He felt a kick to his shin.
"Come on, wake up!"
The light-haired man groaned in an aggravated manner, as he shifted his position and slowly opened his eyes. A familiar form stood before him.
"Michael...what's up?" he yawned, sitting himself up.
However, the missionary slapped his shoulder in response. "What do you mean what's up?" he demanded. "I should be asking you that question."
Immediately, Jamie's eyes became used to the sunlight, because he opened them widely.
"Where the heck were you last night?"
He hesitated for a moment. "Here. Sleeping."
"I woke up in the middle of the night and saw your spot empty, Jame," Michael clarified, raising a suspicious eyebrow towards him. "May I ask where you were?"
"You sound like my mom," stated Jamie with a roll of his eyes.
"You were with that Indian girl, weren't you?"
Michael exhaled deeply. "Well?" When no response was heard from Jamie, he grunted softly. "Jamie, what do you think you're doing? What have you been up to with that girl?"
The blonde male sighed as he turned his back to him. "I got her to convert, okay? And then she became a Christian and she lived happily ever after, the end."
"You aren't sounding like yourself."
He turned around instantly at the sound of Michael's words. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Lately you've been all secretive and your spiritual presence is just...It's like, you're losing your faith or something."
"That's ridiculous Mike," Jamie concluded to him, running his fingers through his scalp. "You said it yourself: I'm good boy Jamie."
"Good boys don't lie. Men of God don't lie, Jame. And they don't fool around with innocent girls."
Slowly, a blonde eyebrow raised on Jamie's visage. "Fool around?" he repeated. "What are you implying?"
"What did you do with her last night?"
He was reluctant to answer. "I...we...We talked. She was having trouble."
"That's it! So stop bothering me about this."
"Jamie, you don't understand the situation."
The blonde paused. "What situation? We didn't do anything, Michael. Nothing. There is no situation. And even if there was, what would be so wrong about it? I can't screw up, I'm supposed to be perfect all the time? Living in this flawless, happy, fake little Christian life?!"
Michael blinked, a bit dumbfounded by his words. "...Fake?"
"It's all fake, Michael! Everything!" Jamie ranted on. "How can we prance around so happily when there are people dying out there because of us? We make it sound like this Christian thing is a breeze, when it's not! It's so damn hard, that I didn't realize it until now!"
"You need to calm down," Michael advised his over-zealous friend. "Here's a news flash for you Jamie, what you're experiencing now is something all Christians go through: it's called doubt. Learn to deal with it, accept it! It's a test of your faith."
He shook his head at the advice. "You don't understand," Jamie spoke softly. "Ever since I met Apala, my mind and my heart...it's just, I can't control what I feel anymore."
Jamie gave him a knowing look.
"And I'm guessing that you two do more than just talk then."
Jamie pressed his lips together firmly. "We didn't have sex."
"What kind of relationship do you have with this girl?"
He thought for a moment before answering. "She's an Untouchable, you said it yourself. And....I touched her." He trailed off.
However, Michael could only shake his head at him, appearing disappointed.
"She has to be at least half your age."
"I can't help what I feel."
More shaking of his head. "I seriously don't know what to say to you. You could have opened up to us, told the group, we could have helped you-"
"Tell them what? About my sexual fantasies?" Jamie cut in. "You know what Michael, there's only so much I can compress before I explode. Maybe I just can't do this anymore."
"The whole Christian thing!"
Michael took a step back. "What?"
"I think I need to go home, back to the States," Jamie explained further, taking a deep breath. A softened expression overcame his face.
Yet, Michael was quick to protest. "You've got to be kidding me! Jamie, do you know how great you are at this? Spreading the word of Jesus Christ! Helping others find their way to God? Jesus didn't die for you to give up so easily."
"Jesus didn't die for this to be so easy," Jamie cut in. "I don't want this to feel like a job I'm good at. I don't want to 'help' people to God; I want God to do it through me. I don't want this to feel like a business trip anymore. I just want..."
His words faded, as his mind then focused on one person alone.
