Tim Frank

Pastor Nelson Grimes’ Surprise Reunion Show

‘Now Mr Kaveat – what would you like to be known as? Can I call you Sohrab?’ said the TV show assistant, moisturising her dry cracked hands, kneading them like dough. Sohrab nodded imperceptibly.

‘Have you seen the show? Are you familiar with the format?’

‘I’ve seen stuff like it,’ Sohrab snapped. ‘I’m not scared if that’s what you’re getting at. The fact is I’ve signed the contract, I’ve got my money and that’s why I’m here, but if you think I’m going to get all riled up and embarrass myself over some nonsense you’ve got another thing coming.’

Before the assistant could retort there was a crackling in her headset and she raced out of the green room that was slowly filling with other guests – the barbie dolls and their oversized breasts discussing carbs and UFOs, the mime artists pretending to be dead by the water fountain and the group of ballerinas stretching their legs on the jukebox that played The Doors.

Sohrab paid them no mind and instead stared at the ticking clock that hung above the litany of daytime TV awards – a giant cross graced the ceiling, a gold-plated confessional in the corner with a couple inside making out. The face of the host, Pastor Nelson Grimes was plastered on every wall. Sohrab’s upper lip curled in disdain as he noticed the Pastor’s neon teeth and the gold earrings, chunky as peanut M&Ms.

‘Sohrab you’re up,’ the assistant called, and then turned to boss a tangle of grips and interns. He manoeuvred his way through electrical equipment – lights, speakers, cables – and arrived at the side of stage where he was confronted by two bouncers.

‘This is Mog and Jit,’ said the assistant. The bouncers looked like out of shape marines, seven-foot-tall, wearing cheap linen suits with swollen ankles bulging out of their socks. Jit had a poppy badge pinned to his lapel.

‘They will make sure you leave the set in one piece.’

‘I’ll be fine,’ said Sohrab waving his hand as if swatting a fly, ‘I won’t be needing them.’

‘That’s what they all say,’ squeaked Mog, ‘but this show never disappoints.’

‘Can we just get on with it?’ Sohrab sighed.

Excitement began to ripple through the audience as the theme music for the show blasted through the hall.

‘You’re on in five,’ said the assistant counting him down, chewing gum in time.

‘Stay safe,’ bleated Jit, as Sohrab tripped on a cable, steadied himself, then eased onto the stage, receiving a warm applause.

He came face to face with the Pastor who stretched a disarming Gatsby-esque smile. The Pastor wore snakeskin loafers and a diamond encrusted cross dangled from his neck.

‘Welcome to the show, Sohrab. Let’s get right into why you’re here,’ the Pastor said, addressing camera two.

‘I believe I’m here for some kind of class reunion,’ Sohrab said, acting bored.

‘Yes indeed! Let’s bring out one of Sohrab’s old classmates!’

The audience went wild as the Pastor left the stage and placed himself amongst the crowd. A woman with swastikas tattooed on her face yet dressed in a conservative trouser suit, shuffled onto the stage and sat on the seat opposite Sohrab. He sat up in his chair and his leg began to fidget.

‘As you can see,’ the Pastor said, ‘this is no ordinary reunion. This is Athena. Sohrab, tell the audience, here and at home, what your connection to her is, please.’

‘We went to school together. Listen I know what you’re doing but…’

‘Let’s go to the VT because clearly Sohrab is dragging his heels and we only have a couple of minutes left for this segment.’

The lights lowered, a hush descended on the crowd and a film was screened at the back of the stage. There was a shot of a curved road, on a gentle gradient – trees lining each side, birds fluttering about on the concrete. There was a voice-over as the screen zoomed in portentously on the centre of the empty street.

‘Eighteen years ago, Sohrab’s little brother, Alessandro, was run over by a Chinese delivery moped sending shock waves through the local community. No one felt the death more keenly than Athena. Alessandro was particularly close to Athena’s mother as he volunteered at the local old people’s home where she lived. Blaming the Chinese in general for the loss, she became a neo-Nazi, messed up her face and became suicidal.’

The lights in the auditorium came on and every camera in the room focused in on Sohrab.

‘This is low,’ he said, feeling the heat of the lights. ‘Pretty damn low.’

‘Would you like to tell everyone what happened next, Sohrab?’ the pastor asked.

‘There’s nothing to tell. Are you really going to exploit the death of a young boy, who did no harm to anyone?’

‘I’m just delivering important stories to the masses. They’re hungry for the truth, for life, it’s as simple as that. Now are you going to tell the tale in your own words or do you want Athena to narrate?’

‘Go ahead, you won’t get a word out of me.’

