She walked until she was lost, until around her was nothing more than a random neighborhood, Asian massage parlors and florists with bright day lilies blooming from watering cans, sidewalk trash everywhere. They were beginning to decorate for Carnival, and Laura moved swiftly through the streets, eyes squinting, Bonhoeffer tucked beneath her arm. She had no idea how far she had walked, miles probably, back across the river and along the concrete promenade, past the strings of colored lights hung like garland, far enough to sweat, fingers moistening the dust jacket of her book. If she could find a still place she would most definitely read, read and pray. Perhaps she would even think.
She had heard all the arguments against her presence. Do your donors believe we all live in mud huts, Ms. Riley? Are we all stock characters with bare feet and no teeth? It was the white savior complex. It was just another form of imperialism. Those were the charges leveled against her. She knew, too, she could never be in complete solidarity with the poor because she chose a life that was forced on others. There was always the option of changing her mind even if she knew, swore, promised she never would. It wasn’t her faith in action that had wavered. She still believed in what she was doing. Maybe it would be as fruitless as her time in Guatemala or El Salvador—probably it would, almost certainly it would—but she couldn’t control that.
What she could control was in front of her.
She thought of Jonas. At some point in his life he seemed to have discovered certain things, inner resources and simple formulations—the ability not to hate; the Way is a way of life—and that was what she was reaching back to, not certainty but the certain faith she had once felt. But it felt tenuous, the entire construction teetering, as if at any moment she might find herself amid the shambles, the edifice of belief having toppled around her.
She took a bench outside of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and opened Bonhoeffer on her knee. She turned to her bookmark, but something caught her eye and she flipped back to the first blank page. Jonas’ name was written there in square letters. She had taken it from the communal shelf and had no idea it was his, or had been, at least. Jonas’ book. She stared at the printed name and realized she wouldn’t be able to read, not now at least. Instead she prayed, or tried to pray, shutting her eyes and fighting the same blackness that had pervaded her thoughts for weeks. The Unbeing. The sudden desire to extinguish her form, narrow enough that she might pass through the Eye of the Needle, alone and purified.
She opened her eyes. The light hurt beyond belief, but perhaps yet she would face it. She put her fingertips on her temples, very lightly, and focused on the Christ who hung crucified within the church. Senor Caido. Not yet floating but no less fallen. The Christ who hung amid the Last Things.