The driver got in the bus on his seat swiftly and set off the engine. The last passengers boarded up hastily, looking for an empty seat where to sit. It was Christmas eve and the traffic was at its height.
A woman bent to lift her suitcase but her husband was the first who grabbed it. He put it in the trunk and came back merrily beside her.
“Have a nice trip!” he wished her smiling. “See you back soon.”
She smiled too, reluctantly, they kissed each other reservedly and she sat down on her seat. She was going to Athens for at least two days to help her daughter who was to go to hospital for a small surgery. Nothing serious since she was to return home from the hospital on the same day. But someone had to stay with the children until their mother got back.
The bus left. Before entering the main road she looked once again with the corner of her eye at her husband. He waved his hand. She nodded her head but only reluctantly. Her soul was overwhelmed by a sad mood. After the bus had drifted away, her husband took out his mobile phone. He searched in his contacts then called a number.
“I’m free”, he said happily. “What would you say about tonight at 8 pm?”
“OK. In the same place tonight at 8 pm”, a woman answered laconically and hung up.
Hearing that answer he rubbed his hands very satisfied. Everything went just as he wanted. He was going to have two days to spend with his new girlfriend. It was really nice. They were going to enjoy all this time they had at their disposal. It was incredible!
He looked at his watch. It was just 5 o’clock pm. He had enough time to go back home and freshen up a bit. Feeling as if he were flying in the skies with his heart full of joy and liveliness, as if he were a 20 yo youngster, he got in his car and pressed the accelerator whistling. How nicely he had arranged everything!
The grey December brought the first rain drops on the windscreen. The driver set off the wipers. The slow talks of the passengers were humming in her ears but he woman was looking blankly on the window. The bus was crowded and stifling. The light faded quickly and the landscape got blurry. The driver lit the headlights. The woman felt she could hardly breathe. The darkness was falling over her permeating even her inner world. She had already noticed the strange behavior of her husband and snakes were slithering around her from everywhere. She tried to retain her composure and didn’t make any allusion. She couldn’t complain he didn’t take care of her, but she realized that something else was happening at the same time. She tried not to have a breakdown but she had lost her confidence in her husband. Everything collapsed inside her. She felt betrayed and her bitterness reached till the bottom of her soul.
Now she anticipated what was going to happen while she was missing. She had never thought to call the police for help and she didn’t want to do it. However she clearly foresaw all his actions. She was aware that by leaving then she gave him all freedom of movement. So what mattered if Christmas was coming in two days? For whom would she return and why?
The persistent thoughts gave her a headache and her heart sank. Suddenly her eyes filled with tears. She was afraid she might have been noticed by the passenger sitting next to her so she turned her face to the window. She opened her bag looking for her mobile. She pretended to dial a number for hiding her unrest. She looked for the numbers with quivering fingers and the screen got lit but whom would she call and what to say?
All of a sudden on the screen showed up the face of her spiritual confessor who had reposed three years before. When he had been alive she used to run to him everytime she faced a problem. But now?…
As if pushed by an unexplainable urge she dialed his number as she used to to it before and put the phone to her ear. A deep, slow sigh went out of her throat.
“Kind gheronda, help me. I’m feeling lost. Show me the way, please. The night is covering me.”
“Why are you crying my dear?” “Who are you looking for?” a gentle voice sounded in her ear, but she was hearing it even better in her heart.
She almost froze. Who was talking to her? Her confessor? But he was dead. How was it possible to answer to her call? Wasn’t she having hallucinations? She gazed at her phone. On its bright screen it was shining not the number she had called but the meek face of her confessor, as she had always known him. But how could have been possible something like that? He was looking at her with his kind eyes and was smiling. The view was soothing and a wave of joy took away the weight from her heart, warding off her sadness as if a dark cloud had vanished. A sweet relief invaded her till the bottom of her soul. A merry disposition poured in her heart. She let herself dive in the spell of that moment of mystery, even if she didn’t understand anything.
“What happened my daughter?” the old man asked her softly.
“You already know everything, father, there’s no need to repeat anything to you”, she answered as if ravishedly but in the same lower voice for not being noticed. “You see the slip of my husband.” “A deep darkness fell over my life.” “How can I find the courage to go on living?” “My whole soul is in ruins.”
“But you slipped too”, my daughter. “Not only your husband.”
“Me? How did I slip and when?” she asked puzzled.
