The walls of the small chapel greet the young boy as he draws near. It was a beautiful building, despite the vines and cracks beginning to make their appearance ー maybe even pristine, he thought, all thanks to the kindly priest that had industriously tidied the place up every so often.
As he approaches, the boy can see that the chapel's doors are wide open. Father Dindo stands in the doorway with a broom in one hand, sweeping dirt out onto the pavement. The priest nods in greeting.
"Good day, Noel."
"Hello"," Noel answers meekly.
The young boy tended to visit each house in the small town as the neighbors invited him for a quick chat (and occasionally giving him a gift). Today, the town chapel was his last stop. Noel sighs in relief ー rain has started to come down, and he doesn't want to be outside for much longer.
"How are you?" Noel asks.
"I am well, despite the weather"," Father Dindo says with a smile, though he looked at Noel with concern. "Have you forgotten your umbrella?"
Noel nods, although there wasn't an umbrella for him to bring along anyway. Looking back, the inside of his house was barren and devoid of anything, aside from a small blanket and wooden table that was carelessly crammed into a corner.
"That's unfortunate"," the priest says, nodding. "Do come inside where it's warm. You can wait for the rain to stop until then."
Noel is about to decline the offer when the light shower has started to turn into a downpour, and the priest has opened the wooden doors wider, gesturing for him to enter. The boy bows his head and says thanks, hurrying through the doorway and safe from the rain.
The chapel's small stained-glass windows are dull and lifeless, with the heavy rain clouds blocking the sun outside. Though there were lit candles which were the only sources of light inside, the flickering yellow glow they gave off wasn't enough to light the room fully. Noel’s nose twitched at the smell of smoke in the air, but he ignores it.
"Please make yourself comfortable while we wait for the rain to stop"," Father Dindo tells Noel, gesturing to the pews. "I'd like to have a chat with you, if it's alright."
At his words, Noel felt himself getting tense, but he says nothing and sits down with the priest instead.
"How are you finding the town so far, Noel?" Father Dindo asks him with a welcoming smile. "I hope you are enjoying yourself. They seem to like you, the neighbors."
"I am"," replies Noel, grinning up at the priest. "This place is nice. The people are nice. There is good food. I wish I could just stay here."
"Well! I'm glad to hear that. You were restless when you first got here. Quite the racket you caused, but that's all in the past",” Father Dindo chuckles. “Do you like reading, Noel?”
The boy’s smile fades a bit. “I’d like to. But I never went to school, and my parents didn’t teach me anything.”
The priest hums apologetically. “That’s unfortunate. Would you like me to talk with the school head? I am sure they will be willing to accept such a motivated student as you are.”
Noel thinks about it. If he ever had the chance to go to school, he would take it immediately – and this was it. He starts to open his mouth to accept, but a thought stopped him.
Father Dindo notices his hesitation. “What’s the matter, Noel? Do you not want it?”
Noel shakes his head. “It’s not that, Father. I want to, but I think about my brothers and sisters back in the city. Will they be alright?”
“May I ask why? Where are your parents?” asks the priest.
“A man in a blue uniform held them down and brought them to a station",” Noel says. “The man in the uniform says they’ve been smuggling drugs, and that’s why they won’t be back for a long time. I worry about my siblings; who will feed them?”
Both of them stay silent for a moment.
The sound of heavy rain echoes in Noel’s ears as he continued to ponder about his life back home. He’d been brought here after he tried stealing food for his five siblings, with the uniformed people saying it was some sort of rehabilitation process for him. Noel did not understand why; they were getting hungry, so they should be able to eat, right?
Noel remembers the feeling of an empty stomach – a dull, throbbing pain in his stomach that lasted for a week until he and his siblings were able to scavenge for food in the streets.
He did not want to imagine how they were dealing with that feeling again, while he himself did not even have to go outside to get fed.
He felt a pang of guilt at the thought.
If only he did not try to steal from that stall, he still would’ve been back on the streets. At least his brothers and sisters wouldn’t feel hungry.
