Eyes closed, hunched and rocking over his hands, he waited, straining to hear footsteps retreat from his door. The knocking came again. "Emilio!" It was the Father General's voice and there was a smile in it. "We have an unexpected visitor. Someone has come to meet you."
"Oh, Christ," Sandoz whispered, getting to his feet and tucking his hands under his armpits. He went down the creaking stairs to the side door below and stopped to gather himself, pulling in a ragged breath and letting it out slowly. With a short, sharp movement of his elbow, he flipped the hook out of its eye on the door frame. Waited, doubled over and silent. "All right," he said finally. "It's open."
There was a tall priest standing in the driveway with Giuliani. East African, Sandoz thought, barely glancing at him, his flat-eyed stare resting instead on the Father General's face. "It's not a good time, Vince."
"No," Giuliani said quietly, "evidently not." Emilio was leaning against the wall, holding himself badly, but what could one do? If Lopore had called ahead. ... "I'm sorry, Emilio. A few minutes of your time. Allow me to --"
"You speak Swahili?" Sandoz asked the visitor abruptly, in a Sudanese-accented Arabic that came back to him out of nowhere. The question seemed to surprise the African, but he nodded. "What else?" Sandoz demanded. "Latin? English?"
"Both of those. A few others," the man said.
"Fine. Good enough. He'll do," Sandoz said to Giuliani. "You'll have to work by yourself for a while," he told the African. "Start with the Mendes AI program for Ruanja. Leave the K'San files alone for now. I didn't get very far with the formal analysis. Next time, call before you come." He glanced at Giuliani, who was clearly dismayed by the rudeness. "Explain about my hands, Vince," he muttered apologetically, as he started back up to his room. "It's both of them. I can't think." And it's your own damned fault for dropping in uninvited, he thought. But he was too close to tears to be defiant, and almost too tired to register what he heard next.
"I have been praying for you for fifty years," said Kalingemala Lopore in a voice full of wonder. "God has used you hard, but you have not changed so much that I cannot see who you were."
Sandoz stopped in his climb to the apartment and turned back. He remained hunched, arms crossed against his chest, but now looked closely at the priest standing next to the Father General. Sixtyish -- maybe twenty years younger than Giuliani, and just as tall. Ebony and lean, with the strong bones and deep wide eyes that gave East African women beauty into old age and which made this man's face arresting. Fifty years, he thought. This guy would have been what? Ten, eleven?
Emilio glanced at Giuliani to see if he understood what was going on, but the Father General now seemed as much at a loss as Sandoz, and as startled by the visitor's words. "Did I know you?" Emilio asked.
The African seemed lit from within, the extraordinary eyes glowing. "There is no reason for you to remember me and I never knew your name. But you were known to God when you were still in your mother's womb -- like Jeremiah, whom God also used cruelly." And he held out both hands.
Emilio hesitated before descending the stairs once more. In a gesture that felt, achingly, both familiar and alien, he placed his own fingers, scarred and impossibly long, into the pale, warm palms of the stranger.
All these years, Lopore was thinking, his own shock so great that he forgot the artificiality of the plurals he had forced himself to master. "I remember the magic tricks," he said, smiling, but then he looked down. "Such beauty and cleverness, destroyed," he said sadly and, bringing the hands to his lips, kissed one and then the other unselfconsciously. It was, Sandoz thought later, an alteration in blood pressure perhaps, some quirk of neuromuscular interaction that ended the bout of hallucinatory neuralgia at last, but the African looked up at that moment, and met Emilio's bewildered eyes. "The hands were the easy part, I think."
Sandoz nodded, mute, and frowning, searched the other man's face for some clue.
"Emilio," Vincenzo Giuliani said, breaking the eerie silence, "perhaps you will invite the Holy Father to come upstairs?"
For a hushed instant, Sandoz stared in blank astonishment and then blurted, "Jesus!" To which the Bishop of Rome replied, with unexpected humor, "No, only the Pope," at which the Father General laughed aloud, explaining dryly, "Father Sandoz has been a little out of touch the past few decades."
Dazed, Emilio nodded again and led the way up the staircase.
Mary Doria Russell
Children of God