Michael sighed softly. "You want her," he finished for him.
Jamie looked into his eyes, and bit his lower lip in response. "Is that so wrong?"
"It depends...Do you love her?"
Jamie's cheeks tinted a light crimson as a blush overcame his face. How long had he known this girl? Could he really translate this intense feeling he had for her as...love?
Though, he never had the chance to answer him.
A fellow missionary had walked in on them, and she seemed troubled.
"We have an emergency here," she stated clearly to them.
Michael and Jamie instantly focused their attention on her.
"What's wrong?" Jamie asked her.
"We found a native with a stab wound, abandoned and dying. There probably isn't much time left."
The two men didn't hesitate to attend to the crisis.
"So, what happened to this guy, Liz?"
Jamie pondered about the subject as she led him and Michael towards the scene. And as they walked briskly, the blazing temperature boiled their light flesh.
"We think it was a hate crime. Rape was involved before the stab, and the victim just regained consciousness a small while ago."
Michael was next to reply. "What do you mean by hate crime?"
Liz push strands of auburn locks away from her dark eyes. "Well, the victim is at the bottom of the caste system, called a Dalit..."
Jamie looked at her nervously. "Dalit?" he repeated.
She nodded. "Yeah. They're also referred to as Untouchables."
The blonde stopped dead in his tracks.
Liz seemed flabbergasted as she halted shortly after he did, as Michael bit his lower lip as an anxious suspicion grew in his chest.
"Untouchable...?" Jamie repeated softly.
Liz nodded. "Um...yeah."
Jamie's eyes fell to the ground. "Was the victim a young woman?"
She nodded slowly, opening her mouth to speak, but decided against it. Michael instead took a step towards Jamie.
"Now's not the time to freak out," he stated to him gently. "You need to calm yourself, Jame."
However, the opposing male missionary lifted his head to reveal deep, wet eyes.
"Take me to her," he stated firmly, then grunted loudly. "Damn it, Liz! Take me to her now!"
She jumped up the moment he ordered her, and began to walk swiftly ahead.
Jamie's mind went insane inside his head, as his thoughts and fears and hopes ran messily in his brain. His breathing quickened, as did his heart beat, pounding within him, every pump of blood rushing through his veins. He felt fatigued, unreal. He had to be dreaming, he had to be dreaming.
Liz stopped. "There she is."
He didn't want to look. He didn't want to see it was her. He could hear breathing, hear her crying. He felt her presence, sinking into his skin, melting his heart.
Michael shivered as his eyes locked onto the young girl dying on the ground, disturbing him. He shifted and focused a soft stare towards his crumpling friend.
The young man lifted his head slowly, exposing streaming tears that ran down his cheeks. One after the other, drenching his face, drowning him, destroying him. And he finally witnessed what he was too afraid to see.
He cried out her name again. "Damn it, Apala!"
Michael watched lamentably as Jamie crumbled before him, his whole body shaking madly. He went to run after her, but Michael grabbed his shoulder. He struggled minimally, as he instead chose to collapse onto the ground, on his knees, his tears falling and staining his clothing.
"That's not her! It's not!" he cried out, nearly shrieking.
"Jamie, Jamie!" Michael tried to speak over him, beginning to choke up as well. "Jamie, it is..It's her."
"No!" he shouted, shaking his head. "It's not! It can't be her!"
He resisted Michael's attempt to keep him stable, as he forcefully pulled himself up and ran to her frail body. Both Michael and Liz moved after him as they approached the scene. One other missionary kneeled beside her.
Jamie ducked onto his knees, instantly grabbing her weak hand. He pressed himself against her, allowing her blood to tarnish his flesh.
"Apala!" he cried again, torrid tears dripping and landing on her arm. Yet, she did not move, but continued to lay there, breathing heavily, as her chest expanded and narrowed with each painful, vital breath.
Wiping his face with his arm, his glared up towards the man beside her.
"What the hell happened to her?!" he demanded harshly.
