He could feel the Minister staring at him. So, he fought to keep his head down; his eyes buried on the Bible resting in his lap. He had to squeeze every second he could into that moment. Because he knew, the second he looked up, it would be his turn.

And he would have to stand up. He would have to walk the aisle and step behind the podium, right next to her casket.

Just a few seconds more to gain his composure.

Maybe, a couple more breaths to temper his hate.

He needed to get lost in the deafening silence of the church, if only for that moment in time. He had to live in it; hide it. Wrap his self in it, like some type of false protection.

But then he looked up.

And his gaze found the Minister’s warm smile.

He wanted to smile back, but his conscience wouldn’t allow him to. He couldn’t smile in the presence of them.They didn’t deserve it.

The Minister knew it, yet he still motioned for him to approach the podium.

‘No time left.’

The moment was gone… forever.

Like her.

He stood and immediately felt the pain of all their piercing stares! They pricked at him like cactus needles. He could hear the silent whispers like surround sound; swirling past his ears. Yet, he ignored them.

He had to.

They wouldn’t get the satisfaction of his anger. He would keep his composure because he was all that was left of her work.

Her compassion.

Her love.

Her life.

He kept his eyes away from the casket, telling himself she wasn’t in the box. She was gone. The best part of her was finally at peace, and away from the rest of them.

But at the same time, she had left him. And he felt ashamed for feeling angry toward her.

They had been a team. They were each other’s foundations. Neither of them could fall, because one always supported the other.

And now she had moved on to a better place, leaving him to face the darkness alone. He didn’t know if he could do that. Maybe he needed to follow her; support her in that new place. They would be together, and it would make everything so much easier..

So lost in his thoughts, he didn’t realize he had already reached the podium and was now standing in front of the funeral’s thirty-plus spectators. Only by a light touch on the shoulder from the Minister’s hand, did he come back to reality? And when he looked at the Minister, he realized he had a smile on his face.

Thinking of her always did that to him.

But now he had to come back to reality, and he had to look upon them. And his smile washed away.

But he had to keep his composure.

He cleared his throat.

“I shouldn’t have to do this,” he spoke into the microphone, expecting his voice to be cold and bold. But it was weak and fractured.

That wouldn’t do.

He wanted to put the fear of God into all of them, or at least make them understand.

He took a deep breath.

“I don’t want to do this. But I’m.. all there is.”

He scanned the congregation for any signs of recognition.

There were none.

“You see, none of you deserve to be here. None of you really knew her. None of you wanted to know her. She was.. beneath you.

He paused for a sigh.

“She used drugs. She sold her body for money.”

He didn’t have to see the nervous look on the Minister’s face. He could feel his stare from behind.

“What were some of the names you use to throw around at the Church after-parties? Whore? Slut? Bottom feeder? I’m sorry, those are the only ones I can think of right now.”

That’s when he saw ‘the cousin’ standing and heading for the exit.

“SIT DOWN!” he barked into the microphone, so loud the feedback nearly blew the speakers.

“No.” the cousin replied, infuriated. “I don’t need to hear this.”

“You will take your seat voluntarily, or by force! Either way, you will hear what I have to say!” he replied with more composure.

After a few seconds of boldness, the cousin retook his seat.

He then felt the Minister’s touch again on his shoulder.

“Maybe that’s enough for now.” he whispered to him.

“No.” he replied, glassy-eyed. “I need to do this. I need to be heard.”

Reluctantly, the Minister backed off.

“At 3:17 pm on Sunday, you people lost the hand of God. You lost an incredible human being who spent the latter part of her life trying to relieve the suffering of others.”

He started to cry. He wanted to cry. He needed to mourn the passing of this woman because no one else thought she was worth it.

“Was she a saint? No. She did a lot of bad things; things you people did your best to make sure she never forgot.”

A smile crept into his intense stare. “She had an interesting take on life. She told me that some of us were put on this Earth to take the major ‘hits’; to weather the waves of tragedy, so that others could watch and learn. Others could see what happens when you take the wrong path. And more importantly, that you could survive your mistakes, learn from them and, if time permits, teach others not to make the same mistakes.

“She sold drugs. But the money helped feed her best friend’s children on those days when YOU PEOPLE wouldn’t. And she may have sold her body on occasion. But she used her money help others; to benefit others.”

He heard the whispers in the church grow louder, but he did his best to ignore them.

“You see, she showed me the power of the human heart. She showed me, the power of sacrificing yourself for the greater good of others. She showed me that it’s never too late to turn your life around.”

