There are always little jobs that need to be done around the church, even when things are quiet. Father Tom had been doing battle with a blocked drain in the car park for most of the morning, and when he finally got it free, he was half an hour late for lunch with Jane. He hurried home, his tummy rumbling away, and worried about upsetting his housekeeper by being tardy. Father Tom bustled through the back door, already apologising for being late, before the lock had a chance to snick closed.
“Gosh, so sorry, Jane. I got distracted,” he said, breathing in the wonderful aromas filling the kitchen, making his tummy redouble its noises. Jane was ironing his shirts in the corner of the kitchen and smiled a forgiving smile.
“Not to worry, Father, its only stew. I had plenty to be getting on with while I was waiting. Wash your hands and I'll dish it up,” she said unplugging the iron.
Father Tom hung his jacket on the back of the door and went to scrub the drain grime from under his finger nails. On the way into the downstairs bathroom, he noticed a phone message lying on the hall table.
“When did Mr Kelly ring?” Father Tom called into the kitchen. Mr Kelly was the principle of the secondary school where Father Tom sometimes gave religion classes.
“Oh, I forgot about that, about an hour ago, Father.”
“Did he say what he wanted?”
“No, Father, just something about teachers, and chickenpox.”
“I better give him a call ,” said Father Tom, lifting the phone from is cradle.
Ten minutes later, Father Tom entered the kitchen scratching his fluffy black beard, and looking bemused.
“Is everything alright?” asked Jane.
“Yes, grand,” said Father Tom, sitting down at the table before a steaming bowl of stew.
“Does Mr Kelly need you to cover some classes?” asked Jane, as she filled her own bowl with stew and sat opposite Father Tom.
“Well, no, and yes,” he said cryptically, slurping a mouthful of meaty juice from his spoon. Jane cocked her eyebrows, Tom took another spoon full of broth, watching his housekeeper watch him, knowing she wouldn't look away until he told her more.
“He wanted me to supervise a school tour, if you must know. It seems, several of the students, and the teachers, have been stricken with chickenpox. He is short handed and suck for someone to go on the trip. As I am listed on the faculty, if even only occasionally, I am insured to help supervise the tour.”
“And are you going?”
“Why not, sounds like fun?”
“They're going to France,” said Father Tom, flatly. “For a week!”
“And you said no? Why in heavens did you say that? It’s not like its busy.”
“Managing a few teenagers for a few classes is one thing, being cooped up with them day and night for a week? I’m not sure I could cope.”
“Ah, Father. Of course you’d be grand. They're teenagers’ not wild animals.”
It was Father Tom’s turn to throw a knowing look. Jane smiled, before say, “Never thought I'd see you being scared by anything, never mind a few spotty teenagers.”
“Fifth years, to be exact. Nearly men and women.”
“See, nothing to worry about. I'd jump at the chance to go Paris.”
“Lourdes? They are hardly going to be wild kids, now are they? You love Lourdes.”
“I know, I nearly said yes when I heard that,” said Father Tom, dunking a chunk of bread into his stew. Jane said nothing more while they finished their meal. She knew Father Tom was running things over in his mind. He was like that, he needed time to think things through before he made a decision. When lunch was over and the washing up was done, she said,“You should go, Father. I’m sure Father Bobby would have no trouble covering the few services for you.”
Father Tom ruffled his beard and looked out the back window at the rolling hills behind the house. “Lourdes is wonderful this time of year, and it would be a shame if the tour was cancelled because they could not get a supervisor.”
“You can’t let the kids down,” Jane said.
“Blast it, I’ll go. I had better ring Mr Kelly and tell him,” said Father Tom, beaming.
“When are they leaving?” asked Jane, as Tom walked toward the hall.
“In the morning, first thing,” said Father Tom. As he picked up the phone he heard Jane say, “I’d better be getting on with the ironing, in that case.”
The next day, Father Tom was watching from the sitting room window, waiting for the bus to arrive. Jane fussed around him like a Mother getting a toddler ready for his first day at school.
“Are you sure you have your passport?” she called, as she rushed here and there, checking and rechecking his small bag for essentials.
“Right here,” said Father Tom, patting the breast pocket of his jacket.
“And your wallet?”
Father Tom reached behind him and rested a shovel sized hand on his right buttock. The old leather wallet was so well molded to his body, he often couldn’t tell if it was there or not. His fingers rested on the familiar bulge, “Got it!”
