The Prodigal Son

At the risk of sounding condescending, I must say that my life was once rather admirable. People always said that I had His full, gracious support... that I was somehow favored among mortals. Now, however, I feel estranged from those marvelous years. I feel like an imprisoned man awaiting the gallows, moments away from ruin and downfall – and all because of one boy.

He was a boy of the village. It was an isolated, nameless fisherman's village on the very edge of the world. Only the elders had ever seen foreigners before, and the people – especially the children – often peered into my blue eyes and pulled at my blonde hair curiously. Uncivilized women walked in public with exposed breasts, and shoeless children ran through the mud and drank brackish, diseased water. The translator told me that the people have no God to praise. They only terrible tales of demons from the ocean – the same ocean they desperately relied on.

I've traveled the world to many similar savage villages, intent on relieving the feeble people. I essentially spread His word: teach the Bible, help to build churches and homes, and assist people in need. Last week, I comforted a dying man, allowing him to pass on peacefully. Nearly everyday I help prepare meals for starving families. Hopefully, the missionaries will create a school for the young children, and the house we built has acted as a refuge to many – mainly those seeking spiritual healing.

I came here to help everyone of the village; but frankly, I must admit that before I even met him, the boy quickly became my favored charge. By then, I'd heard many tales and rumors of him: the wretched, loathed outcast – someone who the people of the village cursed and labeled as a miserable demon. Nearly all misgivings were blamed on the existence of the so-called fiend and his ill-omened presence. Barely fifteen years old, and already he carried the burden of the mark of Cain.

I asked the translator what he could've possibly done – why he was so overpoweringly detested – and the man answered:

"It's my understanding, sir, that as a young child the boy fell out of a fishing boat and into the ocean. Because the people of this village are so afraid of the sea, no one wanted to jump into the depths to rescue him. After he was missing for several hours, I suppose everyone simply assumed that he was dead; I was told that they even began burning his things – it's a ritual here, you understand, to burn the belongings of the deceased. Imagine their shock, then, when he appeared on the beach again, just as alive as when he left."

You mean to say that he swam to shore?"

"That's the thing, sir. No one here really knows how to swim. It's as I said: they all fear the ocean. Personally, I believe it's possible that – in desperate want for survival – he taught himself to swim then and there; and perhaps the tide even helped to push him back in as well.

"However, the villagers don't see it that way at all, sir. It's actually quite ridiculous, I think, even for a place as savage as this: they believe that the boy really did die, but that his corpse was possessed by a sea demon."

The translator's tone was amused when he told me the story – but honestly, I didn't find the tale very humorous at all. The boy's family and friends pushed him away; he was secluded and disgraced – outright attacked – by the people of the village. It was a tragic tale, no doubt, and I couldn't help but imagine a boy who felt abandoned by the world. I couldn't help but imagine myself as God's humble messenger as I converted him to a loving lifestyle, where he would be accepted as one of His children. I became determined to make this a reality; became determined to help him. Still, I can't help but wonder if I would have taken the same path had I known that he would be my ruin.

I first saw him completely by chance. I was on my way from teaching several parables to a group of villagers when my translator pointed him out to me: an isolated, pathetic figure that sat alone against a wall, watching the disgusted passerby. I believe that the very moment my eyes rested on him, the inner workings of evilness – forever burrowed into my human body – seeped into my soul. I could feel the blackness stirring within me, pushing through my veins. I could not stop my appreciation for God's beautiful creation; even then, filthy as he was, he was the most beautiful being I had ever seen, my brothers.

Beneath the dirt, his skin was a dark tan – almost the color of caramel, really. His almond-shaped eyes were as black as a starless night sky. His nose was small; his neck, elegant; his mouth was red; his curls, thick and dark. He was slender, underfed no doubt, and remarkably small – just over four feet was my initial guess; yet his head was held with a sense of pride, as though he believed himself to be a prince. I felt interest, passion, and self-loathing for my lust all in that instant.

