The Ten Weeks, 15 February, When God Touches Your Life, You Are Never the Same

Amongst the collection of societies and clubs at Point Collina Comprehensive, its French Club was in a league of its own. Although the Republic had lowered the majority (and thus the drinking) age to eighteen, a milestone honoured in the breach, the Club had the distinction of being the school’s only student organisation where open drinking was permitted at its functions. Madame Seignet and her colleagues never gave a second thought to this practice; only the Spanish Club thought it was unfair.
The Monday night gathering took place at Alicia Decker’s house. The Keller home—Alicia’s mother had divorced and remarried—was about halfway between the yacht club and the school. It was well attended, with the students’ cars filling up the streets and making getting in and out tricky. Denise was conspicuous by her absence; her recent social difficulties forced her to more carefully select where she would make an appearance. Her absence decentralised the focus of the event; people were more likely to concentrate on each other than her, and they did as the fondue progressed in the kitchen.
Terry and Cathy were standing near the door, eyeing just about everyone that came in.
“I can’t believe that Madeleine des Cieux came to your house and prayed for Jack,” Terry told her friend.
“I can’t either,” Cathy agreed.
“You really didn’t call her?”
“No. She just, showed up, prayed, and left. Jack was back in class the next morning. Mom and Dad made him go to the doctor first to make sure he was really all right. Uncle Jeff couldn’t believe it when he arrived at his office. He’s kinda gimpy these days, but I’m just glad they didn’t kill him.”
“Where is Madeleine anyway?” Terry asked.
“I think I saw her out next to the pool. She’s not speaking to anyone. Jack says she’s still shook up about Carla Stanley getting thrown off her tennis team, and the riot and everything.”
“He still hasn’t asked her out?”
“Nah. Still too big of a chicken. They talk in the hall some.”
“Really, it’s not hard to get kicked off a tennis team these days,” Terry observed.
“Denise is a jerk. If she had had you and Maddy on the team, we could have beat St. Anne’s.”
“If we don’t get it together,” Terry replied, “we won’t beat Verecunda this Friday.”
They sipped on their wine and looked around. “How’s your grandfather doing?” Cathy finally asked.
“Not good. He hasn’t left Santa Lucia in weeks. Mother knows what’s really going on but won’t say. Little Richard and my cousins don’t know anything either. It’s like the Kremlin over there.”
“Let me know if something happens,” Cathy said. “I want to be with you.”
“Thanks.”
Cathy was right about Madeleine; she was out by poolside, sitting in one of the pool chairs adjusted as upright as possible, sipping very slowly on her own wine. She just stared out at the pool, watching the swirling patterns the circulation system made in the water. The pool was fully lit up by the lighting under the surface, which was the main light on the patio.
“You should be at the centre of this party,” a voice came from beside her. She looked up. It was James Bennett.
“I am not,” she replied blankly.
“This is not my favourite function either,” he said. Suddenly the impulse came to him. “Would you like to go somewhere else?”
“Yes, I would,” she replied as impulsively as he had asked. She arose. “Do you have that car here?”
“The embassy had other plans for it,” James admitted. “I stayed at school until I could walk here. They will come and pick me up after a while.”
“Mine is here,” Madeleine replied.
“So where would you like to go?” he asked.
“What about The Mangrove?”
“But that is a bar!” he exclaimed. “I don’t go to bars. That is why I am having trouble here.”
“It is not so bad. It is Monday night. Everyone has spent their money over the weekend, so it is quiet. And the food is good as well.”
“Very well,” James said, reluctantly. “Where is your car?”
“I must tell Madame Seignet,” Madeleine said. “I will meet you at the front of the house.”
“I will be there,” he said, very confidently. Madeleine broke the news to a mixed reception, then went out front to meet James. James watched as she walked out from the front door to the street wearing her leather jacket. Looking at the way she was dressed and carried herself, he thought he had been transported into another world. They walked a few metres down the street to the Dyane. James went to the driver’s door; Madeleine unlocked it and waited for him to open it. But he could not get get the handle to move.
“You must pull the handle up to open it,” Madeleine explained.
“This is a very unique car,” James observed. He opened the door successfully and Madeleine got in. He closed the door and went around to the other side to enter while Madeleine started the car. Putting it into gear, the Dyane’s size and manoeuvrability paid off; she was able to get out of her space and down the crowded street without difficulty.
She turned right onto Ocean Avenue. It was chilly; the 10°C temperature, combined with some ocean breeze, meant that the windows were up and the heat was on, and it only began to warm the chilly interior as they came to a stop at the intersection of Melaleuca Street.
James looked around at the car he was riding in.
“You think it’s funny?” Madeleine said.
“Of course not,” James protested.
“Yes, you do,” she said. “Everybody does.” The light turned green and she made a hard turn onto Melaleuca; the soft suspension caught him off guard and he ended up hitting the door.
“It’s not funny any more,” he said while trying to upright himself.