He took a deep breath before answering the hysterical man. "She told me that she was raped by several higher class Hindus last night, and then she was stabbed at the side of her waist-"
Jamie cut him off. "And where are the police, doctors?!"
He took a deep breath in, avoiding eye contact with him. "Because of her place in the caste system, she is refused help. Many Dalits die on the streets here each day. It isn't anything abnormal...She's not going to make it."
"That's insane!" exclaimed Jamie as he grasped Apala's hand tighter. "She's a person! She doesn't deserve any of this!" He looked down at her and broke down once again. "Apala! Please! Look at me! Say something!"
He continued to rant, scream, holler, hoping that she would respond to him. He buried his face on her chest, weeping on her, embracing her, feeling her blood cover his skin.
He then felt her stir, and lifted his head slightly. Apala's eyes were opened barely, but were exposed enough to see him clearly before her. Slowly, softly, her lips curved into a smile.
"Jamie..." she breathed, struggling to pronounce his name.
He gasped, choking on his tears, unable to breathe. His heart banged harshly within him, so strongly that it hurt to live. It hurt to see her there, it killed him. He couldn't stand it. He was watching her die.
"Apala..." he could barely spit out her name.
He couldn't understand why she was using her energy to smile at him, after how upset she had been with him previously.
"Thank you, Jamie..." she whispered hoarsely, her eyes drifting. "Thank you for touching me...For letting me touch you...when everyone else was afraid..." Her words trailed off.
"Don't thank me, Apala," he told her. "It's my fault you're here. I should have went after you, I should have told you that-"
She let out a loud groan of pain, interrupting his speech. He flinched as she witnessed her suffer, wanting to feel her pain, endure it with her, go where she was going.
Suddenly, he felt a brush against the side of his body, and turned his head to see Michael leaning down beside him, Bible in hand.
"Apala," he spoke calmly, his eyes glittering. "Do you want me to pray with you?"
For some reason, Jamie felt angered and frustrated that he would suggest that to her. Here she was, dying, and was not even sure if she was even a converted Christian. She called called it a "lie" last night. She had rejected his belief.
Jamie fixed his eyes back on her, widening them in disbelief.
"Yes," she repeated again, a little more firmly.
Michael nodded accordingly, opening his Bible to the New Testament.
"Our Father who art in heaven," he began.
She struggled as she repeated. "Our Father...who art in heaven..."
"Hallow by thy name."
"Hallow...be thy name..."
"Thy Kingdom come."
Jamie watched as they went back and forth, witnessing Apala give into Christianity, accepting it...perhaps wanting it, maybe needing it; turning this direction because of her own free will, and not to make him happy.
"And lead us not into temptation..."
"...But deliver us from evil..."
And even after the prayer finished, she continued to wail.
"God! God!" Her shrieks sounded painful, and Jamie grabbed both of her hands and felt her squeeze firmly in response.
"It was hard! It was hard!" she exclaimed. Tears began to stream down her face. Her body trembled tremendously, her lips quivering, her eyelids shutting tightly.
"...But that's because it was real..." she finished softly.
Jamie gasped softly at her words, as she slowly opened her eyes and gazed at him tenderly, fondly.
"And so were you, Jamie..." she spoke gently. She lifted her hand leisurely and embraced his cheek. She could feel his hot tears on his skin, burning her fingertips.
"I was dead before I met you, Jamie..." she continued, her tempo of speaking slowing. His lips parted in response, his breath heaving with her every word.
She didn't speak after that, and he impetuously pressed himself down on her, claiming her mouth with his. His lips slid against hers, smooth and sweet, as if she leaked honey. She felt warm, soft, tender, her lips like silk on his own. The sensation of her mouth pressed against his was almost indescribable; it felt vital, necessary, filled the longing within him.
And then she went limp in his arms.
"..Apala...?" He sat up quickly, looking down towards her and softly shaking her shoulder. When he received no reply, his pulse quickened as panic took over him.
