“I’ve come along with Emma, my sister,” Sam responded indicating to his left, “Emma, this is Talitha.” Emma looked from Theo to Talitha to Sam in a confused haze wondering if it was down to the pain that still throbbed on the side of her head.
“I met Talitha when I was waiting at the restaurant for Kathy, and Talitha,” pausing as he realised what he was about to say, and not knowing for certain who was sitting beside her, “was also waiting.”
“Theo, I think you should meet my brother Sam,” Emma responded before continuing, “it was Theo who I think Talitha was waiting for on that occasion.”
Sam had guessed that this was the situation, and decided that it would have been better if he had gone to Holland Park instead this morning. The awkward silence beckoned for a few moments before Emma beckoned for Theo and Talitha to come and sit somewhere else so they could all be together.
From what Talitha had relayed to Sam it was clear that everything wasn’t quite as rosy as she had at first hoped or assumed. They had gone for dinner but he backed off, but here he was with her, at a church service which he had gone to so, as far as he could ascertain, that he could see Emma afterwards. Sam accepted that dating rituals were complicated affairs, he had comprehensively failed to master them, but this was taking things to extremes.
Just as he thought that the situation could not become more difficult a cry came from behind him, from a voice that had lodged itself in his mind.
“Emma, Emma, I’m so glad you are okay, I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there for you, but I am now, I’ll look after you.” Kathy panted as she hugged Emma tightly only relaxing her grip when Emma winced in pain as he head was jerked to one side.
“Kathy, let me introduce you to Talitha who has come with Theo, and I don’t think you need any introduction to Sam, I gather that you’ve already met.” Sam shot a glance towards his sister realising that his encounter with Kathy had not escaped her attention.
He thought how to respond, “Yes, we were in a little bit of a tight scrap together.” Sam decided to go for the understated option, knowing that now it was out in the open, together with the likelihood that Kathy had furnished Emma with a full account of their experience and he had hid beneath concerns for her welfare to avoid having to say too much.
Sam was torn. The person he wanted to speak to most was Talitha, he wanted to find out how it had gone with Theo, he was eager to hear of how their uncertain beginning had led to this more positive of stages, and why – perhaps most of all – they were here in church. But the person he wanted to be around was Kathy. Yet he had no idea what to say. The intensity of their experience had now paled with the minor passage of time. And he was left without a bridge to open up the conversation, any avenue through Emma had evaporated with their instant and emotional reunion. Emma had also taken care of the introduction to Talitha which would have somehow allowed him to have the best of both worlds.
He was not interested in Talitha in the way that he had been so interested in Alex for so many months, or even for that matter potentially interested in Kathy. Talitha was not a potential girlfriend for Sam so he left that to one side. What Sam was less aware of as he started speaking with both Theo and Talitha was that Kathy, stood close behind, recognised Talitha from the restaurant, the fleeting glance as she had turned to lead Sam to the table ingrained in her mind, now reproduced in the church sanctuary.
Kathy had been so overcome with emotion at seeing Emma, standing, walking and in remarkably good spirits she thought considering all that she had been through. So overcome that she hadn’t initially registered Sam standing by her side. And then the tableau was completed with Theo and with the utmost shock, the girl Sam had been with in the restaurant.
As Emma explained, including Sam knowing Talitha, she wanted to walk right out of the church. It was not out of compassion for Emma, or the pleasure of seeing her again that kept her. Nor was it propriety because the worship had begun just as this all unfolded. It was a deep desire to know whether the absurd circumstances had created something of an anomaly that was not to be recreated, or triggered a more significant relational journey.
The collective discomfort of Emma, Kathy and Sam as Pastor Will chose to preach on the crucifixion rather than the traditional readings from the lectionary for the first Sunday in advent, was abundantly clear as they all tried not to betray their sidewards glances towards Talitha and Theo. It was Theo who stiffened the most visibly as the sermon moved beyond the forty minute barrier and the intricate portrait of the punishment that was dealt to Jesus was laid out for the congregation in the most graphic terms.
Emma almost got up and suggested they left before the end. Pastor Will was not a dogmatic conservative like Sam’s minister she thought but he did have a penchant for the dramatic, and what could be more theatrical aside from a full scale recreation, and even he had some restraint. Emma knew what was coming as he reached his conclusion. As he called the congregation to its feet Theo stood but Talitha stayed rooted to her seat. Maybe, Emma postulated, Theo remembered the public utterances against the thief on his previous visit and did not want to be caught in the same predicament himself.
