The mist started to lift off the peaks of the buildings littering the skyline as Talitha made her way towards the church. The first time had been an accident, she had felt coerced, almost tricked into a building which she expected to despise as well as all that it contained and stood for. But the following week as she tried to sort her thoughts from her emotion she returned. She picked the very early service mostly so she would not be faced with the semi familiar faces that would ask all sorts of difficult questions she did not want to be drawn into. But it also offered something more like what she expected from church and rather counter-intuitively Talitha found some comfort in that.
The absence of bright blue shirts was also a welcome relief to Talitha as she hid among her anonymity. There was no such early start on this occasion, nor would their be any escape from either the clutches of the welcome team or the inevitable recognition from one of the few people she’d met when she’d followed Theo through the doors a month before.
On the eve of her visit Talitha had been tempted to get in touch with Emma. But that would require Theo knowing of her plans and that would create more complexity than she could deal with. This needed to be her space, her time to work out what she wanted. It wasn’t outside of her most extreme hope that maybe she would have one of these words from God they had gone on about, she wanted to know whether Theo really liked her, she needed some help and if he wasn’t going to make it clear then she might as well chance it with God.
But as she walked in she nearly turned around on the spot and left before allowing anyone to notice her presence. Unfortunately for her spontaneous moment of intended acquittal as she twisted she nearly fell into the arms of the girl who worked with Theo. “Emma,” with a surprise in her voice that suggested it was Emma’s presence that was unusual rather than her own.
“Talitha, great to see you, are you here with Theo?” And with those words Talitha remembered why she had not made any effort to get in touch. Emma was, after all, principally friends with Theo, and surely would take his side in any fallout from their relation. Although there was no hint that anything was between them, she still felt that Emma was a threat to her, lurking, waiting, hoping perhaps for her moment when she could seize the initiative.
“No, no Theo today, I just decided to come along again, I actually came a couple of weeks ago. I went to the early service.” Talitha found it strange that she felt obliged to give an explanation as to why she was there, as well as a comprehensive history of her actions.
“I’m really glad you’ve come back, we can get some lunch after the service.” As Emma made the gracious offer Talitha felt bad for the resistance that was instinctively provoked by the friendliness of near strangers. She sat with Emma and Kathy and felt their every wince at each word or phrase that was not sufficiently sensitive to the none believer who sat besides them.
It was not that time, or the time after, but Talitha kept returning to St Bart’s. In their mutual friendship of Theo she found a common cause with Emma, but had no reason why each Sunday morning she found her way to this particular church, with these most unlikely of suspects. And why each time she left she felt better, calmer, more peaceful. Talitha even asked Theo to come one Sunday in early January, but his tendency to find excuses to avoid spending time together found greater force when Church was thrown into the mix.
It was that Sunday the Talitha left it all behind. Afterwards Talitha tried to put words on her experience to give it live and form, and to help her tell other people about her experience. It was not a physical change that happened. She was still the same person who walked in off the street that morning. It was not an intellectual change. She still had questions and doubts and uncertainties, and the sermon that morning had been of a particularly poor quality she thought.
Something had happened and she did not have the words to describe it. It was clear that her experience was not novel as Emma sidled up to her with a practised grace and gently allowed her hand to rest on her shoulder while turning her body around. The close contact reinforced the vulnerability Talitha felt and eased the tears out of the corners of her eyes. It was love that had changed Talitha.
Not the sort of love that she was looking for in Theo, or that she thought he should be able to provide, but a love that conquered all fears. In that moment, knelt in the vestry, Talitha knew that she was loved. And in the fact that as she turned towards God not knowing of her fate she found that God had already turned, and his arms were wide open.
Talitha looked towards the large stain glassed window that dominated the final section of the church. And she looked and waited for God to speak to her, she watched the clouds arranged in glass and lead and wanted them to move to her demands, and show the way that God wanted her to travel. That was part of the bargain she felt, that if she had taken the chance of throwing away all of her reason, as so many people had suggested that she was doing by even walking through the door of a church, then God would sort out her life.
Christmas had been a lonely time for Talitha. She had decided to stay in London, partly because she was still not sure how long she would be here, partly because she wanted to give Theo every chance to make a move that he seemed so reluctant to make. But aside from spending inordinate amounts of time together nothing further had happened. Each time they parted she thought he might find something to say. That at the moment that he walked on as she took the steps down towards the tube, as happened most times they were together, Talitha hoped there would be a signal to his intentions, even a daring, outrageously forward, physical approach.
Instead, nothing matched the flirtatious behaviour that had defined their long distance contact. Behaviour that she wished she could see in person, but all the while wishing that perhaps it should never have happened.
As the tears faded from Talitha’s eyes and her cheeks paled from their bright blush she felt determined to draw a line under this tortuous experience. That it was Emma who was alongside her made it all so much harder.