• A Meeting Under the Moon

    There is a small café on the Hill where we meet up, Diane and myself, every year or so. Yesterday was the appointed day, and I was early, as usual. I was already there when she arrived. I watched her approach, saw her occasionally glancing left and right – searching for certain familiar faces in the crowd, and hoping not to find them. It has been a long time since that was necessary, but old habits die hard.

    She enters, smiles to the waiter, orders coffee, joins me at me table in the corner.

    ‘How are things?’


    We’ve met this way seven times now, and each time the pattern is the same. For half an hour we discuss this and that. We talk about my research, or her projects, her troubles with Dave, mine with Ann. Little things. It always takes us a while to get to the point.

    Sooner or later one of us finds a way in. This time it’s family –

    ‘So how’s your brother doing at King’s?’

    ‘Tom’s doing ok.’ A few moments of awkward silence, while I work up the courage to respond –

    ‘How’s yours?’

    ‘Daniel gave in. Spent three days with a friend, a week on the street, and came crawling back to Father to be Blessed. The ceremony’s in three weeks, then off to Seoul for the honeymoon.’

    And there it is, out in the open. The tension drains.

    ‘Who’s the bride?’ She shrugs.

    ‘Does it matter?’

    No, it doesn’t. Church policy is to marry the children of foreign devotees to the children of the faithful in Korea. I suppose one frightened, disoriented, dislocated girl is much like another. Diane used to tell me about her parents – misunderstandings moving to disagreements moving to open fighting, ending in days of silent bitterness and alcoholism. I don’t mention this, and neither does she. Maybe Daniel will do better!

    ‘Will you be going to the wedding?’

    ‘Danny wants me to, but I shouldn’t. It’s hard enough for Mum and Dad having a backslider like me in the family at all. It makes them look bad.’

    I didn’t say anything to that. We sat in silence for a while, then she got up for more coffee. I thought back – to the party where we met, and to the day after, when a mutual friend told me about the Church. I had recognised the name. I’d seen it mentioned in certain American books with titles like KINGDOM OF THE CULTS and CULTS, SECTS AND FALSE CHRISTIANITIES. I was very nearly physically sick.

    We became friends. We had people in common, and some mutual interests. When she eventually told me about her life, and the Church, she was surprised by how easily I accepted it. I told her what I had read; she didn’t care about the theological niceties. She laughed at some of the authors’ dramatic claims about Church practices, but she confirmed others. Arranged marriage, a hierarchal structure, a central authority figure – the usual thing. My academic understanding of her situation was a novelty for her, and we grew closer.

    I cringe as I remember my one attempt to share the Gospel with her, back when I believed. I described the life and death of Christ, and His atoning death on the cross. Atoning? He died so that God could finally forgive all of us for our many sins – her and hers included. At that she had laughed, and changed the subject. Once bitten, and so on. She came to that realisation much sooner than I did.

    I cringe a bit more as I remember the last few months of sixth form, when my friendly affection and knight-in-shining-armour complex crossed a most unfortunate line. She let me down gently, and I recovered from my little sillyness just in time to say goodbye as sixth form finished and university approached.

    She returned and I woke up. We chatted for a little longer, but we’d gone back to the trivialities. After seven years, there’s not much to say about the important stuff. It’s enough for me to know that she’s ok, and for her to know that I’m still around. We finished our coffee, got up, embraced briefly, and left. We went back to our research and projects and boyfriend and fiancé and normal lives.

    Until next year.