Wade walked past the monk twice from about forty feet away. He didn’t make eye contact with the man but could tell from his stiff posture that he wished to be left alone. The park seemed like a curious place to encounter a monk until Wade thought that he probably enjoyed normal activities like regular people. What a stupid thought, he chastised himself. Normal, regular. He’s just a guy in a robe. Sure Wade wouldn’t run into him at the club, but—enough. Just go talk to the guy.
But first, Wade stood in the shade of a large oak tree and ground an old acorn cap into the grass with the heel of his boot. Casual, with hands in his pockets, he affected the pretense of seeing the monk for the first time. His performance met with tight lips and long sighs. Perhaps that’s how these religious types acted. Damn it, Wade, there you go again. Stereotyping when you really need this guy’s help.
Screw it. Wade pushed off from the oak, scuffing the sleeve of his black leather jacket. He walked toward the monk with shoulders back, head held high. When he remembered this wasn’t some dude hitting on his girlfriend, his balled fists returned to his pockets, posture relaxed, eyes searched the ground for acceptance or rejection.
“Can I sit down?”
The monk closed his magazine and rolled it in a tube. Perhaps he’d smack Wade across the nose like a bad dog.
“I don’t hear confessions.”
“Oh, that’s cool, because what I need is advice.”
Wade plopped onto the bench, squeezing the monk over, turning to observe in profile the man’s Santa beard and bald pate. A lanyard with keys and a YMCA keycard jangled as the monk repositioned on the seat. These items, together with the glossy magazine and flip flops, made Wade wonder if this guy had been a monk long enough to offer solid advice. He was old, but how much cooler it would have been if the monk had stopped at this point during his own spiritual walk, toes dusty from the journey, meditating over a prayer book. Wade recognized an ad for Chevy trucks on the tube of magazine pages.
The monk sighed again and crossed his legs, revealing calves covered in lamb’s wool. Wade grimaced but diverted his stare by reading the graffiti carved into the tree trunk behind them. His fingers grazed over Sarah and Andrew’s eternal pledge of love. His cheeks reddened as he traced a swear word. He would have preferred the monk start the conversation with bless you my child but settled for hands folded as if in prayer.
“Okay, so last week my friend, Duke, came to me, and he’s all excited and talking about this great deal he wants to share with me.”
Wade paused, testing the monk’s interest level by trying to catch his eye. The older man offered a nod and twiddled his thumbs much to Wade’s annoyance.
“Anyhow, it’s all about this opportunity to buy in to this new club they’re building downtown. You know this town is, like, primed for new business,” —the monk shrugged and raised his eyebrows— “and I have my share and then some already saved.”
The buzz of a cicada was the only sound until the monk understood it was his turn to speak.
“Yes, well, what’s your question?”
“Should I spend the money? Invest in this place?”
So it was to be a game of twenty questions. The monk seriously considered pointing the young man with a shorn head and tattoos creeping up his neck in the direction of the Catholic Church two blocks south. Surely the priest would be better suited to the task at hand. Instead he gathered his robe about him and crossed his arms, shifting his weight onto his left thigh to gain space between himself and the young man.
“Is this what you saved for?”
“Nah, the money was supposed to be for a down payment on a house. But I have almost double what I need and could easily save it again. Faster because this club’s going to make money.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Well, Duke’s cousin has experience with this sort of thing in New York. He knows all about running and promoting these kinds of places.”
“And yet he’s here.”
“True. I never thought of that. But I’ve seen the plans for this place, and it’s going to be awesome.”
“Sounds as if you’ve already made up your mind.”
The monk titled his head, blinked slowly, hoping to signal the end of the conversation.
“That’s it? You don’t, like, have any sage advice for me or something?”
The monk’s eyes widened at Wade’s use of the word sage. That’s right, old man, I’m not illiterate. Wade bent to pick up a twig, used it to pry mud from his treads. It was time to really impress this guy.
“I even prayed about it because I’m undecided, you know, and even though I didn’t promise or nothing, my girlfriend knows that money was supposed to be for a house.”
“Like, God, you know? And then here you sit, so I figured you’re part of my answer or something. Of course, you weren’t the first person I consulted. That was my accountant. God, my accountant, then you.”
The young man settled back on the bench with his arms stretched along the back. He probably expected the monk to turn toward him for the rest of the conversation. If only a throbbing headache hadn’t crept up the back of the monk’s neck. The heels of both hands ground into the monk’s eyes, blotting out the sun and shooting sparks through the blackness. There was absolutely nothing of interest in this whole laughable matter.
“Why on earth did you consult your accountant?”
“Because I’m totally sure this place is going to make money, and I needed to know how to handle it all. Investments and stuff.”
“If you’re sure, why are we having this conversation?”
“Well, Padre,” —the monk didn’t bother to correct him— “that may be the true heart of my dilemma.”
The monk raised his hands, palms up.
“Am I being arrogant by saying this club is going to fly, or is it just confidence that I can make it work, because I’m not afraid of a little hard work?”
“Is there a third option?”
“I can tell you’re skeptical, Father Brown,” —the punk laughed at his own joke— “but I don’t want to do anything against, you know, the Big Guy in the Sky.”
Wade tossed a glance upward, nodded knowingly.
“What I’m saying is I’d like to think I’m exercising a little faith about this situation.”
“Faith? Did God tell you you’re going to be successful?”
“Well, not directly. That’s why I’m talking to you.”
“I can assure you He didn’t tell me anything about it.”
The inside of Wade’s cheek received a serious gnawing as he absentmindedly worked his finger at the edge of his nostril.
Perhaps this is over, thought the monk. Tension tightened the young man’s body when he leaned his elbows on his knees, ran his hand hard over his face. The monk clutched his robe and placed both feet on the ground.
“Does it surprise you to know I’ve committed my plans, like, to God, Padre?”
The monk’s stomach knotted at the loosely quoted scripture.
“Yes, well, my son,” —the endearment did not roll off his tongue easily— “it is a club. There will be drinking, and people dancing, and smoking—well, not smoking inside anymore—but still, the women will no doubt be dressed very scantily. Besides, you did earmark this money for a house. Now that’s a real investment even in this lousy economy.”
“So what you’re saying is that my prayers for success can’t be answered? That I’m some kind of arrogant ass to think I might have a shot at this?”
“I’m just, just cautioning against pride, and, well, I’m not sure a club is God’s will for you.”
“But you don’t really know what His will for me is, do you?”
“Well, no. I’m sorry, but—I just don’t know who you think I am. What do you want from me?”
“Nothing, I guess. It was a long shot, you know, even talking to you.”
Wade stood and brushed off the front of his jeans as if crumbs had fallen on his lap. He listened to the drone of a single, persistent cicada calling to someone and receiving no answer. Sunlight beyond the canopy of branches beckoned, and he stepped into the golden warmth. Without looking at the monk, he said, “Thanks anyhow, man. I know it was, like, a lot to put on you, you not knowing me and stuff. It sounded like a good opportunity, is all. But now I’m not so sure.”
With shoulders rounded, Wade walked away, his arms swaying like abandoned swings. He headed for the parking lot before veering his course and setting off down the road.
Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the unusual picture.