My translator spoke to him, explained who I was, and all the while I stared at the open expressions on his youthful face: shock that he was being spoken to, cautious interest and overwhelming distrust, and finally refusal as he angrily told the translator that he didn't want pity or a strange man's help. The translator pleaded with him – I could tell by the tone of his voice and his wild gestures – but he was adamant. His stubbornness and pride somehow managed to both exasperate and enchant me.

At that point, I think I somehow knew that he would become a major influence on my life. I knew that he was the halt – the source of my newly found confusion. But, in spite of that, I hoped that we would cross paths again. I was fixed on saving him.

For several weeks I did not see him again, though I certainly looked for him – tried to catch even the briefest glimpse of his beauty. I passed by the spot I first met him repeatedly for many days, hoping I would find him there for a second time. My translator listened to village conversations for any indications or hints of his whereabouts, but the only thing he heard were angry rumors that the boy had stolen from fishermen again.

I suppose it's a bit odd that I was so fixated on him. It's even stranger that I never wondered why I was so consumed by my thoughts of him. For days and nights, I merely meditated on what I could do to help save him – imagined what it would be like to see him again. By that point, I realized that I would have to find the boy quickly if I wanted to help him. After all, I only had a little less than a year to stay at that village before I would have to return to the Mother Country. It wasn't a lot of time to build a village and save a child. So, frankly, I considered it a blessing when I found him once again.

I'd been deep in thoughts that night when the door to my small, meager chamber slammed opened. The translator stood at the entrance, wheezing and clutching his side painfully.

"There's a problem, sir! I'm afraid that someone will be killed – please, come quickly – "

The translator, being an older scholar of linguistics, was always calm, collected, and reasonable; so when he declared that someone might be killed, I honestly believed him. As we rushed through the halls and to the kitchen, I realized that I had been so captured in my thoughts that I hadn't noticed the angry yells and commotion that could easily be heard through the thin walls. The boys were standing in the halls, confused and curious; fearful that one of them might be harmed I told them all to return to their rooms.

The kitchen was a mess – broken silverware, scattered fruits, and crushed vegetables littered the floor. Four natives who had been hired as servants crowded at the entrance, shouting angrily in their native tongue – but they wouldn't enter the room.

"It's the boy, sir," the translator said quietly to me. "The boy they believe to be the demon."

I went to the entrance and looked at him – the boy lurking on the opposite end of the kitchen, bruised, battered, filthy, and still as beautiful as the first moment I saw him. He held a large butcher's knife, tremblingly yet determinedly pointing it at each of us in turn. Yet, while he seemed prepared to kill, there was a wildly fearful look to his eye. He must have realized that there was no chance of escape, as we had the only exit sufficiently blocked. Afraid that he might panic and stab at any of us, I knew it would be best to pacify him.

I cautiously stepped forward; his eyes fixed to me, the knife pointed at me, but I did not retreat. "Don't be scared," I said. I heard the gentle, imitating tone of the translator. The boy's eyes flitted to him and back to me. I reached my hands out carefully. "Don't be scared. No one here is going to hurt you."

The boy shouted something. "He said not to come closer," the translator looked at me.

"I have to come closer," I said calmly. "I have to help you."

"I don't want your help," he shouted.

I looked at the mess that he had made; noticed bread that rested on the floor beside his feet. "Is that why you came here?" His gaze fleetingly fell to the bread. "You can have it, if you like – you can have much more, if you let me help you."

I could sense the four native men stiffen at the translator's words, but I also felt the boy's hardened wall falter.

"You'll be accepted as part of my family. I'll teach you things, clothe you – feed you. You won't have to stay out in the streets any longer, or steal from the fishermen."

He was silent for a moment, and it almost seemed as though the knife was lowering slightly. He looked at the translator and said something roughly. "He asks if he'll have to believe in your God."

"I hope that you will – but not if you don't wish to, no," I said carefully.

During his silent contemplation, I thought I saw the ideal moment to edge closer and, through more personal interaction, finally persuade him to accept my help; but I overestimated my knowledge of the culture. He began to shout that I stop moving.

"Sir, please; the people here can be very wary about physical proximity at times," the translator began to warn; but still, in my stubbornness, I would not listen."

