This story is by Nicholas Aleman and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Once dressed, Cleo took him by the hand and whispered in his ear: “This will be our secret!”
Beto did not remember exactly what happened that hot Friday in June of 1986, in Los Angeles. It began three days after arriving in the United States. What he was sure of is that this unintentional adventure had changed the fate of his life forever, or was this the fate that always awaited him? In his alienation, he took everything as a divine sign, after confession.
The truth is that Beto was unique from his childhood. Like many historians, he was vast in reading, memorized everything he read, albeit without analytical capacity. In this sense, he resembled Funes, the Borgian character.
He learned to read at the age of three or four, and he did it alone and with the Bible. Thus, it is not absurd to say that he grew up devouring the Scriptures in his native Primavera. He was not yet seven years old, and he knew the Scriptures from the beginning to the end, from the Genesis of Moses to the Revelation of John. However, the stories that took away his sleep and burned his childhood from thinking were the latter, John’s and Matthew’s.
John and Matthew say that Satan would be released at the end of the millennium. And that God would judge all humankind according to their deeds. Beto also read in the Qur’an that the world would end in a “flicker, or even closer.” To him, the Qur’an made more sense, or perhaps it was more convenient than the way the Christian text described the end of the world. Beto thought he would be thirty-six when the world would be over. However, he continued to read any religious literature that crossed his path.
On one occasion that he accompanied his mother to the market selling bamboo baskets, he saw some men on the street selling books. Out of curiosity, he approached them and asked them about the treatise on the texts they sold. They explained that it was the Bhagavad Gita and that he spoke of the Supreme God of Hinduism called Shiva. In addition to Shiva, they continued, there were other very advanced spiritual beings, helpers of Shiva.
“Gee”, said Beto. “These helpers of Shiva are the same angels found in the Bible and the Qur’an.” Intrigued, he bought a book with a peseta he found on the street and began to read it immediately.
He finished reading the Gita, which was equal to or larger than Don Quixote, just in three days. He memorized everything, despite his small mind and found it incredible that other religious treatises such as Popul Vuh, the Mayan Bible, which he had previously read, also coincided in many things, fundamentally speaking, with the Gita, the Bible, and the Qur’an. But his heaviness was still the book of the apocalypse. He spent the mornings, evenings, evenings, days, weeks, months, and years without sleep and without eating, looking for answers to his questions.
His poor mother was worried to death at the sight of her son. His eyes looked like dark bottomless pits in his face, and his body as skeletal as Rocinante, Don Quixote’s horse. At first, she had prided herself on his ability to read God’s word, that it would be his path to heaven. However, that blessing had become a curse. His son didn’t eat, and he didn’t sleep. When he barely closed his eyes, he would wake up shouting: “Let Satan go from here that God is with me.” At other times he would wake up crying dreaming of the Virgin Mary prostrate weeping before her crucified son on the cross, paying for the sins of the world. So much was the anguish his mother felt for her son that she thought once of burning his books.
Beto, meanwhile, had his own concerns. He searched the scriptures for answers to his questions. The most important ones to him were:
“How is it that all these books coincide with the end of the world, being from different eras and cultures? What did prophets do to discern the divine message?”
Suddenly, about three o’clock in the morning, Beto got up from the bed like when Lazarus rose from the grave. Once she saw him, his mother said: “Son, what are you doing, and where are you going so early, before the rooster sings?”
“Mother, don’t worry; learn that I already know how to find answers to my questions.”
Beto recalled that three of the greatest prophets in the history of humanity turned away from the world to pray before beginning their mission. They usually did it out in nature; it was there that God revealed himself to them and told them what they had to do. The Lord revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, according to the Exodus or on Mount Horeb, according to Deuteronomy. It is here that God gives the commandments to Moses.
Jesus prayed in the Mount of Temptation and was tempted by the devil, according to the book of Matthew. Jesus defeats the devil three times in this place before revealing to His people as the Messiah or the envoy. In the case of Muhammad, may peace be with him, he received the Qur’an in Hira, a cave on the outskirts of Mecca. Meanwhile, Krishna recited the Gita to Arjuna while in the middle of a battle. Beto thought too to pray in the middle of some coffee plantations near the house where he lived as the prophets did.
“I feel your call,” says Beto once he was in the place. “And something else tells me that I will hear today the voice of God and, who knows, maybe even chosen as the last prophet of the twentieth century,” murmured that mentally challenged Beto on the way in his self-deception.
Upon his holy place, he laid down a plastic mat he sometimes used to cover himself from the rain, and began to pray with a poem he had composed while walking, followed by the Pray of the Lord:
I humbly thank you, oh Lord,
For the light you set in the east,
And for welcoming your priest
Who comes to you on your accord!
I thank you, Holy Father for this melody,
The one I gladly heard when I was on my way,
That you Prepared on this your glorious day,
With cheerful birds that sing in high intensity.
Once he had finished praying, he stayed silent for a few minutes. It was at this moment that he heard voices that said:
“The harvest plentiful, but the workers are few. Go and tell your Lord to hire more workers. You say you love me, then go and feed my sheep.”
“Remember that the eternal is always in a sacrifice. Take your work to be done and do it soon.”
Then he fell into a divine trace, and when he came back to himself, he knew that what God wanted was for him to become a priest. Therefore, he entered the Juan XXIII Seminary, where he studied for six years. However, because of the death squad’s threat to him, Beto had to leave El Salvador and go to the United States. He planned to continue his priesthood, but another incident he had almost upon his arrival, ultimately ended his vocation.
Three days after his arrival in the United States, Beto visited his relatives in their home. Cleo, a girl who was visiting them, said she knew his brother. She told him she wanted to see him. He agreed to take her to his apartment. When they arrived, Cleo asked him for some water, then invited him to sit beside her on the couch. She took a sip of the water, then set the glass she reached out and started to undress Beto.
Beto woke up in shock. He remembered Cleo taking him to the bathtub, touching him, arousing him. Then she had led him to the bedroom. After that, his mind was blank. All he knew was he felt dirty inside and that the only way to be clean was to go to confession, asking God’s forgiveness.
In the end, Cleo woke up beside him and asked him with a smirk, “Do you still want to be a priest?” Then she gets dressed, walks to him and throws her arms around him as she whispers in his ears, “This can be our secret. You don’t have to tell anyone.” Stepping away from him, she walked out of the room, and the next thing Beto heard was the front door shutting.
As planned, Beto went to confession and told the priest everything; after the priest prayed for him, he told him not to worry, that this was not his fault. But Beto felt confused. How could he continue his priestly studies when he felt the way? Did this mean he was gay? Or was it something else? He had to find out.