"Apala!" he kept calling her name, hoping that she could hear him, feel him, sense him. His voice shaky, body trembling, face drenched.
Michael couldn't watch him do this to himself any longer. "Jamie, she's-"
"I love you!" he interrupted, still speaking to the girl. He buried his face on her chest once more. "Did you hear me?! I said I love you! You can't...you just can't...."
There was silence for a moment, the only sound being the faint, stifled noise of Jamie's sobbing against her breasts.
"Jamie, she's....she's gone."
He didn't respond to Michael's remark, trying to block him out, avoid the truth. Still hoping, still loving, not ready to let go. He blamed himself for her death, for letting her go. He hated his own being, despised himself.
As the sun shone down on them this fateful day, it was a reminder that the daylight was far from over. Like a curse, to go throughout the day after a tragedy as this.
And for the moment, he embraced her murdered body, mixing tears with blood, holding her against him. Her final words haunted his mind, failing to escape.
"I was dead before I met you, Jamie..."
She had spoken those words with a weak smile...
And then she died.
It had been five weeks.
Five weeks since he came back to the States. Five weeks since he went on this mini vacation to "find himself."
Five weeks since Apala's death.
Jamie stayed alone, in a condo, further lamenting his loss. After what had happened to Apala, he could not find it within himself to continue his missionary work, at least not for awhile. He couldn't feel the passion anymore, as if the flame that drove him had extinguished. It left him as Apala did, and all that had filled his mind was regret.
He blamed himself.
He watched her go that night. He didn't stop her. He didn't return his love for her until it was too late, when she was already gone and could not feel him. It felt as if he had killed her.
During these last five weeks, as Jamie became situated in this new area in the city, he spent it trying to reignite his faith.
"Recover from this. Rediscover yourself," Michael had told him. "All expenses paid!"
Yet, every Bible passage reminded him of her. And, the text of the holy scripture almost became unreadable as his tears smeared the ink.
He felt hopeless.
A part of him wanted to blame God...but he knew that it was not His fault. It was the work of man kind, human nature. If God interfered with everything that happened in life, then every human being would be like a robot. Free will came with the price of evil as well as good.
Those Indian men killed Apala, not God. They murdered her because of her label, her position in the "caste system." But, Jamie could see through that. He saw the beautiful person that she was, witnessed her as a human being.
He touched her, the Untouchable.
And at the end, she allowed God to touch her as well.
He was still baffled at how she chose her ending. He reminisced back to the night before the murder and rape, as she called his religion a lie. And then, minutes before she perished, she accepted it. She accepted that it was hard...but it was real. It was so real, that she didn't realize until her coming of death that she had been slowly converting. She had never given up, wanting to know the God that Jamie adored so much.
"I was dead before I met you, Jamie..."
Her final words to him...What did she really mean?
Did he give her a reason to live up until then? Did God help her through him to give her His message?
Perhaps the answer he was looking for was right before his eyes. The innocence of a child, the simplicity. Maybe it wasn't a complicated answer. He knew he couldn't get through this alone. He couldn't keep blaming himself for what happened. And he couldn't keep looking for answers in books and sermons. All he had to do was close his eyes and bow his head.
A soft sigh left his mouth, as he kneeled against his bedside. "I do not want to be dead anymore....Jesus, maybe I will give you a try..."
Four Years Later...
Four Years Later...
He stood firmly before the large crowd, holding the microphone against his mouth lightly and running his free hand through his short blonde strands. He took in a deep breath, his lips curving into a soft smile.
"Let me tell you all a story." His voice echoed through the mic.
"It's about a young missionary, who thought he was living a true Christian life, until he went to India and fell in love with a girl that would test his faith."
The crowd listened intently as he progressed.
"You see, in India, they have something called the "Caste System," which classifies people as high or low class. This girl was called an "Untouchable," which was the lowest of the low. She spent her days cleaning the streets in rags. She wasn't allowed to drink from the same wells as the higher class Indians, and even her shadow alone was a disgrace to them.
