Paid in Full
I suppose you're wondering what I'm doing....what's the big event.
I'm celebrating a death. The death of an enemy. Don't look so shocked, it happens all the time, only we generally hide our smug satisfaction behind hypocritical remarks. We kill a person year in year out with our snide remarks, our innuendos, and our cruel ignore, and then when they're dead praise them for qualities we refused to acknowledge while they were alive. Well, I'm going to call a spade a spade. He's dead, and it's out with the candles.
No-one knows where it started. It goes too far back for that. But whenever a misfortune hit us, somehow the Martins were there. Nothing could ever be pinned directly, of course, but nonetheless it always came down to them. It's said that once our families were in partnership, but the business went bankrupt. When the dust settled, somehow they kept their fine mansion, but we ended up on the streets. For generations after, our family spoke their name in hate.
The liturgy was well drummed into me as I grew up, and I learned it well. I had every reason. There was a Martin in my class at school, and I soon learned to loathe him. One of those kids that get right up your nose. Good looking, so the girls fell over him, and he did everything brilliantly without trying. I played second fiddle to him right through high school. No matter how hard I tried, he always went one better. Even took the one girlfriend I had at school.
My father died when I was in Form 5. He was the Town Clerk of our city, while yet another Martin was the Mayor. My father found apparent evidence of some dirty land deals involving the Mayor and a firm of developers, but when he tried to make it public, somehow it rebounded on him. I think he died of a broken heart. Geoffrey Martin....the guy in my class....came to the funeral. To gloat, I thought. When he tried to offer his condolences, I turned my back. I only saw him a few times after that, because the family left town, and I heard he later became a priest.
I went into the Army, and actually enjoyed it. It suited me. I volunteered for Vietnam, and when that was over was at a loose end for several years. Eventually, I came across some magazines for mercenary soldiers, and the upshot was, I found myself fighting in some border wars in Central America. That was a bad scene. We were badly supplied....didn't eat properly for weeks....I caught denghue fever, and was captured by opposition guerillas. I could scarcely stand when I was dragged before their captain. He was a hard man. He had a whipping stick, and he slashed my face and back to ribbons as he ranted and accused me of being in the pay of the government. When he'd exhausted himself, and I was half dead anyway, he told his men to take me away and shoot me.
I scarcely heard the voice that called on them to stop. A group of missionaries....some nuns and a priest...had been caught up in the guerilla sweep, and this old priest stepped forward. At least I thought he was old, until he spoke. I could hardly believe it. It was Geoffrey Martin, but I found out later he'd contracted TB, and that and the jungle living had aged him shockingly.
"Let him go," he said. The Captain snarled. "He killed my men, he must die. A death for a death - doesn't even your book say that?"
"Then take me," Martin said quietly. I tried to protest, but had no wits or voice, and the two men bargained over me for what seemed an eternity. Finally the captain said, "You are stupid, missionary, but I admire your bravery. I will take your exchange. The dog can go," and he spat on me. They dragged me out and dumped me on a jungle trail, and I wept as I heard shots back in the compound.
They let the nuns go, too, and they cared for me over the next week. I couldn't look them in the face, though, out of shame, and quickly as I could I headed for the coast.
I discovered something ironic when I got back. Obviously none of us is without sin. The real reason Geoffrey Martin had left town suddenly back in those days was that he'd got a girl into trouble. She'd put the child out for adoption, but he was only passed from foster home to foster home and never took.
So hence the party. I'm celebrating the death of an enemy. Pride, hate, pity, envy....the enemy that held my family hostage for too long. And the birth of love, a love I began to discover in the jungle, and that I hope I can now make real to Martin's son. I'm adopting him. We sign the papers tomorrow. And you know, I think he likes me.
But I hope you'll excuse me, that's him now.
(c) Copyright John McNeil, all rights reserved. Apart from the purposes of fair review, this work may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, physical or electronic, without the express permission in writing of the author. He may be contacted at jandhmcneil<a>paradise.net.nz