The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is the last of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).
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“There are many unpleasant thoughts here,” James replied. “So let’s talk about the miracles.”
“You don’t believe in them,” Madeleine replied, defensively. “Carla’s church has already told her that they don’t. Is yours the same?”
“Absolutely not. We believe in miracles. I have seen them myself, prayed for them as well. We believe that you have done these things. What we don’t understand is how you did them.”
“You have not heard. . .I invoke the Trinity, pray in the name of Jesus Christ, usually put my aloe vera on them to anoint them when I can touch them. Don’t you?”
“Yes, but beyond that it is entirely different. Listen, we believe that the Holy Ghost is working the same way he did in the Book of Acts. It includes healings, casting out demons, all kinds of miracles. But we pray, we fast, we have altar services. Then we have many rules for our people for holiness: we do not drink, smoke, our women don’t wear jewellery or make-up of any kind, and we generally don’t go to the beach. You, you drink your wine, you go to Mass, your father smokes his pipe, you wear rings for your ears and fingers plus the bracelets, and you come to the beach in your shorts, like you did the day you came to Beran to watch tennis.”
“This was obviously important to you.”
“Important? It was the talk of my church and the Beran church for weeks. But that’s the problem: why is it that you, living as you do, can do the things that many of our saints do not?”
“Perhaps the problem is that your God and the God of your ‘saints’ is too small,” Madeleine came back, desperate enough to quote an Anglican.
“Perhaps the real problem here is that your idea of what God can do in your life is what is far too small here,” James replied deliberately and slowly.
Madeleine stared into James’ black eyes in shock. She and Carla had been in a state of retreat since this whole adventure began, and even before that. Now she was staring in the face of someone who was putting in front of her the proposition that forward movement was possible, and that robbed her of a comeback, something she was almost never without.
“God has picked you out for something special,” James resumed, realising he had the floor to himself. “It is obvious. And there is no limit to what he can do in your life. You could become a great healing evangelist, travelling to all parts of the world seeing more blind eyes opened and more people rise from their sick bed than you can imagine. God has given you an anointing that many people in my church only dream of. Or, you could pass on this great heritage to your children.” He stopped and saw that she winced at the thought. “Children. Of course! Nobody around here talks about them. They smoke their pot, they shoot their drugs, they make love, they take love, they talk about the university they will attend, but no one talks about the children they could have. No one! Perhaps it is better, as mean as they are. But what Pentecostal kid wouldn’t give their eye teeth to say, ‘My mother healed the blind when she was in secondary school and stood up to the government in the process.’ Or you could do both of these things, or more. And of course there is no telling who you might marry. He might be black like me, in which case those beautiful children would be the colour of your coffee.” She looked down at her cup to catch the meaning of his illustration.
“Do you have a special someone in your life, James?” she asked, breathless from the discourse.
“I am happy you asked,” he said, grinning. With that he took out his wallet and handed her the picture of someone she recognised immediately. She gasped.
“It’s Elisabeth Cassidy!” she said. She looked at James wide-eyed, unable to say anything.
“We know what you did that day,” James replied. “We know you prayed for Terry Marlowe to win and Elisabeth to lose. It was very hard on us. Elisabeth was the first person in our church to be so prominent in girls’ sports in Aloxa. She was the national champion last year and will probably do it again this year. If Denise keeps getting herself in trouble, she just might win the Collina Invitational. All of our church—all Aloxan Pentecostals, really—are very proud of her, although some in our church don’t like the clothes she has to wear to play. Before the match, some of us actually went on a fast so she could win. So we were shocked when she lost to Terry. We thought God had abandoned us. We had seen you and Terry’s grandmother praying for her. But she was the first to understand that it was God’s plan to undermine Denise. Then we knew what it meant. Besides, it wasn’t so bad because she was beaten by someone who is, I hate to say this, who is not. . .”
“Really white,” Madeleine said.
“Exactly. Her father is well liked in Aloxa. I think that it is terrible the way people here treat her about her race. Do you realise that you are the first girl from PC I have sat down with for dinner? I always get some kind of lame brain excuse every time I ask one. If I had known, I would have asked earlier! But it was God’s will that I court Elisabeth, we have a lot in common and she is very sweet.”
“How long have you been seeing each other?”
“We have grown up together. But it has been difficult since Leslie became King. He is not a Christian, and his wife Arlene—Elisabeth’s sister—is, shall we say, on the fence. Many people in her family are Christians, but we must be careful because of Arlene. We would have been engaged by now but we have decided to wait until we get to the U.S., where we can marry away from everyone. We are going to college together—at a Pentecostal school, on Royal scholarships.
“Look, I know you are going to Europe to university. I don’t know what kind of church you need to be in to fulfil God’s plan for your life. But he has a great one for you. And, as far as this place is concerned, someday God will punish this place. When he does, you and Carla and everyone else who has been persecuted for Jesus’ sake will rise up and speak judgement against this country. When you do, I want to be there to cheer you on.”
“So what happens if I become a specialist in education?” Madeleine asked him.
“Then you can come back and be our Minister of Education, and I will bow to you and refer to you as ‘Your Excellency.’ We have never had a Christian Minister of Education.”
Madeleine giggled at the idea. “You are simply too charming. What will happen when Elisabeth finds out you saw me like this?”
“She already knows,” James replied, “and she wants me to be an encouragement to you. Besides, she wants to issue a challenge to you: she wants you and Carla to come to Beran again and play doubles with Elisabeth and Alice Fitzwilliam. Since you have been ejected from the teams, you two can only represent God. We will have a large crowd there. And, we will all pray before the match starts, not like here.”
Madeleine thought for a minute. “She is very brave, playing people who only represent God.”
“Like Jacob,” James replied. “But, you know, like Jacob, when God touches your life, you are never the same.”