"But you see, the missionary was fascinated by her, and began a relationship with her. She was the first woman he had ever had real feelings for, and it scared him. The sexual desires and needs he had kept hidden within him for so long finally came flooding out, and he wanted to be with this girl more than anything. It affected his faith, and when he tried telling the girl about Christianity, she was not fond of the idea..."
He paused to clear his throat, eying the audience carefully.
"That's the thing about Christianity, see. It's a challenge: it's not supposed to be easy. But, with every challenge, a prize awaits you. Sometimes we jump to conclusions when we as Christians feel doubt, or undergo temptation, or feel something as natural as lust. We might think we're failures, but I believe that these temptations are there for a reason. We are given these challenges to see how we handle them. It reflects our devotion, hope. And that's something that the missionary wouldn't understand for a long time.
"So, what happened to the missionary and the Untoucable girl? Well, I wished I could say that they lived happily ever after together. But, you see, the girl was not on good terms with her new faith and told the missionary that the religion was a lie. The journey was hard for her. Their last encounter was full of tension, as she had confessed to him her feelings of love, and he was too afraid to return those feelings- caught up in his doubt, his lust, afraid to take that and convert it into love. Something so beautiful, no necessary, so natural, and also so misunderstood. The missionary believed that every act with her was a sin, that admitting his love to her would be a defeat. That if he gave into his emotions, his doubt would conquer him. But, what he didn't realize that fighting his love wasn't going to get him anywhere, that perhaps what he needed to overcome and conquer this challenge was not to go against his emotions, but confront and confide in them.
"They almost made love that night. And that scared him, how close he had gotten to perform the act. He was scared mostly of how much he wanted it. And admitting his love for her would have meant giving up his faith in his eyes. But, by dismissing his feelings, he was also letting go of his own happiness; rather to continue in his own world of pretend Christianity, than face new challenges and temptations with the girl he knew he wanted- no, needed. The concept of love scared him because it did not coincide with his idea of the life he thought God wanted him to live. It didn't fit in with the perfection. It seemed like squeezing lemons over the Holy Scripture. It seemed too hard."Here's a thought: we need to step out of our comfort zone. Some people live the 'routine,' thinking that that's what it's all about. There's got to be more than life than just going to church once a week and working eight hours a day, taking the kids to school, praying at night. It's too easy. You can't prove yourself, have the chance to live. We make Christianity seem like this like...cage we've trapped ourselves in: go to church, and you're saved. Pray, and you're saved. Give ten percent, and you're saved. But what about actually living, and you're saved?
"Back to the missionary...he was more doomed than he was saved. He went around the world spreading the Good News, but never once decided to tell himself. He hadn't considered that he was more doomed than every other soul out there. He never stepped out of his comfort zone, and loving the Indian girl would mean doing that very thing. So, what did Romeo do? He watched her walk away from him. She was heart broken, and he couldn't tell her how he felt because he was too afraid.
"Yet, as fate would have it, the next morning she..."
He paused, silence taking over the room. He swallowed the lump in his throat, controlling his emotions.
"...She was found dying, Stabbed and raped by the higher class...The missionary was devastated as he watched her die in his arms. At that moment, his love for her poured out. He gave into his emotions, allowed himself to love her. And when he finally told her how he felt, it was too late. She was already dead..."
He felt his heart beat quicken slightly, as his eyes began to glitter. Blinking hard, he paced himself for a moment, taking in a deep, concentrated breath.
"However, one thing happened that amazed him." Stopping again, his lips then peculiarly curved upwards. "...She accepted Jesus moments before her death.
"And what can we all learn from this story? Simple as this: It's never too late to turn around and give your life to God. No matter what you've done, it's never bad enough for God to not be willing to take you. But, Christianity is more than just the typical 'Jesus loves you' motto we like to go by. All in all, it's hard. It's hard getting there, but it's harder staying there. But, it's the hardest really being there. It's easy talking the talk, but can you walk it too? Are you afraid to step out of your Jesus Box because you're afraid something might challenge your faith? How do you know it's even real if it's never tested, exploited, challenged? That's what faith is all about, people: using what you got, putting it to the test. And I'm not advising that you purposely go get bitten by snakes to see if you'll survive because Pastor K told you to test your faith. What I'm saying is...live a little, but live it for God. Love yourself for God, love others for God. Just love for Him, and for yourself, too. I end on that thought."
