Stepping into the church after so many years made him hesitant at first. He lingered in the doorway like an uninvited guest, hovering on the threshold. Some tourists excused themselves in broken English as they brushed passed him, entering the cool relief of the stone sanctuary away from the blistering hot sunshine outside. Holding his breath, he stepped inside; glancing quickly high up to the ceiling as if looking for God.
The church was quiet, despite the added tourists who had passed him and who were now inspecting one of the older tomb covers towards the rear of the nave. He turned in the other direction and made his own way towards the collection of remembrance candles which twinkled out from a small alcove. Despite the sunshine which streamed in through the stained glass windows, the small candles held their own air of magic and brilliance. Tiny twinkling eyes danced together in their own little rhythms. They were why he was here today, the only reason he would ever step inside a church.
He noticed the small donations box propped up next to the candles, the unlit ones lumped together in a small metal box like a collection of teeth.
‘20p per candle’
The sign suggested, though whether this was indeed a suggestive price or intended one he wasn’t sure, either way it didn’t matter. He dropped the £2 coin into the metal coffin and was saddened to hear its solitary ring out from below. Clearly not many people needed remembering today. He picked up a candle from the box and then turned suddenly to the sound of footsteps behind him.
The old man said, smiling at him as he came towards the stand where the candles were. He wore a trench coat that did not suit the day’s weather, and he carried a hat in his hand as which he held down at his side. He was dressed for November, not the glorious spring Elysium that covered the world outside the door.
“Afternoon.” He replied in return, smiling at him, though annoyed he would have to share his moment with someone else now.
“Lovely day isn’t it?”
The old man had stopped a few feet from him, and seemed eager to engage in a conversation. Though annoyed somewhat, he had no intention of being rude and instead smiled and replied to him.
“It is indeed, a little too warm for me though.”
“This little church provides a nice little oasis from the outside world I find.” The old man said.
He nodded in agreement.
“Yes it does. Sorry, did you need to get to the candles too?” he asked him, motioning out of the way to where the candles lay.
“No, thank you. Please carry on. I didn’t mean to disturb you too much.”
“No trouble. I was just lighting a candle for my mother. It’s her birthday today.”
“I see. I shall leave you to it then. Though I should say, we never truly know what is coming our way, and must always prepare for the worst; but hope for the best.” He said.
He looked at him a moment, unsure of what he meant.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, just being philosophical. Please, I shall leave you in peace. Enjoy your day.” The old man said, and he suddenly turned and walked away, his loud jacket echoing off the small stone walls as he departed down the church.
How odd, he thought. He watched him go, then turned back to the candles that lay before him. Only a few were still burning brightly, the others dying out and completing their mission and sending the prayers into the sky. He held the small candle by the base and stuck the wick into a bright burning flame. The wick inhaled quickly, bursting into life. He placed it away from the others on the rack, letting it glow in its own lonely beauty. He thought of his mother, who had died a year ago. He watched as the wax dribbled down the side and remembered her quiet tears when she’d heard she was going to die. The cancer that had lain within her which had accelerated with an ungodly speed, to prove salvation impossible. His mother, his rock; gone practically overnight.
He closed his eyes and prayed for her, thinking how devoted to god she was and knowing if anyone were to be in heaven, it would be her.
The tourists who had entered before him had found their way to where he was now. Their foreign tongues licking at his neck signalled him it was time to leave. He turned and left, making his way towards the door, dropping a pound coin in the donations box near the entrance; but never looking down the aisle towards the alter, or taking in the sad pictures of the saints that peppered the walls.
He pushed the huge doors open, shut since his entrance into the small church on St. Collin’s street, and stood just inside the doorway. Nothing divine was calling him or pulling him back. There was no need to sprinkle himself with holy water or skim the bibles in search for a hymn to ease his soul. He stood in the doorway like a kid on a dock, because it had just that second started to rain.