“You’ve always been slipping from the path of God”, the priest said with his gentle voice. “You were living your dream alone.” “Tell me the truth.” When did you really love your husband?” “You’ve always done it, you’ll tell me.” “But don’t rush!” “You loved what he gave you, you didn’t love him.” “For you he was a puzzle piece of your plan.” “The perfect filling for a pattern you fancied yourself.” “This is what you loved, the benefit you got from his presence.” And now you’re crying for the broken showcase.” “You take into account only your loss.” “But you’ve never truly loved him.” “You see that he has become detestable now when he refused to fill that puzzle you fancied.”
The woman was silent. She didn’t have the power to utter a word. She had the feeling that she was falling. But the elder continued:
“Don’t look at the things you’re facing now, but at those that are going to happen to him.” “It’s high time to see your husband.” “Forget about yourself!” “And anything you ask from God let it be for him, not for your content.” “Your aim now should be only his salvation, because he is a unique priceless human being elaborately created by God.” “He’s your man, did you forget about that?” “ Wasn’t he given to you by God?” “Won’t He ask you once what you did for him?” “If you don’t care about him, who will look at him with kindness?” “Strive now so that he won’t fall in the abyss.” “Leave your feelings aside.” “It’s time to love your husband!”
That bright holy face vanished from the screen but in her heart was still shining vividly. She remained motionless for a while being captive of those hidden bonds of the unworldly magic. She was afraid that if she moved she would have lost that happiness that was embracing her like a very bright shirt. The words of her spiritual confessor had been like a sweet ray of light over her sadness. They revealed to her what she didn’t even imagine. For the first time she could see her own soul clearly, as if it were an open book. She was deeply touched.
She put her quivering hand in her bag. She looked for her rosary received as a priceless gift from her confessor. She passed its beads over her fingers as if caressing them. At the first bead she stopped. Slowly she uttered: Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant!
She said it and repetead it after each bead, slowly. Her prayer was trying to open a path like the brook among weeds and stones. But little by little it grew stronger. Like Moses’s rod it hit powerfully the waterless rock from her soul. The brook grew and it turned into a rushing torrent which invaded the desert from her soul. It absorbed her completely. Her thought raised swiftly. It crossed mountains and paths covered by a darkness as black as hell. She was turning around wildly looking for her husband. With strong eagle wings her prayer flew towards him and invisibly embraced him. A sweet unknown longing pierced her heart like an obtuse pain. She wished she were with him. For the first time she felt she had the power to love her husband.
The darkness grew bigger but her heart filled with light. Surrounded by that sweet light she continued her prayer over and over again.
At 8 pm in high spirits, elegantly dressed, the man raised his hand to press the doorbell of the house where he had that date. He wanted to ring but hesitated…an imperceptible hesitation crossed his soul. What was that? Hadn’t he desired to go there? Why would have he hesitated then when he was so eager for it? His hand remained in the air and then fell down. What was going on? He suddenly felt he wasn’t sure anymore of what he was going to do. He mused and couldn’t understand himself at all. A hidden temptation made him ring but his hand still hesitated. Like in a flash the sad face of his wife showed up in front of his eyes. Why would have he done this to her? He got a strong feeling of embarrassment. For the first time he felt guilty. Some accusations raised their heads inside him. But why were all these happening to him now? Without being able to explain it, he understood he was not able to continue his plan. Something mysterious, inexplicable made him give up to his initial intention.
He left, moving back slowly, with his head down. Then his mobile rang. He was called by the woman with whom he had the date. He didn’t answer.
Unwittingly, effortlessly, more and more insistently the face of his wife appeared in his heart. Then he wished he could have been with her. He hadn’t felt that for so long. He had been touched by a divine grace. The grace of her hidden prayer brought him to a secret date.
Very late in the evening the last bus arrived in town. Slightly bending, carefully, his wife was getting down from it but before her foot touched the ground a hand caught hers gently. She raised her head happily and felt as if she saw her husband for the first time. With a bright smile they embraced, they kissed each other as if they had been at their first date.
In the soft winter night, carried by the wind, under the roof of the bus station, the Christmas carols filled the air. The trees clad in a cloud of glittering lights were spreading their glow all over. But now they had the feast in their hearts, which were filled by the joy of Nativity. Their merry faces and their bright eyes were lit with this holy joy.
They didn’t speak much, but with tears in their eyes they said:
“Merry Christmas, darling! “
“It will be a happy one for sure, my dearest,” she whispered while walking embraced. And all the people who saw them then walking together through the divine light of Christmas were going to speak for a long time about their quiet but true impassioned love story…