Jane appeared in the doorway with a hand full of underwear and socks, unzipping his small suitcase, and forced them inside. Being a priest, there's not much need for multiple combinations of clothing, it was one-size fits all, for him. Seven clean shirts, three undershirts, a dozen black socks, seven pairs of underwear, one spare pants and he was ready for the week ahead.
“I have enough of them already?” he said, seeing more y-fronts vanishing into the bag.
“You never know, Father, you can never have too much clean underwear. Do you have your phone?”
“I do, but I don’t know why? It’ll hardly work all the way over there.”
“They have roaming thing these days. It’s best to have it in case of emergencies,” said Jane, the sage.
“Like a sudden outbreak of silent surliness, or exploding acne?”
“Be serous, Father.”
“I am only going along to make up the numbers, Jane. There will be other teachers doing all that kind of thing. Mr Kelly said to think of it as a free holiday.”
“I know you too well too believe that for a second. If there is any trouble going, you’re sure to be smack bang in the middle of it,” said Jane, with an amused frown. Father
Tom had to smile at that, because he knew she was right. All he ever wanted was a quiet existance, and to do the right thing, but life constantly seemed to have other ideas, at least it made his days interesting. At that moment, a fifty two seat coach appeared at the top of the road, and rocked its way slowly toward the front gate.
“The bus is here,” he shouted, and he heard Jane rushing around in the kitchen, banging things and talking to herself. Father Tom shrugged on his overcoat, and hefted his bag. As he walked into the hall, Jane came rushing at him, pushing a package, wrapped in grease-proof-paper, into his hand.
“A few cakes, for the journey,” she said, whooshing him out the door by flapping her tea-towel at him.
Father Tom turned to give a small wave as the coach pulled up outside the gate. The door opened and Father Tom took his first step on the road to France. When his head cleared the handrail, he got his first glimpse of the students. He was expecting a rampaging horde of hormone riddled barbarians, minus the beards, but he was pleasantly surprised that the coach was serene and calm. Yes, there was a happy rumble of excited conversation, but nothing like the level of anarchy he had expected. Father Tom looked around for the teachers in charge. A young couple in the front seat smiled at him and said,” Welcome aboard, Father.”
“Thanks,” mumbled Father Tom still not sure whether they were students or faculty. They could be no more than nineteen or twenty, by the look of them. The girl reached out her hand to Father Tom and said, “Michelle Walsh, French teacher, and this is Damien O’Shea, woodwork,” she said, both shaking Father Tom’s hand.
“Lovely to meet you both,” said Tom, with a huge smile, but still searching around for the more senior teachers. “Where are the rest of the teachers?”
“Just us, I am afraid, Father,” said Mr O’Shea, with a shrug.
“Oh,” said Tom, a note of fear in his voice.
“Don’t worry, Father. There are only thirty students, and they are a fairly harmless bunch,” said Ms Walsh, with a reassuring smile. Father Tom smiled back at her, and took the seat beside them, resting his bag on the floor. The driver of the bus got up and lifted Father Tom’s case,“I’ll throw that in the luggage compartment for you, Father.”
“Can’t it stay here for now?” asked Tom.
“No way, Father, health and safety regulations. That bag would be like a cannon ball, flying through the air, in the event of a crash, taking off heads and limbs as it goes,” said the driver, sternly, taking Father Tom’s bag to stow it in the luggage compartment under the bus.
Soon they were on their way, the winding hedgerows of rural Ireland guiding them ever closer to the southern coast, and the ferry terminal. Father Tom was soon feeling right at home in the company of the young teachers, even if he wished they were a bit more numerous. After about an hour, Father Tom decided it was time to make the acquaintance of the teenagers. There had been an excited hum coming from the back of the bus since he'd got on. The noise was far from a ruckus, but it was slightly more energetic than he was used to. As Father Tom moved through the bus, he was greeted warmly and genuinely by all the teenage boys and girls, but as soon as he moved on there were muted giggles behind cupped hands. That was until he came across Duncan Mulholland. Duncan had a cherub face and an unruly mop of red hair, with a galaxy of freckles spanning his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. Duncan smiled beatifically up at Father Tom, and held out his hand.
“Hi-yea Father, I hear you’re the man that saved the day,” the young lad said.
Father Tom laughed in embarrassment, “I would hardly say that.”