He left the stage quietly, the whole room silent. Members of the audience could only sit there and allow his moving words to melt in their brains.
Another man approached the stage. His eyes were wet as he grabbed the microphone and held it near his mouth."And that was Pastor Jamie Kane speaking here at our church tonight."
The clapping sounded distant to him as he walked away, leaving from the opposite entrance of the church. His blue eyes glittered as he grabbed the handle of the door, ready to leave.
Jamie stopped immediately at the sound of a female voice from behind. Slowly, the man turned around. His eyes broadened slightly as he watched the young woman run before him.
She was short, slender, and well-curved. When she stopped in front of him, he noticed the long length of her wavy brown hair, and then the lovely grey of her eyes as well as her long, curled lashes.
She smiled towards him nervously, extending her hand.
"Hi!" she timidly greeted.
"Uh, hi," he returned, grinning sheepishly as a blush tinted his cheeks, accepting her handshake.
"Um, I just want to say that...your story, it really touched me," she told him softly. "My name is Roxanne, by the way."
"Awesome," he replied, smirking, clasping his hands behind his back.
She pushed her brown locks away from her face, looking up at him. A gentle smile curved her lips.
"It sounded so real, you know..." she blushed. "Like, it wasn't a story." Then, a soft giggle escaped her mouth. "Jeez, I'm nearly thirty years old and I still can't talk to men." He couldn't help but chuckle as well, patting her shoulder.
"Were you the missionary?"
He looked down at her, eyes wide. "Uh, excuse me?"
"Did you fall in love with the Indian girl?" she rephrased her question. Yet, when she saw the look on his face, she titled her head. "Sorry, I guess I shouldn't have asked that."
"No, it's alright," Jamie assured her, looking towards the wall. He turned his head back to her and their eyes locked for a moment, calming grey meeting bright blue.
From the look in his eyes, she knew the answer to her question.
Her expression softened. "Thanks for the speech today," she briefly concluded. "It really did move me."
"No problem," he grinned.
He then turned to face the door once more, pushing it open. He felt the breeze of the outside air hit him as he took one step out.
Jamie halted abruptly, spinning back around to see Roxanne still facing him, tapping the heel of her shoe on the floor. He responded by raising a blonde brow.
"Do you..." the young woman began softly, fixing her gaze on the ground, "...want to go out for coffee or something...?" She looked up at him, a hopeful expression in her eye.
He didn't know how to answer her, respond. Looking at her once more, an image of a young Indian girl entered his mind...a picture he would never forget, one that he was unconsciously holding onto.
Sometimes letting go doesn't mean forgetting, but accepting and moving forward. He bit his lip, his eyes trailing to the floor. Exhaling deeply, he looked over at her once more, seeing the anticipation lurking inside of her. The image of the Indian girl slowly faded until once again he was able to clearly see the Caucasian brunette standing before him.
Suddenly, a soft smile curved his lips. And slowly, it evolved into a grin.
"Sure," he stated.
Roxanne smiled as he accepted her offer, and walked beside him as they stepped out of the church together. The wind blew calmly, as cold air hit them softly. And as he moved with her, a reoccurring thought entered his mind,
"I was dead before I met you, Jamie..."
It didn't plague him anymore, but brought him hope.
I was dead before I met you too, Apala...he spoke inwardly.
Living backwards, from being dead to given life. It was the mystery of the world itself. Even though she was gone, he could still feel her, as she continued to be his inspiration, his love.
He had touched her, the Untouchable.
She had reached him, the unreachable.
And she continued to reach him, even now, guiding him through a simple prayer...
"I do not want to be dead anymore....Jesus, maybe I will give you a try..."