Stealing is bad, or so Noel heard, but desperation drove him to do it. At that time only that bag of biscuits mattered – he thought of how he heard his younger sister wail about hunger every night, and how his brothers would clutch at their stomachs because of it.
Their parents were hardly ever home. And if they were, Noel and his siblings would constantly get yelled at by their father, telling them to get out and make money so he can buy his alcohol. The strong smell of beer and tobacco hung in the air when their father would make a rare appearance inside their house, and Noel never failed to find countless bottles of gin scattered on the wooden boards of their shabby shack in the slums.
He can't remember when he last saw his mother cook for them, nor take up jobs to feed herself and her children. The young boy always saw her sit at a gambling place near their neighborhood for almost a whole day, sometimes not even coming home for two nights ー and when she did return to their house, an unbearable tension could be felt between her and their father, as if they were about to start yelling at each other. When that happened, Noel made sure to make a quick exit through their door and spend the rest of the day scraping for recyclables to sell at a junk shop.
"Worry not"," Father Dindo says, pulling Noel out of his thoughts. "The government has taken your siblings into care until you return; perhaps they will find you a place to live as well."
Noel looks up at the priest again with a hopeful expression. "Really? Do they treat them well?"
"That makes me happy"," Noel says, sighing in relief. "I was starting to feel very unpleasant."
Father Dindo's eyebrow creases in concern. "What do you mean by that, boy?"
"I don't know what it's called. I just feel bad for what I did"," says Noel.
Sitting back, the priest hums in understanding before speaking again. "Perhaps you are feeling guilty?"
"Is that what it's called?" asks the boy. "It doesn't feel very good. Something is weighing down on my chest when I think about what I did."
Father Dindo ponders his words for a moment. "May I suggest something that could make you feel lighter?"
Noel's interest is piqued. He says nothing, and the priest continues on. "Do you know the saying 'All is well, and all shall be well'? It is a favorite of mine, by Julian of Norwich."
He shakes his head. "Can you tell me why you like it?"
"Well, I suppose." Father Dindo clears his throat. "I admit that as a child, I used to get in a lot of trouble in school. I suppose you could say it was what they called a rebellious phase"," he says, somewhat embarrassed. "Until one of my friends took me to a small chapel to run a short errand, a writing on a framed parchment paper caught my eye ー 'All is well, and all shall be well'. I thought something so simple was beautiful. Then a lot of things happened. I started to draw closer to the Lord, and, well, as you can seeー" the priest gestures to himself, "I am where I am now."
Father Dindo smiles to himself at the fond memory, clasping his hands together. "Let me ask you: do you believe in God, Noel?"
The boy hesitates for a moment. His parents had never took him to church, not that they wanted to or bothered to. He never had the time to go to church during one of his scavenging sessions, only seeing the church's exterior back home ー needless to say, it had never been part of his life before. Noel did not know what to say as the only time he came in direct contact with the Church was when he came to this small town.
Father Dindo notices his hesitation again and gives him small smile. "It doesn't matter if you do or don't. It may sound strange to hear that from me given that I am a priest, but I do not aim to convert you ー it's more on doing good things in this world, which is the work of our Creator. And that saying makes me think about the meaning of my faith, and how to live with the same faith every day."
"...Faith?" Noel repeats.
The priest nods. "Yes, faith. The Lord has created us in his image as his children who will take care of his creations in this world, so that it will continue to be beautiful just as he intended it to be ー though we make mistakes, we are only human. Anything we may have done and the sins we have, as well as the guilt we feel from them... I think He would want us to do more good in this world the best we can instead of simply begging for His forgiveness. The Lord is kind and loving ー he has already forgiven us. All is well, and all shall be well."
As Father Dindo speaks, Noel can feel his heart sinking lower and lower into his stomach.
The world he knew was not beautiful. It was filled with alcohol, negligence, and hardship. The only mountains and oceans Noel had seen were tall piles of garbage that gave off an incredible stench when he heard they were supposed to be breathtaking. The boy thought they did the exact opposite.