I was mere steps away from him when he came at me, knife taking aim. I knocked his hand away – knocked the blade out of his hands – and managed to get by with a small nick in my side. I held him as he struggled against my tight hold. The translator and natives were silent as they witnessed the boy's desperate but weak resistance, inevitable exhaustion, and, finally, his unexpected break down. His small frame shuddered against me as he hid his tears, ashamed. As I rubbed slow, comforting circles against his lower back, I silently gestured at the natives and the translator to prepare a bath, meal, and a room for him.

We were alone. He was whispering something: mumbled words in a sad, soft tone. While he fought against me only seconds before, he now nestled into me – as though pleading for me to accept him. I felt guilty for touching his skin then, for I felt that I was taking advantage of the boy's unexpected weakness; but as I began to pull away, his grasp on me tightened. He was shaking his head, burying his wet, flushed face into my shoulder, his arms wrapped around my neck.

I may be a man of God, but I am only a man of mortal flesh; and that night, I had to pray to my Lord and ask for forgiveness for the desires and arousal that plagued me in those moments.

The boy's name is Ly, which – according to the translator – means lion. Really, I think it's absolutely fitting. He walked with a similar graceful, casual sense of confidence and pride, as though coming from a fresh, successful hunt.

Perhaps it was because of his silent, predatory air that I quickly realized that I feared him. Yes, no matter how strange it sounds, I truly was afraid of him. I saw him like a test from God, trying my resilience against temptation. Within moments of his arrival, it was obvious that he was rude, proud, and impatient – but my Lord also graced him with youthful passion, innocent laughter, and the appearance of an angel. Any mortal would inevitably fail such a test. I avoided him for fear that the blackness coursing through my body would capture my mind. I feared I would lose my self-control.

For the first few days of his arrival, I easily avoided him. He busied himself with settling into his new home, strutting around the house and the grounds, familiarizing himself with the place. He let himself into the library while the boys were studying, the place of worship while the missionaries were praying, the kitchen and dining room while servants were cooking, the baths (thankfully, not when anyone was bathing), and even into several bedrooms, much to the translator's annoyance.

Having worked with them before, I knew that the Dickinson family – the six missionaries, that is – were genuinely kind and compassionate people who wanted to help others in the name of the Lord. They found Ly's beauty and abundance of energy endearing. Shortly before tea, they sat him down and attempted to teach him some English. By the late morning, all reportedly agreed that he was bright and a fast learner, but easily got bored and impatient.

The other four boys of the house also warmly welcomed him. During the long, hot hours of the afternoon, I caught sight of them moving together like an inseparable pack. I found them laughing in the kitchen, creeping through the halls, gesturing to each other wildly in communication, and even trudging to the baths together.

I told myself that, because there were so many people in the house for him to interact with, there would be no need for me to entertain him. I never quite expected for him to come searching for me. I was turning my sheets down for the night when he let himself into my room without knocking. Initially, I wasn't sure how to react. Dread began to settle as I felt the expected arousal stir; yet I also felt a spark of pleasant surprise at the sight of him. I hadn't realized how much I missed the sight of him. I realized that I was blankly staring, so to break the uncomfortable silence I wanted to say something – ask him how he liked his new home, perhaps – but didn't know how to ask it in his language.

He didn't seem to be aware of my discomfort. He noticed my open journal and charcoal on my desk – picked them up and looked at the scenery of the village I'd been sketching. He pointed at a picture of the village elder's hut and said something in his language.

Hesitantly, I moved forward and took the journal and charcoal from his small hands. "Drawings," I explained slowly. "Draw," I motioned with the charcoal against the page.

"Me," he said, his accent distorting the word as he pointed at himself. I watched as he sat on the side of my bed and became still, as though he was posing. It took me a moment to realize that he wanted me to draw him.

Initially, I was tense as I cleared my throat and searched for an excuse not to. Within moments I realized, however, that while I felt guilty for my attraction, there wasn't anything wrong with attempting to capture and preserve beauty on a page in a drawing.

