Monday, March 29, 2010

THE CHOIRMASTER (A Spiritual Tragedy)

By Joseph R Alila


A Raging Heart

Eva drove home in a dreamy state of mind. The man she had left in the hostel had remained with part of her heart. She felt in love. She had been in love before, but this one was special. She had felt secure in the presence of the stranger. If Michael had asked, “Can I marry you?” she could have responded, “Yes,” without a thought.
“Mama! Mama! I think I met my future husband!” she cried as she made her way to the kitchen where her mother was laying out the table for dinner.
“Yes, Mama! I met my future husband.”
“You are not a teenager. You know the ways of all men!” Deborah warned.
“Mama, this one is special.”
“Eva, my dear, how many reliable men have you met in Mud Valley?”
“Mama, his name is Michael. He is from Tanners Valley.”
“You must have mistaken rural subservience for love, my dear. I never met a man from Tanners Valley who could hold a knife and a fork the right way. Be careful about what you are running into. Tanners Valley is a leather-tanning town. Do you know what it means to live near a tannery? It snuffs all sense of civilized behavior from a person’s head.”
“Ma!” Eva cried in anguished alarm. She realized that her mother had become what she, Eva, never imagined; her mother was a proud bigot. Her Michael did not fit the image of the dumb rural breed from a stinking leather-tanning town Deborah was trying to paint.
“I am talking about the new choirmaster at Mud Valley High School. He is a Christian, I love him, and he happens to be from Tanners Valley.”
“He sounds to be a material for the choirmaster of the Youth Choir.”
“Mama, you are not being helpful. I’ll be taking him to church tomorrow. Second, I’ll bring him home to dinner tomorrow evening.”
“Eva, take that man to church tomorrow and you will have lost him. If I were you, I could have dug in my heels and hooked the fish first, before exposing him to Jane Caleb and the Jacob Twins,” Deborah said. She was talking in reference to three prominent spinsters in Mud Valley Church, who, like her Eva, were on the hunt for suitors.
“Ma, he is hooked as of now. The best you can do is to pray for us.”
“Your Michael is hooked in one day, Eva?”
“I read somewhere that if you don’t hook a fish on the first try, you won’t catch it.”
“In which pond is this fish resting tonight?”
“At the church’s Youth Hostel.”
“Eva, believe me, you lost the fish already.”
“How, Ma?”
“If Ezekiel, your supervisor at the hostel, mentions to Monica that there is a new music master headed for Mud Valley Church, Mrs. Risper Caleb would be printing dinner invitation cards for tomorrow evening.”
“Ma, I have a head start on Michael. We will be in church tomorrow. The two of us will do a duet, and I won’t move an inch from him the whole time. I’ll bring him home tomorrow evening. Never mind, I’ll do the cooking.”
“What bit you, Eva?”
“The world, Mama. Since losing Doug to that loser whose name I can’t pronounce, I learnt my lessons. This one is a heart I must protect.”

The following morning, Eva took Michael to church. Nobody appeared to have noticed him until Elder Ezekiel, who was leading the services, asked, “Do we have any first-time guests?”
Michael was among the three guests in church on that Sabbath. There was a husband-wife pair from a distant province too. Elder Ezekiel introduced the couple first. The woman explained that they were retirees born in Mud Valley and were thinking of returning to their roots.
Elder Ezekiel introduced Michael as the new music teacher at Mud Valley High School, and that he came from family of lay evangelists. “Michael, stand up so that your sisters in Christ can see you.”
Michael stood up, then Eva stood next to him saying, “Michael and I will do a duet from the Hymnal.”
They walked up to the front and sang Just As I Am. Michael’s baritone was adorable. They sang so well that by the last stanza, the whole congregation stood up to sing with them. Then they were greeted with Amens.
At the end of the Sabbath, the Choir Director was enlisting Michael for a role in training the church choir.
“Caleb, you must invite Michael for dinner soonest possible,” Mrs. Risper Caleb said, entering the Treasury, where Caleb was tallying the day’s collections.
“Why the hurry, Honey?” Elder Caleb asked, yet he understood why Risper was in a hurry to invite the new school choirmaster home. He understood that Eva’s manipulation of the situation to her advantage had raised the ire of Risper, his wife, who had been working too hard to get Jane, their only daughter, a suitable husband.
“You ask ‘Why the hurry,’ Dear? Are you blind? Didn’t you see what the Joseph daughter just did?”
“I see. Can we discuss this later at home?”
“Mama, Dad, I am on my way home,” Jane announced, opening the door.
“Have you greeted Michael already?”
“Ma, please, I’m not cheap!”
“Jenny!” Caleb whispered in suppressed anger, remembering that he was sitting next to the Sanctuary.
“I am sorry, Dad. If Michael has brains, he must be reading the tea leaves already.”
“If Michael has brains? What a choice of words, Jane. Of course he has brains. No one gets a Master’s degree in Music unless they have a lot of brains,” Risper offered an informed assessment of Michael.