He finally gained the courage to turn and gaze upon the casket.

“This woman loved all of you with a passion that I never got from the closest of my family. This woman loved you all; not because you deserved her love. But because.. you were her family. Maybe not in blood, but as a community.

“Now, you may be asking, who am I to be speaking so righteous?

“A couple years ago, I had the barrel of a gun in my mouth. I had just lost my wife and two kids in an car accident. A month before, I lost my sister in a drive-by shooting. So, that was it for me. All I needed to do was pull the trigger and I wouldn’t feel that overwhelming pain anymore. One simple pull of my finger and it would all end.

“But then..” he almost lost it. He took a second to gather himself. “Then, God sent her to me. God brought the battered, beaten woman before me. I guess he wanted to show me, that even when life drags you to bottom of the pit, you still have a fighting chance. You still can fight against the hopelessness that’s gathered in your heart.

“So, who am I to be speaking on her behalf?” he smiled. “I’m a drunk. A big drunk, possibly a thousand times over. But I’ve been sober for 6 months, 13 days..” he looked at his watch. “..5 hours, and 28 minutes. Chances are, I’ll fall off the wagon again. But if and when that happens, I’ll dust myself off and start over.. just like her.”

He looked back at the casket again.

“The woman in this box was a drug addict.

“The woman in this box was a whore.

“The woman in this box.. was an angel. And I guarantee you that she’ll be sitting closer to God and any of you bastards in this place!”

The church burst into an uproar, as his tears flowed.

“For every ounce of love she poured to you people, I’ll hate you until my last days. I hate you for not loving her. I hate you for not being her family. And I will never stop hating you!

“I’ll never stop. That’s what she taught me: to never stop..” he wiped his face with his sleeve. “Never stop.. never stop…”

And when he looked up to gaze upon the parishioners, he realized there were none.

No parishioners… no casket…

Nothing…

He started to chuckle to his self. Through the stained-glass windows, he could see that the sun was almost down. The church was now dark and empty; the perfect physical representation of how he felt.

He laughed. “Never stop…”

He stepped away from the podium and found a seat in one of the front pews. Looking upward at the massive church’s vaulted ceiling, his gaze fell upon the ten-foot wooden Crucified Jesus, hanging over the podium. The massive carving was polished to a dark brown, and with its hollowed eyes staring toward the heavens; the dim beams of light touching it gave the symbol of worship an ominous appearance.

He smiled at Jesus. “You didn’t have to take her away from me.”

“She’ll always be with you.” A voice called to him from behind.

He turned and saw the Minister’s silhouette in the brightened doorway; his collar nearly as bright as the light.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you there, Father.” he replied, wiping his face.

The Minister slowly made his way down the aisle until he was close enough to put his hand on the man’s shoulder.

“That’s quite alright, son,” he replied. “That was a very nice eulogy you gave today. Very insightful and tasteful.”

He smiled. “That’s not what I wanted to say. I wanted to yell at all of them. They didn’t deserve to be here.”

“Maybe not.” the Minister said. “But you did the right thing. She would’ve been proud.”

He stood and gathered things, which were resting on the pew next to him.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do now,” he said, staring that the table, where the casket rested a few hours before. “She was my beacon. I relied on her for guidance. She was my anchor. Now I’m just… lost.”

The Minister smiled. “Maybe you’re looking for something that you already have?” he turned to face him. “She didn’t save you from being her follower. She didn’t want that. She wanted a partner.”

He looked at the Minister puzzled.

“The reason you can’t find what you’re looking for is because you already have it. Maybe it’s time for you to be the beacon for others to find.”

He looked upon the Minister’s warm smile, and he had to smile too. “I never thought about it that way.”

Giving the Father a few manly slaps on the shoulder, he grabbed his things and started walking for the exit; leaving the Minister standing and staring upon the large hanging Jesus in front of him.

Right before he reached the door, the man stopped and turned back.

“You know what she said to me when I had that gun in my mouth?”

The Minister shook his head.

“I asked: ‘Why are all these things happening to me?’

“She said: ‘Because bad things happen, and some people get it worse.’

“I asked: ‘But why is it happening to me?’

“She said: ‘Because you’re one of the strong ones.’

“I asked: ‘Why do I have to be one the strong ones?’

He smiled. “And She said: ‘Because there are others who can’t be.’”

The Minister smiled back and nodded his head. “Such is the will of God, my Son.”

The man nodded back and left the church, into the bright light.

“Yeah, I get that now.”

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