I sat on my wobbly, meager chair and looked at him, feeling his intense gaze as I began. His stare burned into me, as though he meant for me to squirm – as though he was watching his prey. His stare was so overwhelming that I felt I could not return it; but inevitably, I had to look up into his eyes. Connected, I could not look away for several long moments – my heart was thudding painfully – and suddenly, I thought that I could understand why the villagers feared him – why they thought him to be a demon. I felt that his body was just a shell, holding in a passionate fire that smoldered beneath his eyes. It was a fire that no mortal eyes could possess.

When he flashed a smile, I looked away, embarrassed. I purposely finished the drawing a lot more quickly than I normally would have, and once I was finished he took the journal from me and clapped his hands together (a gesture he, no doubt, picked up from the other boys.)

I personally didn't like the drawing very much, though, for I could see that the portrait wasn't adequate. While it showed his physical qualities, I didn't manage to capture his fiery passion.

Ly's English was improving remarkably. Already he was able to make broken sentences: simple things, mostly, such as, "I want food," or, "I go to sleep." Still, while he was progressing, he preferred to communicate physically – through bodily contact.

The translator explained that Ly's culture was ruled by physical proximity. While unnecessary touching tended make us feel uncomfortable, touching was practically a part of life in the village.

As the weeks passed and he became closer to each of us, his physical contanct became much more abundant. To express his gratefulness to the missionaries, he would lightly touch their hands or shoulders. To express his friendship to the other boys, he idly played with their hair, their fingers, or tugged on their clothes.

I don't think the boys minded, but the Dickinson family was troubled by his physical closeness. They accused his touches of having more than friendly tendencies at times. After all, he was an adolescent – and, as most adolescents, he was sure to have sexual urges. They accused those urges of being the true rationale behind his intimacy, not his culture. They came to me and asked me to mentor him – to guide him away from those reactions.

I refused to, of course. Initially, I didn't even believe them. I didn't think that he would be capable of such feelings. At that point, I'd separated him from sin – created a bold division between Ly and wrongdoings. Of course, this was a naïve perception; after all, Ly had sinned countless times. He used to be a thief and had even attempted to kill me when he first came. I don't know why I thought that, despite all of this, he had the innocent spirit of a pure child. I'm not sure why I insisted to myself that he was too wholesome to have sexual cravings; not sure why I was so disappointed when I realized that I was wrong.

He began to touch me as well; and, at first, I thought that I'd imagined the playfulness from my own yearnings. However, I slowly began to recognize the lively and mischievous glint in his eye as he brushed against me. Passing in wide halls, he would steer his way towards me so that I could feel his hand brush against my side.

What's truly the most horrible fact of all, however, is that I'd begun returning those unnecessary touches. I didn't mean to, initially, but I slowly found that I was taking his hand while speaking to him – tapping his shoulder to get his attention instead of simply saying his name.

I suppose that, lately, I'd been a prisoner to my desires; the harder I tried not to give in, the more I found myself doing what I should not.

Ly adamantly refused to set foot in the place of worship, insisting that he would never be converted. He would not have faith in a foreign theory; would not believe in a man he couldn't see.

I decided it would be best to tutor him on the Bible. I figured that, if he spent enough time with the sacred scriptures, he may eventually learn enough to change his mind. Surprisingly enough, he didn't refuse my lessons.

In the late hours of the afternoon, sitting comfortably in the small library, I listened to him as he read through the verses and the parables. His English had improved so greatly by then that he no longer needed to constantly be accompanied by the translator. We rarely had to call the man for help; and even then, Ly preferred to work through until he understood on his own.

For example, Ly had some trouble understanding a line in The Prodigal Son: "...Thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." He took it too literally, and asked how a man could die and come back to life.

"No man has ever died and come back to life while on Earth," I explained.

"Not Christ?"

"Christ isn't a man. He's a part of the Trinity."

"He died for our sins."

"That's right," I smiled.

"Then how about this son?" he asked, gesturing to the parable in the Bible. "How does he die and live again?"

