He called the night before asking me to drop everything for the following day and drive him to a small town church five hours away. When I asked him why he didn’t drive himself, he proceeded to explain that he was not feeling well. That he lost twenty pounds in the last week and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
His father being a venerable priest, the next most likely explanation was a curse. Hence, the pilgrimage to an out of the way small church staffed by an old Father who specialized in curse removal. Presented with all the facts, I was obligated to agree. Switching from concrete and noise to trees and blue sky was probably exactly what I needed.
We started out at seven after midnight. The thought of leaving the city alone was invigorating enough to wake me up with a start. Once we lost sight of the skyline, driving became like meditation. I like to explain the things around me rationally through science rather than divinity so I asked him what he ate and did in the days leading up to his unfortunate repainting of the toilet.
He said he had not eaten anything out of the ordinary. A healthy dose of a few pounds of meat per week plus a few potatoes, a tomato occasionally and lots of cheese and eggs. The usual, he added. How about curses, I asked. Have you any mortal enemies that would wish you to perish on the toilet dish. He said he couldn’t think of any. But I knew all too well that in the city, you can get cursed a hundred times before lunch just on your way to work.
I kept that little secret to myself and gave my honest opinion. Everything was possible, I said, but what was most probable is that, of the many fermented cheeses and dried meats that my friend loved, a certain fungus or bacteria from the old continent bent by unsafe transportation was manifesting its anger at his guts. He could not disagree with my well weighted argument but concluded that either way an exorcism every once in a while is a good precaution.
I was forced to agree, thinking that at least I can buy a few cartons of cheap cigarettes while we are out there. The rest of the drive was uneventful except for when we stopped to eat lunch at the Legendary Dinner, a historic place indeed, where signs like Leave Your Guns at the Front Desk littered the walls and our waitress was chewing tobacco and spitting it in a little cap she kept handy. Unfortunately, we witnessed that grotesquerie after we ordered so we had to pay for the food we didn’t eat.
On empty stomachs and full minds, we drove the rest of the way. The church was a neat Gothic building in the middle of town not far from the liquor store. I later walked there to scout out the prices of the single malts. The Father was middle-aged, tall and active with sharp eyes. He had certainly defeated his demons and was in full control of the present stream of experiences.
In only a few introductory sentences and a short chat after vespers, he easily won the most interesting man in the world award. He had an enormous book collection and could speak on just about any topic, unprejudiced and open-minded, even to non-believers like me. You can believe in whatever you want, he said several times.
Explaining that to his understanding believing in god or science can provide the same type of solace. What was really important was the belief itself, not the entity or universe of knowledge it was centered around. That true belief is uplifting and unsized, sincere, honest and liberating from the shackles of doubt and society’s dogmas. As long as your belief posses those qualities, you can believe in ice cream of you like. The fact is, most of us had at an early age, when our beliefs had only a few rules, firmly been religion about ice cream. But then we needed something bigger so we switched to whiskey, he smiled. I pictured the shelf with single malts in the liquor store. It is unfortunate that a lot of people stop at whiskey, choose not to grow further, and do not look for a more spiritual totem to worship.
I nodded in full agreement the entire time he boiled down life to a few sentences. My friend was not in good shape so the Father invited us into the church. I excused myself, stating his argument and my beliefs centered around quantum theory. They prayed for three hours, summoning the healing powers of their beliefs to defeat that devilish bacteria tornadoing inside my friend’s gut.
In the meantime, I re-found the liquor store and took a picture of the shelf with the single malts. They were nearly half as cheap compared to the city. And on any other occasion, I would have walked out of there with at least three bottles. But after what the Father said I started considering upgrading my belief system. But for that I needed money.
So I toured three gas stations and bought four cartons of cigarettes from each, with the intention of reselling and deliberate tax evasion which is a federal crime. Considering that to be the most I can buy without raising any flags. There were plenty of buyers and a little something on the side is always good. That something, little or preferable, not little, was at the center of my belief system. And I don’t remember the Father mentioning it so clearly, I am doing something wrong.
After vespers, we started the long drive back to the city-infected patch of nature.
more by MILEN VASILEV
photograph by Linda Tanner