Summer lies heavily on the street. Two men sit at a distance from each other at a bus stop. One wears black with a white collar, the other has taken off his tweed jacket and loosened his tie. Their respective buses are far off, and both are uncomfortably alert to the silence between them. The first man frets knowing that this other man is nervous because of him. The second man can’t sit still. He is dreading the conversation he knows this priest is about to start.
“Good evening.” The priest’s voice is as warm as the sidewalk.
“And to you,” the other man says too quickly.
“It’s a little warm out today.”
“Humid as hell too.” The man winces. “Sorry, Father.”
The priest shakes his head in dismissal. “I always find myself at a loss with new people. They know as soon as they see me what I do, and I know nothing about them.”
The man nods. “I teach architectural design at the university.”
“Teaching is a noble profession. Tell me, do you find it rewarding?” The priest has been trained to keep people talking. He believes it makes them feel more at ease.
“No? That’s too bad.”
The professor fumbles with his tie. “I meant, it is difficult relaying the same material to students who think they know everything. These kids are so eager to create that they don’t stop to realize the importance of — ”
He stops and hesitantly scoots closer to the priest. A large man in dark sunglasses, sweating profusely, approaches the bus stop and turns to sit. He folds his white cane into thirds, leans his bulk backwards, and sighs.
With annoyance on his face, the professor continues, “It’s just that the work doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves.”
“I sympathize with you there. My parish takes and takes without a thought of how exhausting it can be.”
“In a way, I suppose we’re both educators,” the professor concedes.
“I hope so,” mutters the priest.
They hear the blind man’s breathing on the far side of them. His head bobs disrhythmically.
The professor removes his tie and asks, “Do you know anything about architecture?”
The priest sits straighter. “Well, the Church has certainly constructed its share of marvels. We’ve built many of the things you teach about. Westminster Abbey, for example.”
“The Dome of the Rock is much more significant,” the professor says.
“Have either of you been in a cathedral?” the blind man asks, his head nodding a greeting to the pavement.
The priest and the professor start and look at each other. The priest speaks first.
“My parish work keeps me busy. I don’t get to travel,” he confesses.
“Bingo night takes a lot of effort,” says the professor.
The blind man bobs patiently, waiting for the professor to answer.
“I’ve been to the St. Louis Cathedral,” the professor says. “But it was closed to the public. They were having Easter services.”
“In New Orleans. The one with the voodoo symbols on the steeple,” confirms the newcomer.
The priest gasps.
“You two have never been inside a large house of worship?” the blind man asks incredulously.
“That’s a shame.” The blind man shakes his head. “Most of them are beautiful.”
This gets a stare from both men.
The professor leans forward. “How do you know they are beautiful? You’re blind.”
The priest squints his eyes against the setting sun and shakes his head disapprovingly.
“I have been in a few,” the blind man returns. He sips in the humidity, then begins. “Sometimes the older ones drip. I’ve never found the sources and the priests don’t know about it, but sometimes they drip. And they echo. The walls are cold and they bounce sound around even in the quiet. Everyone is hushed, except sometimes for children. If a service is underway the people in the cathedral get noisier. The priests’ voices boom. The acoustics, you know. The people listening think their own voices are drowned out, but the acoustics work just as well for them. You should hear the footsteps.”
The priest looks at the professor and shrugs a little. A bus pulls up in front of them.
The blind man ducks his wobbling head with a frown. Unfolding his cane, he stands to board his bus.
Christopher Floyd lives and writes in Fayetteville, Arkansas.