They made it to the Dahlia Bridge. The sun had just set to their left, leaving its dimming light over the western part of Verecunda Bay. The coastline of Collina was receding from them as they advanced across the bridge. Their voyage across the bridge was a leisurely business; the Dyane’s tiny engine wasn’t a problem on the Point or in the city, but on open stretches of road—both the bridge and those in Uranus—its limitations became apparent. They had plenty of time to see the sunset on one side and the city lights of Verecunda on the other. The afterglow of dusk was still visible on the taller buildings of the city, as it was along the coast of the Point leading up to the lighthouse. This scene, taken for granted by the locals, was a wonder to behold. James viewed a scene that he usually missed as he drove himself across the bay. It helped him to forget that he had given up his honour to travel in this tiny car driven by his sudden date.
“This is where I replaced Carla Stanley’s tyre,” James noted as they passed the spot on the bridge.
“That was very kind of you,” Madeleine observed. “She badly needed the assistance. She is usually very self-reliant, but Denise had frightened her.”
“We call such events ‘divine appointments,’” James replied.
Once their voyage over the bridge was done, it wasn’t long before they were pulling into the back parking lot of The Mangrove. As she had predicted, it wasn’t very full. James once again helped Madeleine out of her car and escorted her through the back entrance of the establishment.
There weren’t many people inside, but all eyes were on them as they made their way to a back table to which Madeleine led the way. Interracial couples were an exceptional sight in Verecunda, and these two attracted a fair amount of attention as they seated themselves and the owner himself came up to them.
“Miss des Cieux,” he said. “I’m not used to seeing you here on a Monday evening.”
“We had a school club party. It was not going well. This is James Bennett; his father Marcus is Commercial Attaché at the Aloxan Embassy. He is one of Papa’s clients.”
The owner eyed James. “You look very much like your father. He comes here from time to time.”
“Here? He never told us he comes here,” he replied, surprised.
“Everybody that does business on the Island comes here sooner or later,” the owner said. “Are you here for just coffee, or a little wine, or dinner?”
“Some coffee would be wonderful,” James blurted out. “It is cold out there.”
“East or West Island blend? The des Cieux always prefer East.”
“Then East Island it is,” James said. He coughed; he wasn’t used to the smoke that hung over the place, even though where they were sitting it was as thin as it got, being far away from the bar.
“That is fine,” Madeleine said. “It is cold. But I think we are hungry also; perhaps the usual?”
“Absolutely; the chef is here tonight to prepare it. And for you, Mr. Bennett?”
“The same!” he exclaimed. He was disoriented by his state; he had no idea about what the “usual” was, or how much he was going to have to pay for it, or how he was going to explain why he took off with a French girl from a school function his parents had already paid for, and last but not least whether the small amount of money in his wallet would cover the experience that was, up to now, decidedly semi-romantic.
“Very well. Thank you,” and with that the owner turned and left.
“Are you all right?” Madeleine said, seeing James’ distress.
“I am fine,” he replied. “But, could you explain the usual?”
“Yes, it is coq au vin. We find the food on the Island rather inadequate, so Maman came down and showed them how to prepare it. The presentation leaves something to be desired, but it is tasty. Papa always has it when he eats here, which is about twice a week, when he is in town.” The coffee came; both of them doctored it generously with cream and sugar.
James watched as his date took her first sip. “I believe I am sitting across from the most extraordinary woman on the Island.” She stopped sipping her coffee, put it down, and looked a James intently. “It is my honour to be here with you. You are taking a lot of chances being with me like this.”
“I take chances no matter what,” she replied. “It is the way things seem to go these days. So what do you find extraordinary about me?”
“To start with, you are not an Islander. It’s not every day that someone who was born in a place like Williamstown gets to sit across the table from an attractive woman who has lived all over the world.”
“Williamstown isn’t such a bad place,” Madeleine replied. “Under different circumstances, it could be a place where the people who call themselves beautiful go. Your beaches are very nice, and the water is so clear and beautiful. The problem with this Island is that its natural beauty is ruined by its people. Take, for example, the Avinets. They came from France, only to have their last view of that Beran Bay while dying on crosses because they reverted to Christianity.” She took another sip of her coffee. “For those of us from France, and especially Christians, it is not a very pleasant thought.”
“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.”
At that point the first course of their meal arrived. They slid into a roast—of just about everyone else in school. But even this fine meal came to an end.
“Miss des Cieux,” the owner said as they finished up, “your father informs me that he is pleased that you are fine and having a good time. And,” he turned to James, “your father informs me that he will be expecting you at the embassy shortly after you leave here. Have a pleasant evening.” He turned and walked away.
James looked at Madeleine in disbelief. “So that’s why you didn’t call home.”
“It was unnecessary,” she replied. “I knew he would do that. I hope you enjoyed your dinner here.”
“It was delicious,” James replied. “But where is the bill?”
“That is also unnecessary,” Madeleine said. “It will go on my father’s account. The Kingdom of Aloxa is an excellent client and pays promptly.” James was totally speechless as they got up. He helped her into her leather jacket, then they went out to the car and she took him back on the short journey to the Aloxan Embassy.
“So how was your little detour,” Marcus Bennett asked his son.
“She is not human,” James replied. “I know the Bible talks about entertaining angels unawares, but now I have had one entertain me.”
“In a leather jacket?” Marcus asked, surprised.
“Why not? Anything can happen in this place.”

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