“Ah, come on, I heard we wouldn’t be going at all, if it wasn’t for you.”
Father Tom felt the heat of pride flush his cheeks. “What's your name, may I ask?”
“Duncan, Father, but you can call me anything you like, so long as it is not too early in the morning,” said the cheeky ginger chappie in front of him. Father Tom had to admit, he was taken with young Duncan.
After a few minutes of friendly banter, Father Tom moved to meet the rest of the kids. When Father Tom returned to his seat he said, “Well, there a lovely bunch of kids. Particularly that young lad, Duncan.”
Father Tom was shocked at the stern looks that clouded the faces of both teachers.
“Duncan! Damien would be a better name for that little devil,” said Ms Walsh.
“But he was so charming.”
“Charming and psychotic. I’d not turn my back on that one, Father,” said Mr O’Shea, in a serous whisper. Father Tom smiled, thinking that the teachers were taking the micky out of him, but their faces were stony, which killed the smile on his lips.
“He can’t be that bad?”
“I nearly refused to come on the trip when I heard he was coming,” said Ms Walsh, and there was no trace of humour in her voice.
“Me too,” agreed Mrs O’Shea.
Father Tom sat back in his seat and wondered how a five foot tall, ginger teenager, could ever be as bad as these people were making out. The mystery didn't last long.
About an hour before they reached Cork, a mini riot broke out in the back of the bus. Two well-muscled boys faced each other, with killer looks on their faces, while a gaggle of girls screamed encouragement, or just screamed. Mr O’Shea and Father Tom, raced down the bus, splitting up the warring factions, before any actual blows were struck. In the middle of it all, Duncan sat with self-satisfied smile on his face. It turned out, he had told one of the boys his girlfriend had been cheating on him with his best friend, the guy happened to be two seats behind them. The rest took care of itself.
“See, and we're not even out of the country,” said Mr O’Shea, as he sat in the back of the bus directly behind one of the agitated boys, while Father Tom moved up the bus, to keep any eye on the other guy and his crying girlfriend.
So began the battle of France.
Like the end of the second world war, it all started with the landings at Calais. As it was an overnight crossing, the students were allocated bedrooms on board the rusting old ferry. Every last person on board was woken at ten to five in the morning by screaming emergency bells. It turned out, that six of the students had congregated in one room, gotten rotten drunk on vodka, and smoked upward of a hundred cigarettes between them. It was the fog of smoke in the cabin which set of the fire alarm.
The Cigarettes and booze for the party were supplied by the one and only, Duncan Mulholland. Unlike the others, he’d left long before things had gotten out of hand. The captain made an appearance to tear strips of Father Tom and the teachers. It was beyond humiliating. That incident was closely followed by the siege of the Lourve. Father Tom rounded a corner to see Alan Clarke, standing on the plinth with the Venus De Milo, frozen in place by two semi-automatic assault rifles aimed directly at him, while he still cupped one of the cold marble breasts. It was a close run thing but they managed to keep young Clarke out of the clink.
The next three days were hell on earth for Father Tom. He got nearly no sleep, constantly listening out for the sounds of a party, or a fight breaking out. They toured the Hennessey facility, along with a vineyard, both of which offered endless opportunities for trouble, which by some miracle, didn’t happen. In short, by the time the bus was on the motorway for Lourdes, Father Tom was a spent force, while Duncan Mulholland seemed to be only warming up.
It was late in the evening when they reached their hotel in Lourdes. By the time everyone had checked into their rooms and eaten dinner, they were fit for nothing but bed. The next morning, they attended Mass, and Father Tom led them on a tour of the shrine. He was in his element, he held the attention of the whole group, as he recounted the story of The Virgin Mary appearing to Bernadette. The fact that Bernadette was just fourteen made the whole thing resonate with the students. Father Tom was bombarded by questions.
One girl mused “Her friends must have thought she was on drugs or something, when she started seeing magical women appearing out of nothing.”
A boy asked, “Did the church pay Bernadette when she became famous, the way Nike sponsors Rory Mcilroy?”
Another boy asked, “Why had Mary appeared to a farm girl, and not a priest or a nun?” Father Tom had no answer to that one, other than, “She must have had her reasons.”