"He didn't actually die, Ly – not physically, anyway. Spiritually, he departed a righteous life when he left his home and began to live a wasteful, sinful existence instead. He was lost in the world; didn't know who he was and didn't understand his purpose. When finally he returned to his father and his home, he expected to be cast away; but instead, he was accepted and was forgiven. He was spiritually reborn, you understand."

I don't know if he grasped everything I said, but he seemed to comprehend the essential significance, for he suddenly said resolutely, "I am the son."

"You?" I smiled, leaning back and regarding him.

"Yes. Me, the son. I died in ocean, but lived again when you found me. You accept me. You... you forgive me."

His wilted smile was melancholy at best, and as I watched him I felt my own smile fade. I gazed as he reached for me hesitantly – God forgive me, at that moment I was taken over by humanly desires rather than spiritual decency – and allowed him to lean into me, wrapping his small arms around me. I wondered for a moment over his scent before I realized that he smelled like the cinnamon that was kept in the kitchen. I wasn't used to the intimacy: the sweet aroma and the feel of his smooth skin and the soft curls I absentmindedly felt with my fingertips. I was so wrapped in the moment of simply comforting him, feeling his warmth, that I was stunned when I felt his lips press against my own.

It was meant as a casual gesture of thanks; really, it barely lasted a single moment, and once he pulled away he smiled at me gratefully. Of course, I was troubled by the lingering sensation – and my reaction. I had to insist that the tutoring session end then, although we usually went on for at least another hour.

After dinner, I usually spent time in the place of worship for a moment with God; but that night, I was too ashamed to face my Lord.

There were only five months left.

I should have been with the Dickinson family then, thinking about everything we could do for the village in those months. Instead, I found myself in solitude, wondering if it would be best to take Ly with us – out of this desolate village, away from those who sought to harm him. I thought that, perhaps, he should see what was beyond the ocean: all of God's creations.

The translator warned me that the idea might frighten him, so if I wanted Ly to accept my invitation, I would have to ask him under relaxing circumstances. With a plan in mind, I went to the bedroom he shared with the other boys and kindly asked if he would take a walk with me.

To be honest, I was so nervous and tense that I couldn't speak to him; thankfully, he didn't seem to mind the silence as I took him out of the house and through the village. I suppose we were a strange sight to the villagers: the priest and the demon, strolling alongside each other as companions. Children being minded by their mothers stopped playing to watch us; the fishermen stopped hauling the day's catch to stare.

We passed the feeble lean-tos and made our way to the gray and black smooth, marble stones that bordered the sea. The path of rocks was slippery from the foam of the tide, so we carefully made our way down the isolated beach, gingerly stepping on the rocks. He grabbed my arm when he nearly slipped and, even after I helped straighten him, his hand lingered near.

The sky was splashed with golden citrus sunlight, but from the guava red hues, I knew that the sun was due to set soon. For me, it was a beautiful scene in comparison to the dreary black and white sky of the Mother Country; so beautiful, in fact, that I almost felt as though I could grasp a glimpse of the Almighty. I looked at Ly, wanting to share such a moment; but I realized that for him it was probably a common, everyday sight.

"Do you see God?" he asked me.

I looked back to the sky and smiled, "Not with these mortal eyes, no." From his expectant look, I could tell he was beginning to get impatient, so I sighed and continued, "Ly, have you ever wondered what's beyond the ocean?"


"Yes – on the other side of the sea."

"Your land," he automatically said before adding, "and – and more villages. There are kingdoms, too, but not Heaven's kingdom... just kingdoms with a lot of men instead of angels. That's what the others said."

"I'll have to leave here soon, Ly." I noticed the small frown on his face, but I couldn't tell whether he was upset or still impatient with me. "I have to return to my land for a while. Afterwards, I may be able to see more villages and kingdoms, but I probably won't be able to come here to this village again."

I took a breath – for some reason, it was becoming challenging to speak – and I continued with an uneven voice, "It'll be hard to leave this place, as I'm sure you can understand... and I've realized it would be even more difficult to leave without you." I took a moment, gauging his response; and once I saw that he was not flinching away, I continued cautiously, "I was wondering, then, if you might possibly want to leave with us – to join us on our journeys."