‘Such a pretty face Athena,’ said the Pastor, ‘tell us, why did you destroy it?’

‘I loved Alessandro like a brother and when the Chinese killed him I wanted everyone to know how I felt about them.’

‘But, Athena, the Chinese didn’t kill him, a Chinese takeaway moped did.’

‘What’s the difference?’

‘Fascinating. Can you tell me more about what happened with Sohrab?’

‘Yes. About three years after Alessandro’s death, roughly fifteen years ago, I was feeling suicidal. It was all too much and I just wanted it all to end. Then I got an invitation to a school reunion. For some reason I felt I had to go. And I was right because I reconnected with Sohrab. He saw my face and sensed my pain. We spent the night together.’

Sohrab jumped out of his chair and shouted, ‘How could you?!’

Mog and Jit readied themselves.

‘Let’s go for a break,’ said the Pastor, ‘back in a minute people.’

‘Why are you doing this Athena?’ said Sohrab.

‘You saved my life, Sohrab. I wanted you to know.’

‘You could just have texted me, hit me up on Facebook, something.’

‘And we’re back,’ said the Pastor. ‘Now this isn’t really about a reunion is it Athena?’

‘No.’

‘Tell us why we’re here.’

‘Well, that night we were together we talked about just how much we missed Alessandro and Sohrab told me he could never bring another child into the world.’

‘Is this true Sohrab?’

Sohrab chewed on his cheek and remained silent.

‘Remember Sohrab, this is a safe place. I am a man of the cloth. Speak your truth.’

Sohrab shook his head, holding in his rage.

‘OK,’ said the Pastor, ‘we don’t have time for you to find it in yourself to be honest so let us move on to the real reason we’re all here. Ling please come and join us on the stage.’

A teenage girl, with numerous nose studs and stretched rings in her ears, stared at her big black boots as she dragged herself centre stage. The audience whooped and cheered.

‘Hello young lady,’ said the Pastor, ‘welcome. How are you?’

‘Fine,’ she mumbled.

‘So,’ the Pastor said, ‘can you tell the viewers who this is Athena?’

‘This is my daughter. She’s fifteen and Sohrab is her father.’

The audience exploded. Sohrab balled his fists.

‘Do you have anything to say Sohrab?’

‘It’s a lie, a damn lie.’

‘What do you say to that Ling?’

Ling shrugged and kept her head low.

‘Athena, Ling is a Chinese name but she doesn’t look Chinese at all and as far as I’m aware you hate those people. Please explain.’

‘Well, Pastor, to be honest, I lied earlier. I don’t blame the Chinese for Alessandro’s death. Not anymore anyway. When Ling was born I wanted to make changes. So, I called her a foreign name to make amends and put my racist ways in the past. It felt like a natural tribute.’

‘If Ling is Sohrab’s daughter why are you only telling him now?’

‘Well he said he never wanted a child. I was scared. But as she’s grown, she’s become troubled, and I believe that now she needs a father’s guidance.’

‘Sohrab?’ the Pastor said, ‘any thoughts?’

Sohrab leaned forward, pointed at Ling and said, ‘That girl has nothing to do with me.’

The Pastor said, ‘Oh come on! Look at the bright blue eyes, the angled chin, the Lenin nose. Lord help me it’s obvious you’re related! Luckily, we don’t have to rely on your word. No, we have science on our side. Remember the blood we took before the show? Well now we can reveal the results of the paternity test.’

‘Paternity test?’ Sohrab cried, then burrowed his head in his hands. ‘You said it was a flu jab.’

‘Why would a chat show give flu jabs!’ the Pastor snorted. ‘You really are in another world aren’t you, my friend?’

The lights dimmed and began to sway across the stage as suspenseful music filled the studio. In the shadows, Sohrab began to pace up and down across the platform, plunging his hands in his pockets, until he stopped in his tracks, centre stage, and stared into the audience, as if hypnotised.

‘He’s gonna do a runner,’ Mog warned.

‘Nah he’s gonna punch the mother,’ Jit countered.

Either way the bouncers sat on the steps leading up to the stage and prepared to pounce.  The Pastor waved a large golden envelope in his free hand. He peeled it open dramatically and smacked his lips.

‘It’s positive! Sohrab is the father!’

Everyone leapt to their feet and lost their minds. As the crowd erupted Sohrab began to fall into a fit of giggles. As the audience settled down the Pastor addressed Sohrab, saying, ‘What’s so funny? I think we’d all like to know.’

‘This, all of this. It’s just one big joke.’

‘I’m afraid not Sohrab, this is as serious as life and death. Now, don’t you want to get to know your daughter? It’s about time don’t you think? We have four minutes. Ling why don’t you tell us about yourself?’