It was about then that they became aware of a growing knot of excitement people near the Holy Spring. “It’s a miracle,” Father Tom heard a man say, as he rushed by them. Father Tom, and the whole group, rushed after him. People at the front of the crowd began dropping to their knees in prayer. That was when Father Tom saw Duncan Mulholland, standing beside an overturned wheelchair, his arms stretched toward the sky, giving loud and convincing thanks to Holy Mary for returning his legs and his sight to him. In his right hand, Duncan was holding a blind man’s white cane.
“You’re going to hell for this one, Mulholland,” growled Father Tom, as he pushed through the crowd, who were growing drunk on rapture.
“Put that down, and get away from there!” said Father Tom, when he was within shouting distance of Duncan.
“He’s been cured!” cried a woman who had tears running down her face.
“I only wish that was true,” sighed Tom, struggling through the edge of the crowd. His hand eventually fell on Duncan’s shoulder. “You’re in so much trouble,” snarled Father Tom. Now he had a hold on the ginger rapscallion, people in the crowd began to protest. Father Tom could feel the energy sizzle off them, this could be a dangerous situation for them both.
“He’s not cured, sorry about this everyone,” bellowed Father Tom, dragging Duncan after him by the scruff of the neck.
“Yes he was! I saw it with my own eyes. His chair was thrown sideways by the power of our Lord, and the boy stood up. He said, he'd never walked before in his life!” yelled a man, right at the front edge of the crowd.
“He was walking fine this morning when he ran down the stairs for breakfast,” said Father Tom, breaking through the ring of startled faces. Duncan and Father Tom both felt the mood of the crowd change. They feel foolish, deceived, and were getting enraged. One second, Father Tom was pulling Duncan along after him, the next, he was trying to keep up with the young lad, as he raced away from the mob.
“Come on Father before they lynch us!” yelled Duncan over his shoulder.
Once they were safely away, Father Tom turned the boy to face him, “How could you do that? You should be ashamed of yourself. This is a place of pilgrimage and you make a mockery of it, and of people’s faith.”
“Come on Father, it was just a joke.”
“You’re a fool, boy, and a user. I always try and see the good in people, but when I look at you, I can see nothing but misery and nastiness.” Duncan’s face morphed into a sneer, but Father Tom knew it was a mask. Tom rose up to his full height and let his fury burn in his eyes, the sneer slipped from the boy’s face like butter sliding from hot toast.
“I think you are a terrified little kid, hiding behind a façade of bravado and thuggery, but here's the kicker. I can’t be bothered to go digging through all that muck to find a person I might like, neither will anyone else in their right mind. One day, you will realise that what you show the world, is what you will be, and by that time, it will be too late for you. Your only friends will be thick fools like you’ve been pretending to be, nobody decent will want you in their lives, not because of who you are, but who they THINK you are.”
Tom watched Duncan’s face, his clever eyes darted here and there, as his mind whirred. There was no doubt, Duncan was extraordinarily clever, but clever like a weasel. He was about to say something but he clamped his mouth shut, and the sneer shuffled back onto his face. Father Tom, knew the boy wasn't ready to face the world, yet, and the world could do without this miscreant. Father Tom took the boys shoulder, and with a flick of his wrist, turned him one hundred and eighty degrees.
As Father Tom passed Mr O’Shea and Ms Walsh, he said, “Can you manage by yourself for the rest of the day?”
“Yes, but where are you taking him?”
“He’s confined to barracks for the rest of the trip, and someone has to guard him,” said Father Tom, moving the slowing boy along with the tip of his finger. The rest of the students started to laugh, and the reality of the situation struck Duncan, Tom saw it on his face, none of them liked him, not really.
The next morning, everyone boarded the coach. Duncan was put sitting alone in the very front seat. Ms Walsh and Mr O’Shea sat on the seat to his left, while Father Tom took the seat directly behind him. Twenty minutes later, they were on the motorway and heading north, for home. The energy level was far different from the one that filled the coach on the morning they'd left Ireland. The conversation level was muted, and the kids seemed at ease, even more mature, than they had a week before. The only dark cloud was hanging directly over Duncan Mulholland’s head.
Father Tom yawned widely. He'd barely slept the night before, constantly checking on Duncan.
“Why not throw yourself down in the back seat for a while, Father. We can keep an eye on public enemy number one,” said Ms Walsh with a smile.
