I went to a church with Shani the following morning at half past ten. She came for me. It was supposed to be the other way round, but for some inexplicable reason I was a nervous wreck by nine, having had about three and a half hours sleep and a morningly panic attack, and I phoned to say I didn’t know how the hell I’d get to hers without collapsing from lack of moral support.

Yeah, I reckon that was my problem. Lack of moral support. My parents, being staunch atheists, were not much help to me. I didn’t mention the idea of I, the sinner, visiting an ecclesiastical haven, more than the first time, to which they had laughed, just murmuring that I’d be at Shani’s for dinner.

I was a horrible sinner. I still am, for that matter, just to clear that up. A disgraceful sinner. A boy so immersed in sinful thoughts of murder and revenge and I hate to relate what else that the very concept of passing a church filled me with a lukewarm repulsion.

Satan, I told myself, was within me. And I must conquer myself for the next two hours, just so I could accompany Shani to her fate, as promised. How I could possibly pass over the threshold of that place, I had no idea. I didn’t even believe in Satan, for Christ’s sakes!

I recounted all this to Shani as she led me down the road. I confess now that I was shaking over the entire duration of the journey, and leaning on her more heavily than she would normally have put up with. She mentioned it once, but I know that she was so intent on bringing me to a place of salvation that she dared no upset me.

But that very thing upset me, and set my eyes joggling unnervingly in their sockets. Deanna Macpherson, I reasoned without having time to block the thought, would not have kept quiet for the sake of her enthusiasm and my reaction to any remonstrance. She would have curbed her tongue because she understood me and why I was in such a state, but not directly to please me. I cannot explain it well, but the fact remains however my writing skills fail me in recounting my emotions.

I could do the ‘what?’ questions, but always fell down on the ‘how?’s, as you may have inferred. Having an averagely good memory, I am able to remember many of the most significant facts, but when I need to analyse and interpret, I am required to think, and I do not take kindly to thinking on topics that are imposed upon me.

But this is irrelevant, as the padding of my tale often is. I will return to my time on the road, leaning on Shani’s arm, recounting the adventures of the morning.

“You shouldn’t say ‘how the hell’ and ‘for Christ’s sakes’ when you’re going to church,” she hissed at me, and I was amused and irritated simultaneously. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to snap, “Bloody hell, I’ll say what I like!”, so I imitated her little game, and chuckled, to humour her, I suppose. What a contradictory hypocrite I am! A sinner! Why am I going to church in the first place? I am such a moron! Like I’d be welcome! Like I’d be saved! Like I’m not beyond redemption for the crime I haven’t committed yet, but have spent my whole life plotting as to how to carry out the damned thing.

A few minutes of silence then ensued, which was beginning to get embarrassingly awkward for me, if not for Shani, whose cheeriness was really beginning to grate on my jittery nerves. And then Shani, luckily for me, for I could feel my adrenalin building for another panic attack, and it was scheduled for as we hit the next kerb half a hundred yards away, spoke with a complete alteration of subject.

“My cousin has depression.”

Far from slowing to normal, my heartbeat gave a tangible jolt and I felt a hard bubble implode in my throat, squeezing, strangling, burning, racking my body and shredding my bones.

Shani gave me a look. I pulled my skeleton back into its normal shape and forced myself to speak normally, which just a slight tightness telltale of the trauma within.

“Dunno what that was about. Your cousin okay?”

“That’s not the right question. More importantly, are you okay, Den? You know you can tell me anything, and I promise I’ll try not to ask stupid questions.”

She was curious. “Okay…why do you say that?”

“You started when I mentioned depression.”

“I did?” I’m no actor – that voice was the guiltiest voice I have ever had the pleasure to attempt to conceal – and the most appalling failure at concealment I have ever had the embarrassment to hear.

“When a person hears something that gets them, even if it’s meant to be funny, they will always be on the defence. They will see it with the utmost seriousness.”

“So your cousin isn’t…?”

“My cousin killed herself!”

I felt my world crumble to the ground with an explosion of dark sparks. No…

The End

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