Thanks to the impression Michael made on Elder Ezekiel, the latter talked about him during dinner with Saul, his son. Monica, Ezekiel’s daughter-in-law, had listened as he heaped praise on Michael’s professional, personal and ancestral pedigrees. Even though it was late in the evening, Monica’s rumor mill began to churn in earnest.
“Mrs. Caleb, Happy Sabbath,” Monica said. She had called Risper to raise an alert about Michael.
“Monica, Happy Sabbath. You sound excited.”
“There is a special young man in town, in whom Jane should be interested.”
“What kind of man is he that he should make you that excited?”
“He is single, a Christian, and well cultured in our faith. He has a degree in music.”
“What makes a man with a degree in music special, Monica?”
“How do you expect a woman to answer such a question? But he is the new music teacher at Mud Valley High School.”
“Goodnight, Monica.”
Risper had not admitted it, but her heart too was racing. She was anxious to host the new high school choirmaster even before meeting him.
“Who is that Risper?” Elder Caleb asked.
“She is Monica, dear.”
“Anything amiss?”
“No. She is reporting that there is the new choirmaster at the high school who is a member of our faith.”
“The music teacher must be a man.”
“He is a single man, dear,” Risper clarified.
“So what is the excitement about?”
“Caleb, have you stopped praying for luck to come Jane’s way?”
“I do, dear.”
“Thank you. We have to have him over for dinner, soonest possible. I don’t want to risk him associating with wrong characters before Jane interviews him.”
“I get the idea, dear,” Caleb concurred, afraid to contradict Risper on any matter about Jane.

Monica called Mrs. Rhoda Jacob next. Monica spoke for a minute, before Rhoda said “Thank you,” and hang up the phone.
“What is that Rodi?” Mr. Jacob asked from his side of the king-size bed. He was reading a passage from a Men’s Daily Devotional. The topic was “Parental Responsibility.” The example was Abram’s effort to get his son Isaac a good wife, while he, Abram, was old and far removed from his nativity (Genesis 24).
“It is Monica, dear.”
“Why do you still listen to that woman whose tongue could one day destroy our church?”
“Dear, what is the judgment for on Sabbath Eve?”
“I am sorry, but that is not the woman I want to talk to on any Sabbath eve.”
“You are still judging, dear.”
“Okay, what is she talking about?”
“There is an impressionable young man, in whom the twins could be interested.”
“Impressionable young man? He sounds cheap. Why should Mara look at him?” asked Mr. Jacob.
“Dear, wealth cannot buy a good heart,” Rhoda chastised her husband.
“I am sorry, Rodi.”
“Can we suspend this discussion about a hypothetical man we have not seen?”
“Let’s pray, Rodi,” Jacob said.

So on day one, hardly six hours since Michael’s arrival in Mud Valley, the struggle for his heart had started in earnest. He had not seen the classroom where he would teach fifth-graders music, yet his name was on the tongue of every significant family in Mud Valley. The mention of his name was causing nightmares to mothers of daughters he had not met.
At the end of day two, Michael’s melodious voice constantly rang in every spinster’s ears, and one woman named Eva was provoking the ire of other spinsters, who were grumbling, cursing, and calling for fair play.
As the head of the Youth Movement, or rather, exploiting her position as the Director of Youth, Eva took charge of Michael, who was twenty-four years old and wasn’t exactly a youth, though he found more comfort among the youth. At the end of the Sabbath, she introduced Michael to Pastor David, who had broken the spiritual bread, and Mrs. Kay David. Eva referred to Michael as “a dear friend” and “a future director of the Youth Choir,” even though the position was not open then.
Following a path of least resistance, Eva shepherded Michael out of the church. By the time Mrs. Caleb came out of her husband’s office, Michael had gone.
Eva drove Michael to her mother’s house, where she cooked dinner for him before taking him back to the hostel, late in the night.
So far Eva was a step ahead of the other spinsters. But time would tell as to how long she would maintain her advantage. So far she was happy to be the hand that made sure that the single man ate properly. Eva promised in her heart to keep him engaged, help him settle down, and make sure he was supplied adequately with essentials.
In addition, Eva made sure that Michael was in church from where she could monitor the activities of rival forces around him. She would continue to be close enough to him, not only to keep the gossip going, but also to make others really uncomfortable. But she promised that she would not be the one to propose to him.
That had been Eva’s resolve, eleven years back, before other characters joined her to create the story ahead; that was Eva before Michael was a music superstar; that was Eva before Michael became her husband; that was Eva before the world played its dirty hand against her; that was Eva before she met and knew a snake known as Saul; that was Eva before Elder Ezekiel overplayed his hand and revealed his sordid past.