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It was a dreary December day. A pigeon perched on Maria’s windowsill, cooing its mindless melody. A slight chill in the air added to the misery of the damp day. And lying there awake, Maria felt dull and blackened, as if hate were corroding her body. She stayed in bed, exhausted. She couldn’t remember another time in her life when she had loathed herself. But now, hate lodged in her throat, thick and ugly, making her feel diseased.
Maria tried to smile at the old priest she had known all her life, now softly knocking at her open bedroom door. With her strained smile she invited him to step inside. She tried to sit up but failed as a bolt of sharp pain shot through her; the growing cancer had sapped her strength and rendered her already frail body useless. Her face contorted in a grimace and her eyes apologized for her disheveled appearance.
The priest with a solemn face that expressed more care than customary, approached her bed, fluffed up her pillows, placed them against the headboard, and gently helped her up to rest against them. Almost breathless with the effort, she nodded to show her appreciation and her face bore a mixed expression of sadness and relief. Sadness because she felt the presence of death in her room as if waiting for an opportune time to snatch her soul from her cancer-ravaged, almost forty-year-old body, and relief because the priest was there to receive her confession. It was time.
“How are you, Padre?” she said in a voice that showed appreciation and gratitude for his visit. “I’ve ignored Him for a while, haven’t I?”
“He has not forsaken you, my child,” he replied in a soft voice, as if imparting a secret. “I know you have faith and you have been faithful to Him. He will receive you when the time comes and you mustn’t be afraid, for His kingdom is beautiful.” His words, though habitually comforting, carried the extra weight of sincerity as he gazed upon her with concerned eyes. Her eyes were moist as she listened to the comforting words, for she had not received kindness from anyone for a long time.
“Thank you, Padre,” she murmured and held out her balled-up hands towards the priest as if raised in supplication. “I feel comforted now that you’re here. It means a lot for you to visit me. To be honest with you, I’m not afraid of death; it is dying under these terrible circumstances that terrifies me.” Suddenly a look of sadness covered her face like a dark cloud and she stared at nothing in particular. A silent moment passed. “I’ve seen such wickedness in my life. I cannot die like this, I must confess. I’ve secrets that must not go with me to my grave,” she said in a low and wavering voice. Her eyes betrayed the tone of her voice with an edge of steel, indicating that she had reconciled her conflicting emotions and was ready for her last confession. “Would you,” she faltered as if unaccustomed to such requests, but persevered, “would you help me, Father?”
“That I will. But you look so weak, are you in pain? Can I do something to make you more comfortable?” The priest tried to comfort her to make her imminent journey to the heavenly abode as painless as possible. He had known for a while from various sources within his congregation that her cancer has unabatedly spread as she refused to take medication or undergo treatment. Maria had accepted the cancer as a just punishment for her sins and had vowed not to interfere with the justice delivered by the hand of God; she was a devout Catholic.
A faint smile on Maria’s face reappeared when she answered the priest, “Pain in my body only serves to soothe the agony in my heart. But you will pray for all this to be over soon, won’t you, Father?”
The priest held in his hands her clenched fists and nodded his concurrence. At his touch her hands balled up even tighter and her body stiffened, as if the touch of the priest’s hands had given her an electric shock. He drew his hands away from her and gazed at her with gentle eyes, assuring her of the Lord’s help.
The light had begun to fade as growing darkness outside gradually swallowed the dusk light. The priest turned on the bedside light and immediately Maria’s eyelids flickered to cut the sharp glare. He turned the light off. The priest walked over to the lamp, a solid, tall brass pole fitted with a large, faded yellow lampshade with matching fringe, and turned the light on.
The soft yellow-orange glow filled the room. The fringe of the lampshade quivered momentarily then gently settled back to its motionless state. The priest grasped the back of the wooden chair and watched Maria with raised eyebrows as she slowly nodded, gesturing for him to bring the chair closer to her bed. The priest moved the chair next to her bedside and sat down in the ornate walnut chair, cushioned with crushed maroon velvet.