“I think I might take you up on that,” said Father Tom, and made his way down the back of the bus. A bench seat ran the full width of the coach. Within minutes, he was curled up into a ball, and snoring soundly. Father Tom was still asleep when the coach stopped at a service station for a quick half hour break. Mr O’Shea was going to wake Father Tom, but he looked so comfortable, he decided to leave him sleep. Everyone else got off the coach and went for something to eat in the huge service complex.
Father Tom woke about fifteen minutes later. He stretched and looked around. Father Tom went to the front, but the door was locked. Unfortunately, so was the door to the bathroom, and his bladder was screaming to be emptied. Father Tom returned to the back of the bus and tried the emergency door, which opened. He clambered down and slammed the door closed behind him. Father Tom went in search of a bathroom, just as the students appeared from an entrance a little further along the building.
About fifteen minutes later, Tom reappeared from the service station, Latte in one hand, chocolate muffin in the other. There was no sign of the bus, he retraced his steps, in case he had come out a different door. No, he ended back in the same spot. The coach should be right here. Tom franticly scanned the expansive parking area. There was no doubt about it, the coach was gone. Father Tom returned to the spot the coach should have been, doing circles on the spot, half eaten muffin in one hand, cold cup of milky coffee in the other.
“I’z all things OK?” enquired a sweet French voice behind him. Father Tom turned, feeling like a lost ten year old, and said, “They’ve gone without me.”
The girl was about twenty three, or four, years old. She had long straight blond hair, and her flawless skin was tanned to a rich chestnut colour. She wore a loose fitting t-shirt, which dripped off one shoulder, revealing an inch of collar bone under firm muscle. A pair shorts, made from cut-off jeans, sprouted a forest of white threads, dancing across the curve of her brown legs, and on her feet, she wore flip-flops.
“English?” she asked.
“Irish,” said Father Tom, unable to muster a smile. He'd been abandoned on the roadside, after all, in just the clothes he was standing in. The thought hit him like a hammer blow, and he dropped the muffin and coffee on the ground and began to search his pockets. Besides a handful of change, he had no wallet, and no phone. They were in his jacket, lying on the seat behind Duncan Mulholland. The only other thing he had on him, was his passport, which the man at the hotel reception had returned as he left the hotel. As luck would have it, his bag was already in the luggage compartment of the bus, so he had shoved it into the back pocket of his pants.
“I am sure zey will come back for you,” said the lovely girl, trying to console the clearly upset man.
“No. No they won’t. They think I am asleep in the back seat, or they wouldn’t have left. I’m stuck here,” said Tom starting to sulk a little.
“Were was ze bus going?”
“I mean, where was it going today? Ireland is too far to be getting in one day.”
“Oh! I see what you mean. I’m not sure, but it’s a town to the north of here.”
“How much had it been gone?” she said with a smile.
“Fifteen minutes, perhaps less,” said Father Tom.
“Come, we go north too. We will catch your bus,” she said, taking Father Tom’s hand and running with him toward a VW camper van parked close by.
“I don’t even know your name,” said Father Tom.
“Evelina, and you?” she asked.
“Tom, Father Tom,” he said tapping his dog collar.
“Yez, I know this,” she said with a smile, and tapping her own throat. “I do not pick up strange men in parking spaces all the time.”
When Evelina got to the camper, there were two other stunning girls, standing outside. Evelina spoke quickly, and excitedly, in French. Machine gun fast sentences spilled out, with lots of pointing at Tom, quickly followed by a cheer from the two other girls. Evelina pushed Tom toward the passenger door, while the other girls climbed in the back of the camper. “Hurry, Tom, we catch your bus!” laughed Evelina and she pulled out of the parking space in a squeal of tyre smoke and shrieks of delighted laughter from the back of the van.
Evelina kept her foot hard to the floor, but the needle only crept past one hundred and forty Kilometres when they were going downhill. As the minutes passed, and they slowly over took lorries and coaches, Tom craned his neck forward trying to spot his coach. Evelian introduced the other girls as Nadeen and Solange. They were best friends since school days, and they were all surfers. It happened they were on their way to La Rochelle for a party, then going to spend a week following the surf around the west coast of France. The motorway station they had just left was on the south side of Bordeaux, the girls all agreed Tom's bus was more than likely heading for Tours or Nantes, which are all fairly close to La Rochelle. They were sure they'd catch Tom’s coach before then, flag it down, and get Tom back aboard.
