The HOLY Father – New York City, 1995
Could God have made a better day than this to fly? It was a silent prayer to himself, his eyes squinting against the half-smiling solar sphere’s iridescent light, attempting to catch a glimpse of the skyline below.
The DC-10 hovered as it circled around Manhattan, south of Brooklyn and finally made a loop to descend into JFK Airport from the east. The arrival process was fraught with baby blue - the sky- which seemed to blanket the horizon for miles.
His lips parted only slightly, making one of those toothless smiles. Meanwhile the dark blue surface of New York Harbor, in the distance to his left, glistened almost forcing him to take a deep breath.
Methodically, the aged man folded the Christian Science Monitor and put it under his seat before slowly unbuckling his seatbelt.
“This concludes our non-stop flight from Lagos en route to New York’s Kennedy Airport. We hope you enjoy your stay in New York City, USA or wherever your final destination may be. We will arrive at the gate shortly. Please keep your seatbelts fastened until the plane comes to a complete stop. Thank you for flying TransAfrica.”
He listened patiently for a moment then waved off the PA announcement while straightening his black hat, which sat perfectly atop his coarse white hair protruding from the hat’s brim on all sides.
He grunted as he reached up to get his two medium-sized carry-on bags.
“Let me get that for you reverend,” said a passing passenger with a kind smile.
“Thank you my son. By the way, that would be father. I am a priest within the Holy Roman Catholic Church.”
“Oh my mistake father. Here let me help you with those bags.”
“God Bless you,” the old priest retorted with gratitude.
Making his way off the plane and out of the gate, he wobbled down the short hall to the customs checkpoint just beyond the baggage claim.
“Father, Antonio De la Rosa?” The customs agent read aloud as he surveyed and stamped the priest’s Dominican Republic passport.
“He is I and I am him,” The priest said receiving his passport and then bestowing a firm two-handed - handshake upon the agent.
As he smiled the priest revealed unsightly teeth, some missing, some yellow. Yet the customs agent seemed to take delight in the father’s presence.
“Enjoy your stay father.”
“Thank you my son, may God bless you.”
On he went down the escalator to a short corridor that lead to ground transportation. As the escalator took him down, he clutched the wooden rosary around his neck, thanking providence for a safe journey.
Below him was a seemingly muted repetitious animal outburst of some kind, which soon deafening noise as he descended from the mezzanine level.
Interrupting his muted incantation was a vicious and barking German Shepherd with a small line of white foam forming around its black gums. It growled and hissed at him with great avarice, breaking loose from its leash and nipping gingerly at the priest’s ankles.
Father De la Rosa retreated with youthful agility, fanning the dog away with his bags.
“Down Elliot, heel boy,” pleaded a uniformed officer whose insignia on his uniform read: Port Authority NY/NJ.
“I’m..I apologize father,” he continued, clumsily recovering the animal. “He hasn’t eaten all day or gotten much exercise lately. Sometimes he gets feisty.”
“A police dog eh?” inquired De la Rosa rubbing his long beard in relief and removing his glasses to wipe his eyes and then the lenses with a handkerchief produced from the inside of his cloak. He then patted his brow.
“He’s an all-purpose - easy boy, easy – contraband detector. We’ve been acting on tips, on some big smugglers, diamonds, designer drugs, and other uh..well…contraband. Everyone’s been on edge including Elliot here. Isn’t that right boy?”
The dog persisted with short muffled groans and yelps.
“It’s quite alright young man. You named the dog Elliot. Is there some significance?”
The guard smiled, glad that someone – anyone - took an interest in him or his dog.
“He is named after Elliot Ness, you know the guy who caught Al Capone.”
“Yeah, I used to watch untouchables as a kid and Robert Stack was my idol.”
“Uh, yeah, uh, can I help you with your bags? Do you have transportation?”
“I’m actually headed to the taxi stand.”
“Here father, allow me, easy boy. Shhh, come on boy, chill out, easy.”
“Whoa what you got here, bricks?”
The priest snickered.