For a moment Maria’s mind drifted into the darkness of the past. Eclipsed between the diminishing light and rising darkness there exists a time called the twilight of love, synonymous with the space between love and hate that dwells in the hearts of those who question their life partners, the ones destiny bestowed on them. Their feelings, once charged with passion and surging desire, have moved on with the passing of time, but their hopes of redemption and reconciliation remain and they feel vacant and abandoned. How does one let go of such feelings when they are wrapped around one’s soul like a parasite creeper around a tree trunk, sapping its life. She took a deep sigh filled with sadness and said, “Old sins cast long shadows.”
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Padre.
“Some people have died,” said Maria in a contemplative voice with a grimace on her face, “and some are alive and you, Padre, you deal with both. But what you may not know is that there are people neither alive nor dead.”
“It is the Lord who receives them,” he said and pushed his chair a little closer, gazing into her eyes, “and He forgives them all. Have you asked for forgiveness?”
Maria blankly stared at the ceiling and in a voice that reflected pain said, “I’ve repented and I have paid.”
“It’s not a matter of paying,” the priest said in an empathetic tone as he touched the heavy metal cross around his neck and then smoothed his dalmatic down, tugged at its long sleeves, and added, “you can’t buy forgiveness, it is free. But you have to ask for it. Have you asked for it?”
Maria looked at the priest and, with a faint smile, licked her dry lips. The priest picked up the glass by her bedside table and helped lift her head by slipping his arm under it. She took a small sip and blinked, indicating she’d had enough.
She let him replace the glass on the table and she continued, “And from whom do you suggest I should ask for forgiveness? Forgive me, Padre, but not from Him. I did not do anything wrong to Him except to give my utmost devotion. I want forgiveness from those to whom I did wrong. But they are not here, so where do you suggest I go now to receive this forgiveness?”
It was his turn to smile and he was not new to this game. He nodded gently and in a tone like a whisper he answered, “He listens from and for all. If you do your part, He will do His.”
Her smile widened. “Okay. Well, I’m ready and I’m asking now.”
“Then He is listening. Now,” said the priest in a soothing tone, “what secrets are tormenting your soul? I’m here for you.”
“I’ve done wrong, Father,” she repeated and her face darkened with the memories of her past. “I’ve told terrible lies. I am afraid that my savior may not forgive me.”
“The Lord forgives us all, Mary. You don’t know the ways of the Lord.”
“You don’t know my lies.”
Maria’s hands remain clenched and she placed them on her chest as she stared vacantly at the large window. She wished it would rain. Maria loved rain. Her mind began to drift like a solo cloud being pushed by high winds drifting across a vast landscape. So many years had gone by, and in that old world her youth had been so convulsed and shattered that, as she looked back and tried to recapture the details of particular scenes, they dissolved like a few drops of rain in the distance. But it was not important to her anymore, only salvation was.
Maria shook her head to lift the fog in her mind. She remembered in particular the rainy day some ten years back when she was sitting at her favorite dormer window in this very bedroom after taking a walk with her sister to the Stazione Centrale located in Piazza Delia Stazione in Florence.
"In his riveting story, The Last Goodbye, Narendra Simone skillfully portrays the soul of a mother/son relationship in a culture that remains an enigma to so many of us.” – Mike Sirota, author of “Fire Dance” and “The Burning Ground”.
"Reading Desert Song is what I imagine a few evenings to be like of listening to a master story teller take us through the descent of Beowulf. Medieval in its proportions, gruesome in its verity, raw in its necessity, Desert Song exposes the sinister triangulations of politics, religion, and law in a world wrought with dark forces. Our hero, Matt Slater, witnesses unimaginable crimes in his desperate search for a lost child. Startling ironies erupt on each page as Simone's first thriller hurtles us through a journey both disturbing and authentic. Before you read any other book on the Taliban, read this book first." -- Almeda Glenn Miller, author of “Tiger Dreams”
“Right from the beginning I enjoyed Narendra's style ... the picture was drawn and I stepped right into the set ... he cleverly interweaves his characters and gives his reader intrigue and interest in learning the dangerous world of Arabia ... Once I started reading it I could not wait to finish it.”—Praveen Gupta, Published Author of 14 Books
"Narendra is a widely travelled author with an eloquent writing style. Artistic descriptions of the beautiful city of Florence, creates an enriched backdrop for the characters and plot of this novel of romance and intrigue. I began reading this story and could not put it down as it transported me to a culture of great beauty, architecture and art, through the eyes of captivating characters. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Elaine Fuhr, Allbooks Reviews