The silence was absolutely unbearable, and in my mind I think I may have begun to think of an appropriate response for rejection; but I don't believe I actually expected for him to say no.

"I won't," he said in the same defiant tone he used when he refused to be converted.

I gazed at him in silent surprise, watching him watch me expressionlessly. I felt the frustration slowly building, and I suppose my, "Why not?" came out angry – almost desperate.

"I don't want to," he said straightforwardly. "I don't want to leave with you. If I go with you, I will be forced to live a restrained life."

Bewildered, I frowned, A restrained life is a righteous life."

"It's a half-life," he practically scowled. "It's not worth living."

At this, I did turn away; it was as though my tongue swelled in annoyance, for I couldn't speak.

"You're not a man," he continued. "Man acts on his nature; you pretend your nature doesn't exist. You ignore your own needs in the name of God. I'm a man," he added, his eyes blazing."I know my feelings, and I will act on them."

I felt my annoyance shrivel. It was funny how, months ago, I would not retreat when facing a Ly who was prepared to kill; but then, I felt ready to retreat while facing a Ly who was prepared to be frank with his feelings.

Even then, when he was admitting all of this to me, I didn't believe the desire I saw in his eyes. I did believe, however, that he somehow recognized my supposedly secret yearnings. In that moment of realization, a twisted emotion of guilt and shame strangled me into speechlessness.

I unwillingly heard him continue, "You're ashamed of natural feelings because you think they're sinful; but Priest, if they're sinful then why has God created them?"

"God created sin so that virtue may exist," a programmed, textbook reply.

"If God exists, then He gave our bodies as gifts. Isn't it true, then, that using our bodies is a form of praise?" he asked lowly.

When I didn't respond, he tugged on the end of my sleeve, urging me to look at him. As I did, I overtaken by temptation in that moment of weakness. Guiding me with his hand against my arm, he took me away from the beach and to an even more isolated area – a grove of palm trees that would hide us from prying eyes, though I knew it couldn't shelter us from His gaze.

Day had been exchanged for dusk by then, so it was difficult to fumble in the dark. Before we'd even gotten very far, I already regretted my decision and was ready to insist that we stop... but my brothers, I'm ashamed to admit that I felt dominated and manipulated by him. I am fifteen years older than Ly, but somehow, we switched roles. He acted as the adult, and me the child; he forced me to give into my so-called nature – my black desires. At first, I hated my lack of control – hated my unpredictability – but inevitably, even I could not resist his consoling yet controlling hands.

He was the one who showed me what to do... the one who insisted that I – be inside of him. Guiltily – and afraid that someone might hear and discover us – I attempted to stifle myself; but Ly was as loud as he pleased, as though he wanted Him to hear. Afterward, I wanted to wipe away the evidence of our sins – but he wouldn't let me. He wanted to lie there together, his arms still wrapped around my neck. I felt uncomfortable and wanted nothing more than to scrub myself clean, but according to him, it would be inappropriate to leave without savoring the moments.

What's truly strange, however, is that I committed a terrible act; and yet, I had never felt closer to God before. I left the rain forest and beach in the aftermath of pleasure, confusion, and mortification that night.


God knows I changed.

Within eight months of living in this village, I became an awkward man. I started a habit of sitting in front of a mirror and memorizing my features – from the angles of my face to the dusting of my freckles. It wasn't necessarily because I became narcissistic, but rather because I needed to acquaint myself with my appearance. Although I was thirty years old, I was as unfamiliar with myself as a ten year old boy. Sometimes I saw my reflection and was surprised by the man staring at me from the other side.

I didn't know myself anymore. I remembered who I was before I met Ly: a priest who was proud of his restraints against temptation. I had a specific plan in life – a mission that I was passionate about: saving people and helping them find God. However, after eight months, I was starting to feel like a purposeless shell. The black poison had spread through me, leaving me in spiritual ruin. God's eyes were on me as I craved Ly more than I craved spreading the Lord's word. I'd spent more time fantasizing over the boy than praying to my Lord.