‘Um,’ Ling mumbled.

‘Do have any hobbies? Like tennis?’

‘I’m psychic.’

‘She is not psychic,’ Athena interrupted.

‘I am.’

‘Psychics!’ the Pastor said. ‘We love psychics on this show. Especially goth psychics.’

‘I’m not a goth. I’m just depressed.’

‘OK, fantastic. Tell me Ling are you feeling a presence from the other world at this moment?’

‘No not yet, but I know my fate and it was destiny for me to be here.’

‘Well everybody at the show feels the same way, Ling. Now shall we test your powers? Now let’s think, who can we talk to? I know! How about we contact Alessandro? Is that at all possible?’

‘That’s it,’ yelled Sohrab and feinted like a rugby player to attack Ling, dummying the bouncers, only to dart in the opposite direction and launch himself at the Pastor, toppling him to the ground like a bowling pin. The Pastor struggled – legs flailing, the seat of his trousers tearing, his silk underwear exposed. Before he knew it Sohrab was dragged off the Pastor by the bouncers and they flopped on top of him like two sacks of potatoes. Sohrab struggled for a minute but quickly realised he was trapped. The lights dimmed and the sound of footsteps could be heard pattering out of the auditorium.

‘Thanks boys,’ said the Pastor, his snakeskin loafers in Sohrab’s line of vision. ‘Good work Sohrab, you were perfect. Remember life’s great pageant has no intrinsic meaning. One must give birth to the meaning. Yes?’

‘How can you say that?’ Sohrab said incredulously. ‘You’re a Pastor.’

The Pastor shrugged and gazed at his bulbous gold signet ring.

‘Anyway,’ the Pastor said, ‘death’s a preacher. And sometimes a redeemer, it’s just how you angle it. Goodbye, Sohrab.’

Then the Pastor and his torn five-thousand-dollar suit merged with the crowd and disappeared into the foyer. Sohrab wrestled for freedom again but the bouncers didn’t budge – their layers of undulating flab restraining him. A few minutes passed and Mog sighed, ‘Do we need this, Jit? I don’t need this. I don’t need this at all.’

‘I stay for the chicks, to be honest,’ said Jit.

‘You can let me go now,’ said Sohrab, wheezing from the pressure on his diaphragm. ‘I repent.’

‘So,’ said Mog, ‘you gonna do the right thing by that child? Be a good father, now you know the truth?’

‘I’ve been missing from her life for so long, what difference does it matter now?’

‘That girl is hurting,’ Jit said, ‘she needs you now more than ever.’

‘I told myself I’d never get close to anyone after Alessandro died. When I had that night with Athena fifteen years ago it was what I needed and it really meant something to me. But she disappeared soon after and now I know she’s been lying to me all this time. I don’t owe anyone anything.’

‘No, you don’t,’ said Mog, ‘but you could do something great today. Not many people have that opportunity. Children are like tender flowers; they need to be cherished and cultivated. Here, let me shift the weight of my belly off your neck.’

Mog and Jit rolled off Sohrab and he stretched and groaned. The assistant joined the men and said, ‘Great show Sohrab, would you like a quick drink in the green room before you go?’

‘Sure. Goodbye lads,’ Sohrab said, shaking the bouncers’ hands. ‘Thank you.’

Mog winked. Jit wiped something that could have been a tear from his eye.

Sohrab traced his way back stage into the green room where there was a mob gabbing about this, that and the other. Sohrab seated himself beside a ventriloquist with a stuffed giraffe on one side and a Buddhist nun counting beads on the other. Sohrab wanted out and was just about to split but then noticed Athena seated opposite having a quiet conversation with an old man carrying a canary in a cage and Ling sitting a few places over sipping a glass of lime spritzer as a woman in a poncho read her tarot cards.

Sohrab picked up a salted cashew nut from a bowl and flicked it into her drink. Ling smiled. Sohrab smiled back.  And then the moment passed. Ling returned her gaze to the tarot as the woman laid a death card symbol on the table. The room seemed to suddenly swim into a crescendo of chatter. But next thing Ling knew Sohrab had placed himself right by her side. The roomed drained of people as another show began. Athena looked on with a smile as Sohrab analysed Ling’s tattoo on her wrist.

‘What is it?’ said Sohrab.

‘It’s a funnel web spider. The deadliest in the world,’ replied Ling.

‘Lovely,’ said Sohrab said whimsically, ‘just lovely. What say you and I get each other’s name tattooed on our knuckles and then we can go for a real drink?’

‘I’d like that,’ said Ling, ‘I’d like that very much.’

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