As the kilometres passed, their excited giggles became fewer, as the thrill of the chase began to wear thin. The girls asked Tom about Ireland, and said it was their hope to surf the Cliffs of Moher one day. After an hour and a half, Evelian eased up on the accelerator.
“We should have passed them by now, if they are still on the motorway,” said Evelian, sadly.
“Can you not call them?” asked Solange.
“No phone, and I don’t know the number for the teachers,” said Father Tom.“When we get to the next service station, I'll call home. They'll be able to get in touch with someone on the bus, to tell them where I am,” said Father Tom. "They can come back and pick me up from there."
“But you said you have no money, ez on the bus, yes?”
“I have a little money, enough to call my housekeeper in Ireland anyway,” said Father Tom.
“No, you stay with us. We stop, call your housekeeper to tell the bus we take you to La Rochelle, she tell the bus to come meet us there. Good idea?” asked Solange.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” said Father Tom with a smile.
At the next service station they did just that. Tom explained what had happened to Jane and what the plan was. Jane said she would ring Mr Kelly to ring one of the teachers, to pick him up in La Rochcelle. Father Tom gave Jane, Solange’s mobile number.
They were back on the road about an hour when Evelian said, “Not much to go, Father Tom.” Just then Father Tom heard Solange’s phone ring in the back of the camper. He turned around to find himself staring at a topless, and nearly bottomless, Nadeen.
“Holy God!” said Father Tom spinning around, his face as red as a beetroot. Behind him, the girls laughed. Solange leaned forward handing the phone to Tom, “It’s is your Jane, for you.”
Tom took the phone, keeping his eye intently to the front, because Solange was only wearing a tiny bra on top, and nothing else.
“Father, what’s all the laughing about?” asked Jane.
“That’s hard to explain,” said Father Tom, which caused even more laughing from the girls. As they joked in French, he heard the word “Hard” giggled more than once, and went even redder.
“Where is the bus, did you find out.”
“Yes, apparently they were more than half way to Nantes when they realised you were missing. They turned the bus around, and are actually back in Bordeaux now. The bus driver said he has to take his regulated eight hours rest, so can’t move the bus anymore tonight. The school has organised a hostel for them all to say at. The thing is, in the morning, they'll have to drive straight through, to get to the ferry on time. They said you will have to meet them at La Harve, or take a later ferry by yourself.”
“I have no money, Jane. My wallet is on the bus.”
“They told me. I'll make a money transfer to La Rochelle in the morning. You can get a train or a bus to La Harve then.”
“But what about tonight, I have nowhere to stay,” said Father Tom.
“You stay with us,” said Evelina, beside him.
“What was that?” asked Jane.
“The girls said I could stay with them.”
“That’s great,” said Jane.
“I can’t, you don’t understand, it’s a tiny van and they are… well, girls.”
“Holy God, Father. They will hardly bite you,” said Jane.
“We have a tent,” offered Evelina.
“You have? And you wouldn’t mind me using it?”
“You’re our Tom, we mind you,” said Evelina, with a smile.
“Looks like I am staying with the girls, will you ring in the morning with the transfer details?”
“Sure I will,” said Jane. “And, Father Tom?”
“Behave,” she said, with a twinkle in her voice.
“Get a way out of it,” laughed Tom, and hung up the phone. He held it over his shoulder without looking back.
“It’s ok, Tom. We are good girls again,” giggled Nadeen. Solange took the phone and smiled at Tom. “Sorry, we were getting our party clothes on. Sorry about the…seins.”
“About the what?” asked Father Tom.
“Seins,” said Solange, searching for the word in English, then said, “Boobies,” grabbing her chest for emphases. Father Tom went beetroot again and everyone laughed.
“Surfer girls are not shy,” said Evelina, beside him. “Always running around beaches and car parks half naked, it’s natural, yes.”
“I guess so, but still a bit of a shock for the old system when ‘Seins’ appear, and you weren’t expecting them.”
More laughing followed, and lots of teasing.
It didn't take long to reach the outskirts of La Rochelle. Evelina pulled the camper into a small woodland park, which had a picnic area, and said, “We will stay here for the night, our friend lives close by.”
“Father Tom set up his tent on a grassy area near the camper van, while Evelina got changed for the party, and the other girls prepared some coffee. Nadeen appeared at the opening of the tent with a sleeping bag and a pillow for Tom.
