Nights at Saint Benedict’s Priory Bamako have nothing to do with darkness. The light-bulbs glued on the walls of the Priory and that of the church always repelled it, illuminating the whole premises. The lights always stayed on through the night, giving the patrolling security men a clear sight of everything, even a crawling ant. Except for the silence and scarcity of the monks, one would mistake them for a day. But the silence was always deadly, with darkness hovering over it.
The interior of the Church building was dark, except for rays of the exterior lights which through the stained glasses permeated into it. A tiny red battery powered light blinked red at the altar, beside the Tabernacle, with a Reliquary by it. In it was the relic of Saint Benedict, ordered from Rome in preparation for the dedication of the church, and making the Priory an Abby.
In a flash, the lights went off. The Priory for the first time witnessed the fangs of the night, the stench of darkness. Torches flashed at every angle. Distinct voices, trying not to break the rule of the Summum Silentium were heard. The Presbytery went into a mild commotion.
Then the tall and wooden central door of the Church opened and closed in a dash. A human figure, robbed in a Habit and a hood on the head walked down the aisle, frenzied. At interval, he would stop, glance around and listen to the approaching voices, then continue towards the altar. He got to the altar, passed the altar table and climbed the raiser to the Tabernacle. He wrapped his fist around the tiny battery powered light and smashed it, sending total darkness in the church. He touched his head and a faint light rayed from it, illuminating only the Tabernacle and the Reliquary. He opened the Reliquary and touched the relic with a gloating passion. He inhaled, locked it and lifted it up. With careful move he stepped down the Tabernacle, making his way to the door he entered from.
Then the Sacristy door flung open and Brother Alexander, the Priory’s injured Sacristan leapt towards the altar. His spectacles hinged on his eyes, supporting his vision. A careless flash of his torch revealed the absence of the Reliquary. He got shocked, adjusted his spectacles and looked again. Fear gripped him. The Holy relic has been stolen. The only thing that would grant the successful dedication of the church in three days time was not where it was supposed to be. His shivering hands flashed the torchlight down the church and saw a figure carrying the Reliquary and making his way to the door in a calculated haste.
“Brother, what are you doing?” he asked, leaping down the aisle in pursuit of the figure.
The figure hastened up, aiming for the door.
Ignoring the pain his dislocated ankle incurred, with his left hand holding firm his spectacles, Brother Alexander ran towards the intruder. The safety of the Holy Objects in the sacristy and the church as whole rested on him, and the Prior, upon the arrival of the relic earlier that evening charged him in a special way to see to its safety. He was not ready to let either his pain or impaired vision interfere with his duties.
“Brother, stop! What you hold is a holy Object that shouldn’t be played with.” Standing closer to the figure, both of them halted. “Do not commit the sin of desecration, it would get you excommunicated.”
The figure threw one step, and he leapt three times, bringing him right behind the figure. His flashlight steadied at his back. His voice mellowed as he tried to get a peep on his face.
“Halt or I will raise an alarm.”
The figure halted, relaxing his muscles like one surrendering in a lost fight.
Brother Alexander stopped his peeping. “Just turn around and hand over the relic. I promise not to tell a soul.” He adjusted his spectacles. The figure stood still, making no movement, or sound. Brother Alexander got scared. His thoughts ran wild of how the intruder might not be a Monk. He started regretting not raising alarm before confronting him. His hands started trembling, shaking the reflection the torchlight behind the intruder.
“I beg of you, Brother, hand it over.” His shaky voice revealed his fear and cravenness.
In a flash, the figure turned and hit his head with the Reliquary, shattering it into pieces. Brother Alexander swooped. The torchlight fell off his hand and rolled far away. His spectacles fell off his eyes, cracking against the tiled floor of the church. He laid on the floor, wriggling in pain. Blood oozed from his right ear and mouth. The figure crossed over his bleeding body and picked the relic, scanned it and noticed a crack on it. He sighed and shook his head, cleaning the dust the relic with his Habit. He stood in front of Brother Alexander, watching him with pity and compassion. His right thumb in his mouth as he chewed on his finger. Brother Alexander fluttered his eyes and with a kick from the intruder, he passed out. The intruder shook his head the second time and made his way to the door.
Minutes later, the light was restored.
Five-forty in the morning, the tower bell tolled three times, a wake-up call for the Monks. The interior of the Presbytery was illuminated and footsteps were heard scurrying up and down in a bid to refresh for the Matin- the first Morning Prayer in the Priory.
Brother Samuel and Brother Patrick, the twenty-three-year-old acolytes in charge of setting the altar for prayers and mass walked out of the Presbytery towards the church, in silence. They got to the church and found the sacristy door open. They glanced at each other, shocked. Brother Samuel rushed in and found the connecting door to the altar also open. He looked back, terrified. Brother Patrick stood behind him, confused and scared. Both rushed to the altar and like on a cue, their eyes went to the Tabernacle. The Reliquary was not there, the Tabernacle light was in a cruel manner smashed on the floor. Brother Samuel tapped Brother Patrick and he turned. He pointed down the aisle to the broken reliquary and torchlight. Both ran down and found pieces of glass and drops of blood. The Priory was still in the Summum Silentium, so they were not at liberty to freely express their shock. They employed sign language for communication, and due to their poor mastery of the art, most messages got lost or misinterpreted.
Six am, another bell tolled, summoning the Monks for the Matin. In a single file, they all marched into the church, hands hidden in the big sleeves of their Habits. Like a forest fire, confusion spread among them, each glancing at the altar and then at each other. Their silence yelled for an explanation to what happened to the reliquary they saw besides the Tabernacle during the Compline last night. As Brother Raymond mounted the Pulpit and tuned the opening hymn for the Matin, the response he got was dull and void of joy. He ordered for a restart, after assuring them to look over every distraction and pray to God in spirit and truth, believing He would fix all confusions surrounding them. The Hymn started the second time, with greater melody and participation.
In the Sacristy, Brother Samuel stood, desecrating sign language in his passionate quest to tell Brother Patrick why they should break the rule or find another way to tell the Prior what happened. Brother Patrick, with a Lectionary in his hand, and one leg up the stairs leading the altar shook his head to what he obviously did not understand.
The Sacristy door opened and Prior Christopher walked in, holding his Breviary in his hands. His white hairs and bears shouted his age. He glanced at the duo in surprise, wondering what they were doing in the sacristy while the Matin was about to start. He sighed. His hand pointed towards the church- an order for them to run into the church. Brother Patrick zoomed off but Brother Samuel stood; his head down and hands up. Prior glanced at him and sighed.
Brother Samuel rushed to the shelves and brought out a pen and a paper. He inscribed on it and raised it to the Prior.
“What!” The Prior’s voice shook the foundation of the church, sending a temporary pause to the hymn going on in the church.
….the story is just begun.
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