CHAPTER 4.1 – MABEL AND THE BEAR

Thanks to a mascara-tear mashup, Mabel’s eyelashes were clinging together and sticking out in clumps from puffy eyes. The Black Wolf visited again, forcing her off the busiest highway in Jozi and into a grief-drenched disintegration. They come often, these…shall we call them ‘sessions’. A doctor prescribed anti-depressants once… But all that did was give me diarrhea and dehydration. I was mummified within a month, Mabel thought.

Then one of her dear friends suggested speaking to her minister.

‘Ha! I’d rather just die,’ was Mabel’s inelegant response.

I would still rather die…Mabel thought. Perhaps a bit less unyielding in her conviction than before.

She snaked through the highway roads connecting Johannesburg with her new home, Pretoria. When Old Betsie (Mabel’s beat up hatchback Toyota) reached the outer limits of Pretoria, the tin tank found itself compelled into unexpected and unusual turns. It came to a stop in front of the Pretoria East Anglican Church…

Mabel sat staring at the main entry to the church, a beautiful old Sandstone building, one of very few left in the city that has been properly maintained.

God can take care of buildings, but He sure is slow in caring for people, Mabel thought. She felt the pugnacious spirit she delighted in earlier in court return to her belly, and her mouth pulled into a cheeky pout.

***

There was no-one in the church. Mabel felt disappointed. For some reason she expected a priest or bishop waiting in the front row of seats, ready to save her soul. To take a stand for Good. But nothing.  She looked around and threw her hands in the air in defiance.

‘Can I help you?’

‘Fuck!’ Mabel felt her legs go numb from the shock of the unexpected deep voice behind her. Her big curly hair moved in all directions as she jerked around. She was confronted with the sight of a young man dressed in official Anglican clergy attire. Since she wasn’t raised Anglican she had no idea what it meant, or what official clergy titles were, or even how you addressed these people. But she was intelligent enough to know that she just cussed in front of a man of God.

‘Oh, I’m so sorry…’ Mabel felt her cheeks boil. ‘I’m so, so sorry, I didn’t mean to…’

‘I can say ‘fuck’ too, don’t worry,’ the man said.

‘You can?’

‘Sure. I mean, I don’t. But I can.’ He smiled at her.

God sure makes His people’s teeth white, Mabel thought. The man was tall, strong, with a broad, clean smile, but his face was dominated by strict, unyielding eyes. They were war-eyes, not church-eyes…

For a moment silence descended. Then Mabel remembered why she was there. For answers.

‘For answers.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Uhm, I’m here for answers.’

‘What are the questions?’

‘What?’

‘I can give answers only when I know the questions. What are they?’

‘Oh! I wanna know why my mother is dead.’ Mabel felt chills running down her spine as she coughed out the words. The Black Wolf stirred in her tummy…

The man’s face became serious and those eyes became more stern. It felt like he was looking right through Mabel and she felt a little bit of the fighting spirit leave her.

‘You’re not a member of church. My name is Peter. People call my Father Peter. Sounds horrible but that’s how it is. You are?’

‘Mabel.’

‘As in Madonna?’

‘No, as in Ackerman.’

‘Sit down, Mabel.’ She did nicely as she was told.

Mabel was half expecting to be questioned next. To be asked: ‘talk to me, Mabel. Tell me your story, Mabel. How can I help, Mabel. God is love, Mabel.’ But she didn’t get that. She got nothing. This man…Peter…Father Peter…just sat there in the seventh last row of seats with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped, his war-eyes staring at her.

‘My mother died two years ago. Cancer.’

No reaction from Father Peter.

‘Look, I used to have faith, I just want to understand something. I understand people must die, I’m a forensic pathologist, I’m comfortable with the concept and certainty of death. I just want to understand why my mother, a woman of tremendous faith, had to be clawed from life like she was a horrible criminal in need of punishment. And why, when she called out to God in her most desperate of moments, did He ignore her? She was such a good person…’ Mabel felt the Black Wolf roar in her chest. Tears were readying themselves in her throat for a powerful launch.

‘And please don’t talk to me about God’s Will. I don’t think I can handle one of those.’

Father Peter stared at her a while longer, then looked down. His eyes turned down, Mabel noticed a deep frown settle on his brow, his thumbs nervously rubbing each other.

‘I don’t know.’

Mabel was surprised by the answer as much as she was by this man’s sudden apparent vulnerability. She started to feel like she should be making him feel better…

‘Uhm…I guess nobody does hey. I guess…’

‘I know only one thing for sure, Mabel…’ Father Peter looked up at Mabel, piercing her with a confident stare. There it was. The war-eyes, blue and fierce, with sword and armor, ready for battle.

‘I know Heaven is certain, and Earth is as uncertain as a story could be.’

‘Uh okay. I though Heaven was the uncertain one.’

‘No. I don’t think there’s too much mystery to Heaven. When folks of faith die, they go there. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful, it’s bereft of pain and we reunite with the guy that created us. Our Father. There he protects us, looks after us, and guards us against stuff like cancer.’

The word stung. As it always did.

‘Earth, she’s a different bag of chips. Earth was created, so was Adam and Eve. Then they messed up, and the rest nobody understands.’

‘Are you saying that we are doomed to fatalism? That my mother’s end was predetermined and regardless of prayer or pleading, that was how it was going to be?’

‘No. I don’t think God is a fatalist. I think He delighted in creating Earth and everything and everyone on it. But this gift…this life…comes with mysterious things. Disease, crime, accidents. God did not create it, nor does He stop it. Why? Because maybe He never meant to. Maybe He gave us life, including everything that goes with it, because the end-outcome of it all is death. And for the faithful, death leads to Heaven. And Heaven is the real life. Not this one. This one is just a test.’

Mabel felt tired. And sad. She didn’t really want to hear reason.

‘You said your mum pleaded in her most desperate times. What if the objective of this life is to see if we’ll still plead in our desperate moments? What if that was the test and she passed it with flying colors? What if that means that she was received in Heaven the way Jesus was?’

Mabel raised an eyebrow.

‘Why not? Your mother suffered on Earth. Jesus suffered on Earth. The Bible makes no secret of the significance of suffering. Your mother was received in Heaven, her final home, like the Queen arriving in London. Like a Kardashian arriving…anywhere…’

Mabel was taken by surprised by this attempt at humor and revealed a broad smile.

‘I guess.’

‘I’m sorry for your loss, Mabel.’

For a moment, silence.

‘You know I’m not a tattoo person.’ Mabel said. ‘But I got one. Just after her funeral. A big, howling bear. It reminds me of my mom. She was a bear. She was a fierce introvert but she was the most protective, loving mother. I imagined that when she was released from her sick body, she howled loudly and ferociously. Just like a bear.’

Mabel felt sad and exhausted, but there was no sign of the Black Wolf. For now, he was at bay.

‘Thanks Father Peter.’ Mabel meant it. Pretoria was a new home, and maybe she’d come back here, to this sandstone church. Maybe.

‘Call me Peter.’

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