“This is for you, Mr Tom. Come, food is ready,” she said, with a dazzling smile. Father Tom followed her to a picnic table which was laid out with steaming coffee cups, crusty French bread, cheese and cold meats. Father Tom didn’t realise just how hungry he was, until he took the first bite. When the meal was over, Solange and Nadeen began clearing away the dishes.
“Leave that for me, I will do the clearing up, you head off to your party,” said Tom, getting to his feet.
“Yes, it’s party time! Said Nadeen, with a delighted squeal and a little hop in the air. In no time the dishes were done, and Father Tom walked toward his tent, while the girls locked the camper.
“Come, come,” said Evelina to Tom. Father Tom just looked at her. The three girls ran at him giggling, “No Tom, no party,” said Solange, and they crowded around him. How could he say no?
The party started out in a house where there were at least two dozen people gathered. Father Tom was welcomed like a long lost brother, and when the story of how the girls found him was told, he was elevated to the level of honoured guest. The table groaned under the weight of food, while bottles of wine seemed to come endlessly, and lively conversation rang through the house. Father Tom’s glass seemed to be perpetually full, and everyone wanted to hear more about his adventures across France.
About midnight, everyone piled into taxies, and were whisked away to a local night club. Tom pleaded to be let go back to the tent, but they would have none of it. The night club was dark, and the nose was tremendous, but Tom was having a whale of a time. It might have been the five or six glasses of wine, or perhaps it was the two ‘Jagerbombs’ he had downed, but the music was actually growing on him. Evelina, Solange and Nadeen were getting plenty of male attention but they refused to leave Tom alone. After a while, he noticed Nadeen slipping into a dark corner with a tall handsome young man that she had been dancing with, on and off, for the whole night. When the music eventually stopped, Nadeen was nowhere in sight.
Outside the night club, Solange hailed a taxi, but Father Tom said, “Shouldn’t we wait for Nadeen?”
“It could be a long wait, Father,” said Solange, with a knowing smile, and slipped into the back of the cab beside a tired looking Evelina. After a last look around, Father Tom slid in beside them.
Goodness knows what time it was when Tom woke, but it was still dark. He listened and could hear muffled voices. He couldn't understand what was being said, but something about the tone made him unzip the front of his tent. Close by, a black Citron had appeared during the night. It was moving up and down, as the people inside trashed around. The voices were coming from there, but they sounded strained, even angry. Tom decided to take a closer look. He stole up on the car, the front of which was empty, but there was a twisted knot of limbs in the back seat. It was hard to see in through the fogged up windows, so he got closer still.
“Non, non, non,” said a woman’s voice, and a girls arm struck out at the bare back of a man. It doesn’t matter the language, a man knows 'no' when he hears it. Tom walked over and slapped on the roof, “What’s going on in there?”
The snarling face belonging to the boy who had dance with Nadeen earlier, whipped over the naked shoulder and glared out the window. Over the man’s shoulder, Father Tom saw Nadeen, pinned and crying in his grip.
“Foutre fluage,” snarled the man.
Nadeen shouted, “Help, Mr Tom!” Then she began to struggle.
Tom yanked at the door handle, but it was locked. The man struck Nadeen in the face, stunning her, and tried to climb into the driver seat. Tom wasn’t going to let him get away. He pulled back his elbow and drove it into the window, smashing it into a thousand pieces. It hurt like hell, but that didn't matter. Tom flicked up the lock and yanked open the door. Tom grabbed the half naked young man by the leg, and hauled him out of the car, throwing the man across the paved car park. Tom dived into the backseat to help the dazed Nadeen. Father Tom heard Evelina call out behind him, “Look out!”
Tom turned just in time to see the blade come slicing toward his belly. Instinctively, he bowed his body backwards, away from the lethal looking blade. It sliced through shirt and flesh, Tom felt the sting of metal opening skin. The snarling man began a second slash, but Father Tom blocked the move with his left forearm. In the same instant, Tom’s balled fist exploded upwards, connecting perfectly with the French man’s jutting chin. Tom followed all the way through with his shoulder, snapping the man’s head so far over, that it disappeared behind his own back. The man didn’t stagger; he didn’t reel, he simply collapsed in a heap, out cold. Tom kicked the knife away toward the bushes, just as Evelina and Solange reached him.
