He made secret signs with his silver cross, my father honoring him by silently bowing his head.He did not join hands, because he did not know how. Then my mother roasted a rabbit she had raised and the monk drank the wine my father had brought from the convent as payment. We never saw the monk again. I went to his hut several times in the following weeks, but he was gone. His affairs were strewn over the dirt floor: the cross, a dented cup, a blanket stained with blood. I took the cross, as my father said the monk would have no more need for it. Here, dear, kiss it. He assured me that the monk had returned to his island because the forest lacked souls to be baptized, but I didn’t believe it. He ascended to God in holiness and is watching over us.
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