They came in droves in the wake of the Second War. Every solider wanted a clean slate before being drenched in the blood and sins of what they were about to do. Many of them to never return to their loved ones again.
Another soldier clinked and clanked to the confessional. Sword and shield at her back, she parted the curtain gently and sat down. Black hair cut short, she looked no older than Father Baran’s son did when he left for the First War. Perhaps even younger.
And to think, in his day, a woman wasn’t allowed anywhere near the battle field.
Times had changed.
For the worse, it seemed.
He cleared his throat, biting back his disgust and donning the stoic manner he wore for every solider that came before. “The Lady welcomes you to her sanctum, my child.”
She bowed. “And I welcome Her.”
“What brings you here to her disciple today?”
“I ask that you forgive me, Father, for I am about to sin.”
Father Baran nodded. “Indeed you are. You are about to go to war and hurt many people.”
She pursed her lips. “And I guess… I should probably tell you about the other sins I’ve done, too. But I’m not sure where I should start.”
“Anywhere you like, my child.”
She took a deep breath and drew a star across her chest.
“When I was born, my mother died. And as far as I know, someone picked me up, put me in a basket, and left me at the foot of a farm in Kajha. A man and a woman took care of me for a time, but when the farm wasn’t growing anything, they had to give me away to an orphanage to pay for more seeds. And then that orphanage got torn down, and I was living with an innkeeper for a long, long time. But he was very, very mean to me. I worked as hard as I could, and I helped him do all of his chores, but business wasn’t booming as much, and so he blamed me for it. So I was out on the street.
“But then, Father — right then, when I was feeling my lowest, I met these two wonderful people, who were so nice to me and everything. They gave me clothes and gave me all this stuff and taught me how to read and write. I was really happy, then. And I thank the Lady for giving me that.”
Father Baran gave a small smile. “The Lady works in wondrous ways.”
“But…” Her eyes glistened with tears. “But then I felt something, Father. I felt something I shouldn’t have. You see, there was this girl. And she was so pretty and happy, and I told her I wanted to take a walk with her. And we did. We took a walk, but… it became more than just a walk.” She blushed. “We… We did it before we got married, Father. I did it with her.”
Father Baran stiffened.
“And then,” she said, “the people that found me and took me in — they found out what we did, and… They didn’t let me back home.” She sniffled. “So… so I thought, you know, well, what if I get a sword and a shield? Make them proud? Maybe they’ll let me back in, you know? ‘Cause nobody else ever lets me back in, you know? And they… They were so nice to me, and I thought, maybe — ”
She covered her face in her gloves and sobbed.
Father Baran blinked. Her sins weighed her heavily. And it was no wonder they did so. After all, this was Her doing. Why else would this poor girl have been punished all those years? Why else would She bring her into this world?
To use her as an example. To make her beg for forgiveness.
To force her to mend herself in ways she didn’t know how.
To force her to mend herself in ways his late son did not know how.
“Please, Father.” She begged him between each sob. “Please forgive me. I don’t know what else to do.”
Father Baran removed his spectacles, wiped them, and replaced them. “What is your name, my child?”
“Miri… Such pure name.” He rose from the confessional and stepped out. “I am sorry, my child, but I cannot forgive you of your sins.”
Miri tore her hands away from her face. “No, Father, please! You have to forgive me! Please!”
“I cannot.” His hand, wrapped with the white beads of a rosary, parted the curtain on her side of the confessional. “For you have not committed any.”
Miri’s sobs faded. Her hands stopped trembling.
Father Baran frowned, blinking away his own tears. “The Lady works in wondrous ways. And I believe She has brought you to me not so that you could confess your sins, but that I could confess mine.”
She blinked. “W-What do you mean?”
“I, too, had a child, who found love in the same flesh, and I, too, had abandoned him in his time of need. This was the sin that I committed as a father. This was what the Lady tried to teach me all those years ago, and now, it is I who must repent.” He unwrapped the rosary from his hand and gently wrapped it around hers. “By Her Lady’s mercy and this rosary, you shall return unscathed. You will commit many sins to your fellow man, and you will be forgiven for each of them. You will be welcomed as a child of my own, in my very home and in this sanctum. You will never be put out in the streets again, nor shunned for your misfortune or your love of the same flesh. Do you understand me, child?”
Miri’s eyes widened. She buried her face in his chest and wept. “Oh, Father Baran, thank you! Thank you!”
He shook his head, blinking back a few tears. “No, Miri. Just ‘Father.’ ”
This week’s flash fiction piece was inspired by every confessional scene I’d ever seen in a movie. I’m not Catholic, but I always found the intimacy of two people in a closed space with their faces obscured from each other, with one confessing the wrongs that they did. I am giving it a little bit of a twist in that the one who is confessing is doing something they don’t want to do, but… still the same idea.