There is one stranger in the church tonight, a tall dark newcomer with whom I share a moment of recognition.
Surely I would remember if I had seen him before!
As we are leaving the Reverend Newsome offers us each a long thin hand and we look questions at each other, all three. The stranger has a shadowed sensitive face I already know, the facsimile of the engraving of Byron at the front of my Romantic Poetry book. Can this be the impressively fast answer to my prayer? But before we can speak there is a bustling behind us. The regulars, dour cast of the village pantomime, are assiduous in wishing us goodbye and it seems to me that by the force of this farewell they are underlining their role as hosts at Saint Agnes’. We are the guests, the stranger and I; prodigal children. Remember, an inward voice is prompting them, the Father loves the prodigal son. And so we are ostentatiously provided with service sheets and hymn books by the goodly folk; watched over and nodded at and nudged when we lose our place. This welcome ensures that we leave somehow embarrassed and will not soon return. When I look back up the path the stranger is not there.
A cold breeze is getting up as I saunter reluctantly home, lifting and scattering the piles of dirty leaves. The skulking smoker has gone and the notices about gun clubs and the WI’s threatened Oklahoma gleam in the yellow light of the street lamp.
Bailey greets me in the hall, lowers his head slowly and ejects a mouldering starling on to the carpet.
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