It did not surprise Kathy that neither of Emma’s Jewish visitors responded to the call to the front. Perhaps today was not the day for them to ‘enter into a personal relationship with Jesus’. She resolved at that moment to be much more sensitive in her approach when she moved to Benin in the New Year. Kathy sought out Sam after the service, ostensibly to thank him for looking after Emma, but really because she couldn’t bear the uncertainly that had lingered all the while she was in Liverpool supposedly being spiritual and learning about cross cultural evangelism. At least, she cheered herself up by remembering, they had not diagnosed her as a complete sceptic and sent her packing. A trial trip was hastily being arranged for Kathy which if it all went well would be followed by a permanent move sometime next year.
This path framed her attitude and had done throughout the discussions of the past week. She had no idea if there was any future for her in London, she had no idea if she would stay for any reason, she did not know if love would be enough. Right now, Kathy did not have a reason and she did not have love, but she had had a remarkable experience which she wasn’t prepared to let go of quite yet.
Sam was happy to be talking to Kathy. That much was clear, but the smile that stretched across his face was matched by a hesitancy in his posture that betrayed his uncertainty, he clearly wanted to make a good impression by the effort of trying was making it nearly impossible.
Emma saw this minor drama playing itself out as she spoke with Theo and Talitha, they were not offended by the sermon, she was relieved to find out. Talitha had rather abruptly quipped that she was well aware before today what Christians believed. Emma was faced with the awkward situation of what she had initially thought would be her and Theo with Sam conveniently slipping off at some point which she knew she could gently encourage, turning into a more social affair with Talitha and Kathy joining the party. Emma looked at Kathy, standing tall and self confident in front of Sam whose additional height was negated by his disbelief. Kathy threw her hand through her long brown hair and moved round to take Sam away from the evidently prying ears she sensed hung close by.
After the service Theo wondered if Talitha would just take her leave and spare him the agony of having to endue an afternoon that should have been easy and joyful become instead marred by awkwardness and mutual suspicion. Theo was no closer to having any idea of whether he was prepared to commit to Talitha, he reasoned against it because given this morning’s events surely he would have expected to react strongly against it unless he had an ulterior motive to want to squash any such criticism. He also knew that Talitha was nowhere near as offended as she deigned to pretend she had been by the comments.
When they left the church Talitha followed Theo before Emma could get between them. She was not particularly suspicious of her motives, but still felt that the presence of an other girl so closely involved in Theo’s life threatened to destabilise their nascent relationship. Talitha also saw that Sam was trying hard to intervene on Kathy’s conversation with Emma, but not to speak with his sister.
It hadn’t occurred to Emma that Sam might be interested in Talitha after Kathy had recounted their experience on the train. But watching them suggested that there was a familiarity that he lacked with Kathy, a bond that was not fraught with the shadow boxing of expected affection, but instead freed by alternative agendas that each mutually acknowledged. Kathy, however, Emma noted did not necessarily see their ease in such a generous light.
Throughout their lunch as Emma told as much of her story as she could remember and Sam and Kathy duetted their own near death experience the atmosphere stilled and most of the uncomfortable silences gave way to content pauses as they left the remains of their food to one side and absorbed the harrowing tales they told. Theo had not decided what he was to do. He say nothing from Emma that gave him the green light to let Talitha go, but nor had his affection for her diminished.
Kathy’s frustration reached the point that as they left the pizza parlour she pulled Sam to one side and almost forced him to speak as she waited. His silence eventually abated, “so it’s been a bit awkward today. I’m sorry I’ve not been in touch this week, I knew you were going to be busy, and I was looking after Emma, and worrying about her took up a lot of my head space.” As weak and feeble as Sam knew his answer sounded it was the best he could conjure despite knowing that it would be called on before too long. It was also not completely accurate because although he was concerned about Emma, his compassion was slotted around his infatuation for this girl who he was thrust into contact with first through manipulation which never quite happened, and secondly by chance where they ended up aiding each other’s rescue.
“Why didn’t you tell Emma you met me? It’s not as though you had to say everything that happened, it would just have seemed less strange than you keeping completely quite.”
“I knew that if I said I met you I would be bombarded with a barrage of questions about whether I liked you and what happened, and where it was going from here. And I wanted to avoid all that, and I don’t know if I don’t still want to avoid that. I guess, that is exactly what I’ve been doing all week and all day today. Trying to avoid what might happen next.”
Kathy started walking faster to catch up with the others but turned to Sam “I’m going to Benin next week. Just for ten days, but if it all goes well I’ll stay a lot longer when I go the next time.”