“In a sense they are bricks, building a strong foundation for the soul, fifty hard-cover King James Version Bibles for the children of my parish and other lost souls.”
Father De la Rosa reached into one of the bags and brandished one of the large Bibles tapping it for emphasis and quickly replacing it as the dog’s barks grew loud again.
The sliding door opened to a sultry afternoon that made De la Rosa quite uncomfortable in his long cloak. Notwithstanding his discomfort, he made his way to the cab stand, watching as the dog continued to reproach him and wondering if his seven-day mission across Asia, parts of Europe and Africa, had really done him, his parish or the world any good.
“You run a church?” the guard asked, heaving - the conduit between the dog and the luggage - as he pulled the heavy duffel bags and their contents across the street to the taxi cab bay.
The priest answered clasping his hand, as if praying, while he continued to advance.
“No, God runs the church. I actually preside over a parish in the Bronx. Yeap, the Bible, some of the best stories ever told.”
The officer ignored his bantering.
“Here you go father uh….”
“Father Tony – De la Rosa.”
“Glad to have been of service Father De la…. Easy boy. Damn, easy chill the hell out,. Sheesh. Jesus Christ.”
“Jesus Christ indeed.”
“Oh I’m sorry father uh, see you later have a good trip.”
“Many thanks my son.” He was waving and almost got hit by a cab pulling up at about 15 miles per hour.
“What the fu…heyyyyy uh reverend where you goin’ today? Sorry about that.”
“No problem, you almost got me though. I’m headed for the Bronx.”
“Let me get the bags there. Whoa shi.. I mean shoot. These babies are heavy!” the driver said depositing the bags into the trunk.
A, smokeless, damp and flaccid cigarette dangled from the right corner of the cabby’s mouth. Recognizing the taste, he removed it quickly and threw it away as he opened the door for De la Rosa.
The driver, portly, unshaved and tanned, wore a Hawaiian style shirt over a yellowing v-neck T-shirt and khaki pants.
The priest, with enigmatic eyes, smooth bronze skin and full lips covered by a thick snow white beard, straightened up his cloak and settled in, exclaiming, “my long trips ends on 222nd and White Plains Road.
“Oh yeah in the Bronx, I’m from Crotona Pahhk. You gotta church up there or sumpin’ uh.. father? Say, why didn’t you order a town car, you know a livery? Can’t the church spring fo….”
“Questions, questions. Our greatest weapons against tyranny. To answer your first question: yes and it…, yes I do it’s also a home for boys. To answer your second: I’m not going there now. I intend to visit a dear friend and his family for dinner. It’s nice to have friends wouldn’t you agree?”
“Whatever you say pops.”
The priest frowned playfully diverting his attention to birds that soared in the trade winds that flowed toward the imposing twin towers of the World Trade Center, miles across the water in the distance, erected tall on the urban landscape.
“Ah New York, so good to be home. Congestion. So congested a city but no greater a culture and identity in all the world.”
“Got that right. This town’s got culture comin’ out the as…Oh excuse me uh reverend I mean father.”
“It’s quite alight. I’m not your judge. I am but a man.”
The driver stared with curiosity at the clergyman through the rearview mirror, his eyes narrowing with examination.
“Say, don’t you wanna maybe take off the hat and the cloak. It’s like 80 degrees and you’re sweatin’ pretty good there. What’s with the clothes, where’d you come from Ant-friggin-artica?! For Christ’s sake man you’re bakin’.”
“Everything is for Christ’s sake my friend,” De la Rosa said clearing his throat. Thank you for your concern but I’m quite content. It’s the heat that keeps me on my toes. Yes, on fire for God.”
They both laughed heartily.
Oddly, the priest thought, there isn’t much traffic.
The cab easily glided across the Van Wyck Expressway and past the tollbooth after the Whitestone Bridge.
The priest’s head turned with curiosity, as the driver took the road toward I-95, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, rather than the Bruckner Expressway, which was closer to where he was going!
TO BE CONTINUED!