Ly acted as quicksand, tugging me down with the weight of our shared sins. I wanted to help him, but instead I'd become nothing more than a sinner. The irony of the situation was too painful.

For a while, I shunned the missionaries, boys, translator, servants, and – of course – Ly. I also tried to avoid God. I even refused to go into the place of worship, telling myself that a man like me did not deserve to step foot inside. However, I should have known that it was impossible to escape God's judgment.

I could feel the weight of my sins on my shoulders as I attempted to escape to the only refuge I could think of: the small, dusty, empty library. The rows of books acted as my companions in self-exile. I'm not sure what induced me to, but after long hours of silent, private self-condemnation I began to look through those books for clues – for a reason why I'd become so lost.

Surprisingly, I found several books that described similar sins: Ganymede and Zeus, Dionysus and Prosymnus, Bagoas and Alexander the Great, Antinous and Emperor Hadrian, Francesco Melzi and Leonardo da Vinci – and even in more modern times, with Innocenzo and Pope Julius III. It helped to know that these great and influential men shared my sin; it helped to realize that younger boys had also been found irresistible by men greater than me.

Inevitably, I rose from my exile and faced the others in the house. I forced a smile to the servants. I lied to the boys and claimed that I simply hadn't been feeling very well. I mingled with the Dickinson family once more, and concentrated on final plans for the village.

For Ly, on the other hand, we mutually avoided each other. We no longer touched each other briefly; I barely glanced at him while passing in the halls. The sight of him reminded me of how I'd seen him in the tropical forest – reminded me of how he felt, pressed against me.

Yet, while I was happy to avoid him for as long as I could, I don't think I was very surprised when I found him in my room late one evening. He sat on the edge of my bed, leafing through my journal of sketches. He didn't say anything as I closed and locked the door – ignored me when I stood over him, waiting.

"You're still ashamed," he eventually said, not looking up.

"Rightfully so," my eyes were fixed on the journal in his small hands.

"I'm not ashamed. I'm happy." There was a short pause before he put the journal down and turned to me, but still I stared at the journal that rested beside him. "Perhaps I can't persuade you... but Priest, I wish you would realize that desire is one of God's greatest creations."

I felt his hand against my own. My initial reaction was to pull away, but he grasped me tightly, pressing me to look at him.

"I can't feel guilty for my desires. Even if love is sinful, my soul and body are separate. I can't control my body's physical reactions – can't control that I appreciate God's creations.

"If desire makes this life sinful and wasteful, then I think I prefer to be lost. I prefer to be the prodigal son," he smiled, pulling me closer.

Hearing that, I felt myself become softer – for I suddenly began to understand my changes. I was beginning to accept my nature.

"I can't leave with you. I can't spread the Lord's word when I don't believe in Him."

"Tell me, Ly: why don't you believe in Him?"

He silently regarded me for a moment before he looked away, traces of a familiar melancholy smile on his face. "I admire faith," he finally said after a moment. "It's beautiful and pure: men coming together to believe. I would like to believe, too; but religion is segregated. I can't have faith. I've seen too many sins go unpunished; lived a life with no evidence of a merciful God... only evidence of a merciless Devil. It would be wrong of me to insist to people that He exists when I secretly know otherwise."

It was a heartbreaking thing to hear, and my tone became entirely gentle as I said, "I believe that God guided me to you so that you would have a chance to believe." I hesitated for a brief moment before adding, "I was told that it's my duty to bring others to redemption. Since I arrived here, I've wanted to save you. It's painful knowing that you want to be saved, but won't let me help you."

He was quiet and still. I held my breath, waiting for the moment of disappointment – but it never came. Instead of declining, he nodded his head briefly in assent before saying aloud, "Yes – yes, I'll go with you if it really matters to you so much."

I can't even begin to describe my happiness, my brothers, at the knowledge that Ly would be with me. Still, I don't think he quite believes in the Almighty yet. Perhaps that moment will also come someday.