He would often remember a priest named Dan having read about him in an English magazine for sedate old farts or those on their way to becoming one. A weekly publication much too reactionary for him particularly after starting that timid rebellion of his. The time he realised he had become more of a Christian and less of a Catholic, equating the rag with his own tiresome and doctrinaire Osservatore Romano even though the former had finally offered up a story about a real man, a progressive man, a man to his heart, an Irish ex-priest living the full meaning of the scriptures in southern Sudan.
He had found the issue lying abandoned on the red plastic table of a sidewalk café, no doubt left there by some pudgy British tourist. Leafing through it he had felt ridiculously bored that evening, a pervasive sense of ennui taking hold of him. Like being stuck in quicksand but no longer giving a damn, life a soggy marsh or a mechanical trap, either way a mere step towards something even worse, not better perhaps.
It was at a Birraria near the Colosseo, a café he also didn't much care for because of a hot breeze blowing in his face and noisy Vespa scooters constantly aggressing, coming on to him. The winds of decay, the roar of nothing, he murmured, the quiet sounds of Roman magnificence silenced long ago, and although his own, his real voice, also had been muted for years. But not for much longer he had promised himself, suddenly inspired by that wonderful sinner in the city of Juba, a man who freed himself of dogma as by definition it protects only itself, becoming a bunker to so many.
It was the day he had intuitively but aimlessly walked the streets, already no longer completely guided by an obsessive God, a busybody God, having nothing better to do than bitch. The hour he had impulsively put an old trench coat over his soutane, covering his crucifix and purple sash, placing a Borselino hat belonging to his late father over his skull cap, leaving the Vatican in more sense than one. The Basilica the exact same spot where Caligula had constructed an ancient Roman circus and the gnawing notion taking hold of him that nothing much had changed since then. The moment that some gave him an odd look, others avoiding his gaze, and he not knowing what it was exactly that gave him away. If it was the coat or that hat on a hot Roman evening, or just his bearing and that seemingly out-of-place ring, the cuff-links and pastoral looking cane only there because of his left leg bothering him. People as uncomfortable with him as he felt with them. Though he admitted not having a friendly face, which at times caused this unease, leaving the ring mostly unkissed. Like that time in Baghdad meeting the Russian ambassador who tore into him, saying he seemed to care more for the Americans than for Iraqi Catholics, and realising that people with sympathetic faces can be quite the opposite, like this angelic looking former Communist. And that it is preferable to have a serious demeanour but a kind heart, than to have a disarming but false smile, and be an utter asshole. Convinced he was the better man and the Slavic envoy probably extra obdurate, interpreting his stern face as an expression of western superiority and consequently on the defensive, read, aggressive with him.
A face even scaring off his Cameriere, the waiter at that beer place, a man almost reluctant to take his order and something of an anomaly in a city where jobs like these were filled without exception by the fearlessly impertinent. A fact he hadn’t really been aware of, coming from the provinces, from a place up in the mountains, everyone always friendly, a town with two stations of note, his own and the railway one, on foot that day and for the first time leaving his apostolic residence all by himself. The place where he dined, prayed, pined, but never danced, and where, yes, our Prelate, and which no one knew, had started tiring of God a tad.
Couldn’t things for once happen on their own, he insisted? Everything always directed by Him? Like running into this magazine and reading in English about a man named Dan? A man of the cloth like him with one big difference, this Reverend both literally and figuratively... sporting a pair of balls! And the finding of the article mere chance, nothing to do with fate or temptation, an edition read by thousands the world over, and so essentially meaningless, beside its accidental significance: to him!?
“Dear God of mine! For once let me sort things out by myself!” is what he felt like shouting, tired of what had become the divine tyranny of it all. For was God his mother-in-law? had he chuckled more than once, and should enforced celibacy not have some advantages? Like not having a mother-in-law?! Humour of the sort, saving his sanity.
Of course, he had been the youngest bishop on the block, even though his gimpy left leg had always added to his years. A priest from a rural Parrocchia, the squeaky clean, near antiseptic scion wanting to be seen as washing off his landed rural family’s decadence. Many undisclosed skeletons in its closets, his father, a non-believer, while fond of his boy hostile to his priestly calling and at one point even shouting at him "If God created everything, He also created the Atheist! ”, after he had foolishly attempted to convert the old rogue. Who later left him a note on the subject, one he objected to but never destroyed, hiding it among his papers, certain about its drift today, if no longer its precise words: