It was after the midday mass and the sanctuary was empty. Father O’Reilly lingered in front of the beautiful wooden bust of the Madonna and Child. He said a prayer and then blessed himself. He stood there for several minutes.
He had contacted Aileen to tell her that he couldn’t officiate at her wedding in May and the reason why. She was shocked but supportive. She wished him all the best and expressed hope that he would still attend the wedding. He informed her that he had arranged for Father Murphy to perform the wedding ceremony. He was the priest who took over from him at the parish when he left Inistioge for Cape Town.
In two weeks he was going to be gone from this Parish and Cape Town. Returning to Inistioge was bittersweet. It would be nice to see the folks again and spend time on the hill overlooking River Nore but his heart would always remain in South Africa where Zendaya was. Zendaya…He closed his eyes in despair.
“Good afternoon, Father O’Reilly.”
At first he thought he was imagining things but then he heard footsteps. His eyes opened and he swung around. His heart leaped in his chest, his expression becoming tense as he watched Zendaya slowly approach him. All sorts of conflicting emotions raged inside him. He ached to take her in his arms but it would be wrong, irreverent to do so there in the sanctuary. He wanted to lash out at her for leaving. His hands tightened into fists at his sides. “Did you come to take your pound of flesh?” he muttered tightly when she reached him.
She looked up at him, confused. “What do you mean?”
“Why are you here, Zendaya?”
“I heard that you were leaving.”
“I suppose I ought to be grateful that you came to say goodbye to me in person this time.”
“I didn’t come to say goodbye.”
“Why did you come then?”
“I wanted to see you, Cian.”
His eyes darkened when she called him by his first name and he took a step towards her. “Zendaya…” He froze when they heard voices outside. “We should go somewhere else and talk.”
“Let’s go to the river,” she suggested. How she longed to touch his face.
“All right,” he agreed and preceded her out of the sanctuary. There was no one outside. The coast was clear. They left the church through the side entrance and made their way to the river. It was a beautiful, sunny day.
When they got there, they stopped and faced each other. Zendaya’s heart was racing as she met his penetrating gaze. “Did you get my Christmas card?”
“Yes. I would have sent you one but I didn’t know where you were. Where did you go after you left the parish?”
“I went to Soweto and stayed with a family I met through Father Botha. I spent Christmas with them. How was your Christmas?”
“How do you think it was? Do you have any idea of what you’ve put me through these past few months?”
“I’m sorry. I explained in my letter why I had to leave.”
“You did what you thought was best for you. You didn’t care about me or my feelings.”
“That’s not true,” she protested. “I was thinking about you when I decided to leave. You were a priest. I didn’t want you to get into trouble on account of me.”
“You and I had been lovers for over two years and no one found out about it. We were careful.”
“I felt guilty about what we were doing and I knew that there wasn’t any future for us so I had to do what I believed was sensible and right.”
“Do you still feel that way?”
She shook her head. “No. I went to Johannesburg and saw Father Botha. It was he who told me that you were leaving the parish and the priesthood and the reason why.”
“I didn’t tell him whom I was in love with.”
“I think he knows that it’s me and that’s why he asked me if my reason for leaving was the same as yours.”
A muscle began to pulsate in Father O’Reilly’s cheek. “Is it?”
She nodded. “Yes. I left because I had fallen in love with you. You were the reason why I couldn’t marry Anesu but since there wasn’t any chance of a future with you, I resigned myself to becoming a spinster.”
“Oh, Zendaya…” he moaned thickly and reaching for her, he pulled her against him, making her gasp. And then his lips were on hers feverishly, urgently as all the pent up feelings gushed out. She put her arms around his neck, her own response fierce. In between frenzied kisses, he muttered, “I love you.”
They spent the rest of the afternoon up there on the hill just talking and making plans for the future. That night, he went to her room and stayed there until the next morning. Several weeks later, they flew to Ireland. He took her to his home in Inistioge where they stayed for a month before heading to Dublin. There they got married. Father O’Reilly left the Catholic Church to become an Anglican parish minister. He happily adjusted to his new life. As wife, homemaker and expectant mother, Zendaya’s life was now complete.
Source: The Journal