While Tom kept a watch over the guy on the ground, the girls helped Nadeen into the camper. Evelina rang the Gendarme. An hour later, the still wobbly man was being loaded into the back of a police car.
“What will happen?” asked Father Tom.
“Him, probably nothing,” said Evelina.
“What! How can that be? We saw him attacking her,” said Father Tom.
“Yes, and a whole night club saw her kissing him. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is. Not all men are like you, Father, more the shame,” Evelina said, her eyes, lying hard on the man being taken away.
“Will Nadeen be alright?”
Evelina looked back at the camper where her friend was curled up under a duvet. “Yes, thanks to you. She is tough, that little one. She will not let him take life from her.”
Evelina stood on her tippy toes and planted a gentle kiss on Father Tom’s cheek. “See you in the morning,” she said with a tear in her eye, and walked toward the camper. Tom sat outside for a long time, looking up at the stars through the swaying branches of the trees, wondering how God could forgive things like tonight, simply because he was asked. It was the darkest of nights, for Nadeen, and for Tom. Tom looked at the gaping rend in his shirt, and the thin red line across his belly. If he'd been an inch closer to that blade, he might have been able to ask God those questions in person. When he eventually felt tired enough to sleep, he’d made his peace with the Big Man Upstairs. After all, he didn’t have to understand God’s ways, just to believe those ways were just.
Tom was woken the next morning by the tent being unzipped. A young tanned arm pushed through holding a piping hot mug of coffee. “Time for up, Mr Tom,” said Nadeen. He crawled out of the tent, stretching his stiff back, before taking the cup she held. He looked her over and she seemed subdued but calm.
“Are you feeling alright?” he asked, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Not my best day, but alright, yes.”
Tom looked at where the Citron still stood, it’s broken back window a reminder of what had happened.
“I think we should leave this place, and that thing behind, don’t you?” Father Tom asked, motioning at the car with his mug.
“Yes, this is what I have come to tell you. We are going,” said Nadeen, with a sad smile.
“It is best,” said Father Tom. I'll have the tent packed up for you in a few minutes.
“It’s not a rush, finish you’re coffee first,” she said, and smiled, then walked back to the camper.
Ten minutes later Tom knocked on the side of the van, the packed tent under his arm, and the empty mug in his hand. The door slid open and three happy faces peered out. Tom handed in the tent and the mug before saying, “Thanks so much for everything, you have been wonderful. I will never forget meeting you all.”
“It is the same for us,” said Solange.
“Where will you go from here?” asked Tom.
“Not we, us. This is right, yes.” said Solange, smiling at the other girls, who broke out in huge smiles.
“Yes, us, is that way it will be. It is time for a trip of a life time, to make dreams come true,” said Evelina.
“Pardon? I don’t understand?” said Father Tom, scratching his head.
“We go to Ireland, and surf under the Cliff of Moher, and you come with us. We are taking you home, Father Tom,” cried Nadeen.
“Don’t be silly, there is no need…”
“We – I want to. You are my special hero, Mr Tom. Today is a day I can face, only because of you. It was God who sent your bus away, so that you could save me last night. It was a miracle just for me. Thanks to God, thanks to you,” said Nadeen, leaping out of the van and wrapping her arms around Father Tom’s huge neck. He felt the tiny track of her tears flowing down inside his collar, and knew, the Big Man, always had a plan.
“Enough of that, you will get me started,” said Tom, when he felt he might cry himself. “If you are sure you want to do this, you must stay with me for the week, while you explore the country. Is it a deal?”
The three girls looked at each other for a second and chorused “Deal!”
When Father Tom arrived back to the village riding in a VW camper van, with a quiver of surfboards strapped to the roof, and three stunning beauties at his elbow, it sent all the gossip's tongues into overdrive. The fact that he was wearing a tie-dye t-shirt, over board-shorts, didn’t do much to help the situation. When the three skimpily clad you women ran giggling up the path into the Father Tom’s house, and stayed there a full week, the rumour-mill nearly exploded.
Although the busybodies might be looking down their noses at Father Tom, and his carry on, down in the pub, Father Tom had been raised to legendary status. In fact, some smartarse even went as far as nailing a picture of Father Tom, right next to the photo of another legend with a reputation for the ladies. Move over JFK, Father Tom is in town.
Why not get all the Father Tom stories in one handy addition.
Why not get all the Father Tom stories in one handy addition.